FanPost edited and promoted to the front page by CagesideSeats.com.
Hang on, hang on. Before you start with the pitchforks and fire and rip my fan card from me, just hear me out.
I am of the opinion that the Attitude Era in the then-WWF was the greatest period in wrestling history, at least in my lifetime. I couldn't tell you anything before the 1980s. I grew up during the two biggest boom periods in pro wrestling: Hulkamania in the mid-80s when I was a kid, and the Attitude Era when I was just becoming an adult. So, yours truly, being a 33-year old male with a job that pays decent money (not to mention a long-time wrestling fan), am sort of qualified to make the statement that the Attitude Era was the best wrestling period ever.
The competition between WWF and WCW on Monday night, along with the rapidly growing influence of ECW, created a market that was generally untapped in the past: adult males (and females).
But with the purchase of WCW by the WWF and ECW going broke, wrestling fans drifted away, some never to return. Over the next few years, more major promotions sprung in their place, but none has challenged the now-WWE on the level of WCW, nor has been influential as ECW. But the biggest change to the wrestling business in the last decade was a subtle one, at first at least.
Four years ago, WWE announced their television programming going forward would be TV-PG. While it upset many longtime wrestling fans (full disclosure: this one included), believe it or not, it has, in a lot of ways, worked out for WWE. Seriously.
So if you'll open your mind for 10 minutes, I'll give you 10 reasons why the PG Era in WWE is working.
- It makes them a lot of money. Let's get this one out of the way. Though WWE stock prices have fluctuated big time in the last few years (but then again, what stock hasn't in this economy?), going PG has made WWE a boatload of cash. The most profitable event in wrestling history: WrestleMania XXVIII. It happened during the PG era. 1.21 million buys on PPV, $8.9 million at the gate, $67 million total in global sales. And you have to know a lot of those 78,363 at Sun Life Stadium people had families with them. Another thing: WWE has been a publicly traded company since 1999, and the McMahon family owns only 70% of the company (though they hold 96% of the voting power), which means the rest is coming from investors, many of whom would rather put their money into a product that's less questionable than it was in its heyday.
- It's a safer working environment. Say what you will about the lack of blood and chair shots to the head. Yes, I hate the fact that a mid-match cut can force a classic in the making to a dead stop (TLC 2009 immediately comes to mind). While these men and women bust their ass to provide the best entertainment possible, we must remember, they have loved ones. They all sons and daughters of someone. Many have sons or daughters or husbands or wives or girlfriends or boyfriends or fiancées. And even those that don't want to be around long after they hang up their boots to enjoy the next stage of life, whatever that may be. Many never get that chance. WWE also offers a stricter "wellness policy", a five-dollar term for a drug testing program that not only suspends those that are caught a month without pay (two months for a second offense, one year minimum for a third), their names are outed to the public. They also offer rehab to both current and past talent. As a public company, they have to take care of their employees, because I'm sure they don't want to relive the tragic deaths of guys such as Eddie Guerrero, Chris Benoit, and Owen Hart again.
- It's creating a new generation of fans. If you go to a WWE show these days (I went to one two months ago, a Smackdown taping), you see a lot of families. Fathers and mothers that grew up watching wrestling are with their sons and daughters (I was sitting beside a father and son enjoying a funnel cake and having a blast). Those sons and daughters enjoy the experience, and as with any form of entertainment, will follow it as long as they like it. Us older fans will be really old one day. Any business needs the next generation to replace them to survive, and WWE is no different.
- A PG rating is advertiser-friendly. This goes back to #1. Back during the Attitude Era, we would hear stories regularly about how advertisers would pull their merchandise and commercials from WWF programming (Wal-Mart and Al Snow come to mind). But ratings for their programming were so high, WWF wasn't as dependent on advertising dollars (though, let's be honest, it was nice to have them). When the Attitude stopped, the people stopped coming, and WWE needed that ad money more and more. It took them a while to come around, but WWE needed and got more advertisers. Selling to a PG audience is a lot easier than selling to a TV-14 audience, especially when you have five and a half hours of wrestling programming a week (and two more in some markets with their syndicated wrap-up shows). Case in point...
- Merchandising sales are through the roof. One male fan in his early 20s is money to the WWE. A family of five wrestling fans with three kids is a lot more money to WWE. Seriously, have you been to a WWE show lately? Seems like every fourth fan is under 12, and guess what? They're probably wearing a John Cena shirt, or a John Cena hat, or John Cena wristbands, or a Rey Mysterio mask that their parents got talked into buying. Guess who WWE's coveting these days? Here's a hint. It's not the guy in his 20s.
- Surprises mean a little more. One of the major negatives of the Attitude Era is that storylines didn't always make sense (ok, the same can be said of many of today's storylines). And just when it did make sense, we would get swerved. A lot. In fact, we got swerved and shock-n-awed so much, we became numb to it. So wasn't it nice when the Nexus first formed by ripping shit up, or when The Rock, who pretty much swore he'd never come back, showed up out of the blue on Valentine's Day 2011, or when CM Punk delivered a six-minute tirade on the state of WWE, we were, you know, actually shocked?
- The wrestling quality is a lot better. Granted, if you were to recall ten great WWE matches off the top of your head, you'd probably come up with more from the Attitude Era. But from 2000 on, and especially in recent years, match quality has stepped it up a notch. I know most of you don't believe me, so I present the following as Exhibit A: Money in the Bank: The PPV 2011: John Cena vs. CM Punk for the WWE Championship, the first five-star match in the company as rated by Wrestling Observer Newsletter since 1997. Or better yet, look at Shawn Michaels' final three WrestleMania matches. All classics. All in the PG era. Or, how about this: watch any other WWE show other than RAW. You'll be pleasantly surprised sometimes. Sometimes, you don't need blood and weapons to tell a good story in the ring. (P.S. If you can find it, watch the new NXT. If you're a fan of pure wrestling, you won't be disappointed.)
- PG era storylines are a little less over the top. While the Attitude Era produced some of the most compelling television in wrestling history (Austin-McMahon...hell, WWF dedicated a whole 75-minute video just to that rivalry), it's produced some stuff that just made you want to roll your eyes and wonder what the hell were they thinking. Here are a few: Mae Young gives birth to a hand (which they actually followed up on during RAW 1000...still can't believe it). Big Bossman crashes a funeral. Mae Young exposes herself in Madison Square Garden. Tim White's Lunchtime Suicide (though it was post-Attitude era). Undertaker hangs Bossman at Wrestlemania XV. Kaientai attempts to choppy-choppy Val Venis' pee-pee. Al Snow eats his dog, Pepper. The Billy and Chuck "wedding" (also post-Attitude). Pillman's got a gun (pre-Attitude). KATIE. FREAKING. VICK. The whole brief, sordid history here.
- The PG Era brought closure to the Montreal Screwjob. Bret Hart was also on that list of people who said he would never return to the WWF. I mean, he had every right to say that after he was epically screwed out of the title at the 1997 Survivor Series. He was also vocal about disliking the direction WWE was heading, being less family-friendly. For more than a decade, even with a Hall of Fame induction in 2005, "The Hitman" held a grudge with many of the people involved in the infamous screwjob; most of all Shawn Michaels. Granted, their issues with one another go further than that one night in Montreal. But on January 4, 2010, in Dayton, OH, Bret and Shawn hugged it out in front of a worldwide audience to begin the final chapter of wrestling's most controversial night. The Wrestlemania XXVI match between Hart and Vince McMahon was beyond terrible, but for those few months, it was good to see him back.
- It got the WWE back on Saturday morning. I know I said this once. Somewhere. Maybe in conversation or something, but I once joked that WWE is a Saturday morning show from being rated G. So imagine my surprise when it was announced earlier this month that WWE is returning to Saturday mornings for the first time in more than a decade with Saturday Morning Slam. Other than Livewire in the mid- and late-90s, many longtime fans remember Saturday mornings featured WWF Superstars or its sister show Wrestling Challenge. The show is definitely geared toward the kiddie demo (in other words, not me). And I'm ok with it. I don't have to feel guilty for missing it. Saturday Morning Slam will be a part of a two-hour block of cartoons for the CW Network. And speaking of cartoons, it was announced last week that Warner Brothers and WWE will co-produce a Scooby-Doo animated movie where Mystery Inc. travels to Wrestlemania to find a monster that threatens the biggest wrestling show of the year. I got a 90% chance that it'll be better than The Marine: Homecoming.
One more reason I didn't include as to why the PG era is good for WWE is that it allows them to be social. John Cena, by the time he hangs up his hi-tops, will have granted more wishes for the Make-A-Wish Foundation than anyone else ever ... by a lot. They're co-sponsoring an anti-bullying campaign (to go into the hypocrisy of it would be a post in and of itself). Linda McMahon is running for United States Senate (and has put a lot of money into it, an estimated $65 million, more than the 2012 payroll of seven MLB teams). It's not uncommon for superstars and divas to appear at charity events around the world.
We are in a much maligned time in wrestling history. You, me, many of us, want it to go back to the way it once was. But WWE is a business, and as a business, it must evolve and change with the times and circumstances, or die. Will there be a second Attitude Era? Probably not, but then again, we didn't exactly think there would be a first one. For now, the PG era is here. And weekly, monthly, and yearly, we will give the thumbs up or thumbs down to this era with our wallets and our remotes.
History will ultimately decide whether this was a good era for WWE. For now, it's good business. And business is good.