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How to improve NXT for Season Two

As one of the twenty avowed NXT fans walking the planet Earth these days, I desperately want this show to succeed and thrive for many seasons to come.  Unfortunately, the show's proverbial back is against the wall; it needs a solid performance this season if the show has any hopes of landing somewhere after SyFy picks up Smackdown in September.

Being a fan of the show doesn't mean I am oblivious to the show's warts, though.  The show often frustrated me from week to week with the sudden start and stop pushes for the rookies.  Daniel Bryan, the show's best and most accomplished wrestler, was booked as an underdog despite ten years' experience in the "minor leagues," and his feud with Miz would sometimes go weeks without a confrontation.  There was little drama at the end of the season; everybody knew Wade Barrett was going to win, and that was that.  The challenges were often mind-numbingly boring to watch and would eat precious time away from the broadcast.

As the show's #1 fan, I want to see it succeed.  Here are some suggestions on how NXT can improve in its second season, hopefully increasing ratings and remaining on the air for a third year.

  • Utilize the pros better.  This became a broken record in my recaps every week.  Now, I understand that Chris Jericho and CM Punk are not going to wrestle on NXT every week, nor should they.  But for much of NXT's run, five of the show's eight pros were basically floundering on their show without much of a program (R-Truth, Matt Hardy, William Regal, Carlito, and Christian).  Going through the results, Christian wrestled on the show more times than any other pro, five times in 15 weeks.  R-Truth wrestled four times, Regal, Hardy, Carlito, and Jericho wrestled three times, and Miz and Punk wrestled twice.  If anything, those numbers are skewed by a four on four Raw vs. Smackdown pros match on the NXT after Wrestlemania, so Miz and Punk really only wrestled on this show against other rookies once.  I understand Miz only wrestling twice, as for much of the first season's run he was wrestling on both Raw and Smackdown, but at the same time, his feud with Bryan was the most pushed storyline on this show.  I continue to be amazed why good veterans like Regal and Hardy wrestled so infrequently, especially when Regal had basically become a Superstars mainstay by this point.  It would have been so much more valuable for the rookies on this show to wrestle pros every week rather than wrestle each other.  Ideally, each show would feature three matches: an opening tag featuring a rookie and his pro wrestling another rookie and pro, a rookie vs. rookie match in the middle, and a main event featuring a rookie wrestling a pro as the main event.  The whole reason for involving pros here is to hopefully draw a rating, and also to help the rookies improve their wrestling.  I don't think any rookie benefitted much from this show as they are largely at the same level when the show started, and the show died in the ratings, so their use of pros in the first season was largely a disaster.
  • Know how you want the show to end in September and work backwards.  I know the WWE writing team is completely overworked.  I get that.  But an hour's worth of primetime programming on a semi-major cable network, a cable network that WWE valued enough to move their #2 show this coming fall, is nothing to overlook.  WWE needs to protect this property better.  If they know they want the season finale to feature Kaval, Michael McGillicutty, and Alex Riley as their final three, they need to make sure they stand out above everybody else.  David Otunga, for example, had a few weeks where he lost to guys like Darren Young, who was clearly never going anywhere in this competition.  What purpose does that serve, other than to make a guy they want to spotlight look bad at the expense of a guy who isn't in the plans?  Daniel Bryan lost every match he had on NXT, and until they decided to speed up the season, Dave Meltzer was reporting that he was still the favorite to win.  Heck, he led the first Pro's Poll despite not having won a single match, and despite head to head record being a criteria for the poll.  There would be weeks where, for example, Darren Young would lose to Skip Sheffield, then Sheffield would be eliminated in that week's poll, or Justin Gabriel would pin Heath Slater in a match, only for Gabriel to drop down one spot and Slater to move up one spot.  It was haphazard planning like this that led to a most anticlimatic finale, with Wade Barrett dominating the final five Pro's Polls and winning the competition.  The least WWE could have done, if they insisted on Barrett and Otunga being the last two remaining, would be to move them back and forth in the #1 spot in the rankings every week to at least create the illusion of uncertainty.
  • Limit the dissention between rookies and their pros.  The major storyline for season one of NXT was Daniel Bryan's problems with The Miz (and to a lesser extent, Michael Cole).  At the same time Bryan and Miz were having their problems, there were no less than three other "these guys just can't get along" issues between Darren Young and CM Punk, David Otunga and R-Truth, and to a much lesser degree, Skip Sheffield and William Regal.  That's half of the rookies and pros that can't get along, and that's too much.  It detracts from the impact of the issues between Bryan and Miz if other rookies are having the same problems with their pros.  In particular, the Punk/Young feud really didn't make sense, as it never led to anything and never went anywhere.  I liked Punk's facial expressions making fun of Young as much as anybody, but it was ultimately time wasted as it never made Young any more sympathetic in the eyes of the fans and never led to any sort of blowoff, all it did was detract from Bryan and Miz.  I'm not saying everybody on the show needs to be buddy-buddy with their pros, but pick one or two (at most) major fallings out to build around and let everybody else at least have a Carlito/Tarver relationship of ambivalence.
  • If the weekly rookies challenges aren't going to have anything to do with wrestling, at least make them entertaining.  I mean, selling programs?  Why would anybody want to watch that?  The interview challenge and the obstacle course challenge were the only two I thought had any entertainment value.  Also, make sure you follow up on the rewards too.  Wade Barrett won the interview challenge and still kept using Chris Jericho's theme music afterwards.  It makes the challenges look cheap if they aren't followed up on.  To me, the best reward they offered was immunity in the last challenge, won by Gabriel.  I know they wouldn't want the rookies having that much power over remaining on the show, but maybe after they get to the cut portion of the show, they can run weekly immunity challenges.  Speaking of the polls...
  • Run pro's polls every week after the first poll.  I suspect they didn't run them after the first poll to try to build surprise on the show, but it's also good to give fans a weekly idea where each rookie stands.  It would help the overall presentation to the viewers to run a weekly poll, and it would make it easy to do stories for the rookies ranked towards the bottom to be hungry towards picking up a victory to try to remain on the program.

Ultimately, I believe NXT can be an asset for WWE, but not as it was presented last season.  Of the rookies who were on the show, the only ones who I believe received any sort of benefit from the program were Daniel Bryan, Wade Barrett, and David Otunga, and frankly, Bryan would have made it as a star on Raw or Smackdown anyway, so only Barrett and Otunga really gained anything from the program.  With some work, the show could provide the Raw and Smackdown roster with eight wrestlers ready to step onto each brand and at least contribute as low-card performers working their way up the ladder.  Hopefully, WWE will treat the show a little more seriously this season, though considering the drastic drop off in pros this season (Jericho, Punk, and Miz were legit upper card guys participating in season one, whereas only Miz could be classified as that among the pros on season two) it seems more likely that WWE will let the show die when it expires in September.  Speaking on behalf of the twenty NXT fans walking the earth, that's too bad.

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