FanPost edited and promoted to the front page by CagesideSeats.com.
In the last column, I played Devil's advocate and defended the WWE's current direction of PG programming. It's produced better matches, a safer work environment, and let's be honest, it's made WWE more money.
But older fans don't want to hear that argument. They want it the way it was when they grew up: edgy, counterculture, in-your-face, take-no prisoners. Before this era, the Attitude Era was the most profitable and most cutthroat in wrestling history. And while a new generation of fans are enjoying the WWE of today, many fans who caught on to the product during its heyday have moved on.
For those people, and the select few that have stuck around, today's WWE is simply not working. This post is for you.
Here are ten reasons why the PG era is not working for WWE.
- The storyline possibilities are limited. During the first half of the Attitude Era (generally regarded as 1998-2001), nearly every storyline in the WWF, no matter how simple or complex branched from the one tree that was Austin vs. McMahon. Some storylines were way over the top, but it still kept the fan interested in what happened next. Even storylines involving lower-card wrestlers were compelling at times. Today, with the PG format, if there's a chance you could see that storyline on a primetime drama on FX or HBO, it will not be on WWE programming.
- Bad and confusing storylines are more glaring. In each of the past three summers (this one included), there has been the "big summer storyline". In 2010, it was Nexus. In 2011, it was the Summer of Punk. This year, it's Punk demanding respect. The Nexus storyline essentially died at SummerSlam, but was still kept on life support for eight months. Last year's Summer of Punk story got confusing in the fall with the questionable payoff of Kevin Nash texting himself. This year's attempted heel turn of CM Punk is not working. What he's done the last year has basically made him unbooable, much in the way "Stone Cold" Steve Austin was when he was on the fringe of turning face, Rob Van Dam when he was with the Alliance, the late Eddie Guerrero, or more recently, even Chris Jericho. In the age of the Internet, people are paying more attention to plot holes in stories. And even if a storyline is good, it's hard to get behind a stale character. Speaking of which...
- There is very little development in the characters. If you've paid close attention to WWE programming in the last few years, you notice that there are very few compelling characters top to bottom. In the Attitude Era, and even the three or four years following, many characters, both heel and face, exhibited some shades of gray. The most prominent examples were Austin and The Rock. Austin drank beer, swore, and flipped people off. At any other time in history, he would be a heel. But fans got behind the character and made him face while still keeping his characteristics. Rocky Maivia was at first a smiling third-generation guy happy to be there. Fans booed him, and subsequently became The Rock, a pretty-boy jock who would often refer to himself in the third person. Thanks to his natural charisma and plethora of catchphrases, fans got behind The Rock, both as a heel and as a face. Two of the better characters they stumbled on in recent years: John Cena and CM Punk. Cena was a white boy rapper from "the mean streets of West Newbury, Massachusetts", who would commit lyrical homicide on his opponents before his matches. CM Punk was the straight edged prophet who eventually became WWE's "voice of the voiceless," speaking up for those who were disenchanted with the product. When they both became popular, they both got neutered. Cena rapped once in the last four years (a Raw prior to his WrestleMania match with The Rock), while Punk's promos are no longer the scathing pipebombs from last summer and fall. And it's not just the big names. I asked my older brother last week if there was a difference gimmick-wise between Dolph Ziggler and The Miz. I told him the only difference between the two: Miz has a catchphrase. The same can be said of just about any two guys you compare. In the end, they all look the same: faces are these uber-good guys with a shred of edge to them (no pun intended), while heels are cowardly and are afraid to get in there and scrap for what's theirs. There are very few dynamic promos in WWE; people that would make you stop whatever you're doing to listen to what they have to say. Don't get me started on the magazine models -- er, Divas. Yes they're smart, yes they're beautiful, yes they're powerful. But no, they're not compelling. Anytime most fans see a Diva on TV other than AJ Lee or Lilian Garcia, it's an excuse to change the channel. Speaking of development...
- There is very little development in the roster. Though the roster is as deep as it's ever been since the early days of the brand split (it's not an extension, it's a split, damnit!), when you sit and watch Raw or Smackdown, you get the feeling of not knowing why most of these people are here. Two words: John Laurainitis. He was the man overseeing talent development when he took over for Jim Ross in 2004. The number of major stars created during Laurainitis' run as Executive Vice President of Talent Relations you could probably count on one hand. During Laurinaitis' final days at the post, he nearly let CM Punk walk, and only last minute negotiations kept one of the five biggest names in the company from walking away. And perhaps, in a bit of irony, Johnny Ace himself became an on-screen talent. And in the way of Michael Cole and Vickie Guerrero, he created "get off my TV" heat. Speaking of big names, who's the next big one? Eventually John Cena, CM Punk, Randy Orton, and Sheamus will all be gone and if I were a betting man, probably at least two will be retired by their 40th birthday. It never hurts to groom the next guy now when you still have time. I'm not convinced that WWE has done that. In essence, the PG Era has created very few stars the casual fan cares about.
- The PG era has relied heavily on the past to prop it up. Regardless of how you feel about the Attitude Era, why is it that those stars continue to appear on WWE programming regularly? When the Attitude Era was around, WWE didn't put a call to the stars of the New Generation and Hulkamania efforts as much (granted most of them were in WCW at the time, but still...). Case in point: the main event of WrestleMania XXVIII was won by a guy that wrestled once since WrestleMania XX. And you needed that guy to prop up Wrestlemania XXVII too.
- The ratings aren't as high as they used to be. Honestly, outside of the NFL, is there any show on television that had increased ratings year-to-year recently? Probably not. Even in the PG era, RAW and Smackdown rank among the most watched programs in all of cable. As much as we want ratings to be what it was during the height of the Attitude Era (where 6's and 7's were commonplace), they're not coming back to that level. It's difficult to catch lightning in a bottle twice, no matter how big the bottle.
- Matches and storylines have become mostly predictable. I'm not talking Hulkamania era-predictable. But if you pay a bit of attention to WWE programming for a while, you have a sixth sense in what happens next, and more often than not, you're right. Especially if it involves a John Cena match. Yeah, the Internet is partly to blame for it, but the guys and gals writing the show have to share the responsibility too.
- There is no competition out there to challenge WWE. Sorry TNA and Ring of Honor (ROH) fans, but until their promotions step up financially to the level of WWE on a consistent basis, WWE will sit comfortably on top of its perch as the premiere sports entertainment company on the planet. And notice to TNA: that doesn't just include paying former WWE talent top dollar. For starters, get out of the Impact Zone once in a while. You got the coin to do it.
- With no competition, WWE got complacent. Let's face it: WWE doesn't fear TNA, nor should they. No organization can compete with WWE financially, in the TV ratings, or message boards, or anywhere on the Internet for that matter. Seriously, you'll probably find many more search results on WWE-related topics than TNA or ROH. Why take a chance when you don't have to? That seems to be the feeling in Stamford. It's that way in many walks of life. When you're not being pushed or nudged, you get comfortable in your spot. And WWE is sitting pretty at #1.
- Older fans are being driven away. While the young demographic is buying and getting a good portion of WWE merchandise these days, the Nielsen demo coveted more than any other is adults 18-49. They have the buying power. They are the decision makers. And many of those people that watched WWE in the past are watching something else these days.
Here's one more to consider: an era where blood is a no-no and chair shots to the head are frowned upon, please answer this for me: why are gimmick matches such as the Elimination Chamber, Hell in a Cell, and Extreme Rules still around?
They were three of the most barbaric match types in WWE. With the company leaning towards a much safer work environment, they don't seem necessary in the PG Era. Especially Hell in a Cell since there hasn't been a good one since SummerSlam 2008 and they've had two a year ever since. The Elimination Chamber is not as barbaric and demonic as it was once perceived. And there's hardly anything extreme about an Extreme Rules match these days (though John Cena vs. Brock Lesnar from earlier this year is a notable exception).
There's much to complain about the state of wrestling these days. One thing is for certain: the PG Era is not going anywhere any time soon. As much as we complain about the WWE, it is resilient.
It survived worse in my lifetime: a steroid trial with the principal owner as its chief defendant, a rival organization with deeper pockets trying to drive them out of business, and numerous in-ring and out-of-the-ring scandals and tragedies. Surviving the PG Era would probably be a piece of cake.
I'm of the opinion that the PG era as currently constituted, while it has its good points, is not working. There is a lot of room for improvement. It's just a matter of whether WWE wants to do it on its own, or do what they did back in the 90s: wait for a nudge from someone else.
What do you think? Is the PG Era working?