Why NXT on USA is Unsustainable
One month ago I wrote a column discussing why NXT ultimately failed and had to be rebranded. We’re now two weeks into that rebrand and the future looks bleak. From its aesthetic which evokes Nickelodeon Studios more than the CWC to the influx of green talent being featured it is already abundantly clear that NXT 2.0 as a weekly primetime show on USA Network is unsustainable.
NXT (1.0?) was criticized for being "too dark" with its black and gold color scheme. For this revamp NXT received a brand new brighter look. The only problem is that brighter look is too bright. It’s an overcorrection in terms of brightness. More concerning though is the retooled setup which combined with the wild colors looks like the set of Double Dare, the late 80s-early 90s Nickelodeon children’s game show. Throw in a little more orange and Marc Summers and you’d be forgiven if thought you were down the road from the CWC at the old Nickelodeon Studios on the Universal Studios lot. I love Double Dare, hell I love most Nick game shows, but that is not the vibe you want to give off on your wrestling show in 2021.
More concerning than the Nick aesthetic though is the talent. NXT is known for guys like Adam Cole, Kyle O’Reilly, Samoa Joe, Johnny Gargano, and Tomasso Ciampa. All of those guys had ring experience before they landed in NXT. Now the card is overrun with guys like Bron Breakker, Brooks Jensen, and Von Wagner. All of these guys are greener than green. They are talent that needs time to develop. In addition to them a myriad of other wrestlers including Trick Williams, Tony DeAngelo, and Joe Gacy have all been dropped on the viewing audience in the last two weeks. That’s a lot of new people to keep with. The sheer volume of new talent combined with their suboptimal skill level makes the viewer feel as though they are watching wrestling school as opposed to a polished wrestling product.
It’s 100% true that NXT in its previous form was struggling. That’s mostly because NXT’s role withing the WWE system got muddied severely by the move to USA. During its WWE Network days the talent roster in NXT would rotate at least once, sometimes twice a year when a handful of talent was called up to the main roster to make room for the next crop. NXT’s roster compared to Smackdown and Raw was small so the call-up process was necessary to keep things fresh. That process slowed down once NXT moved to USA. First there was the internal lack of clarity over whether NXT was a developmental or a third brand which led to inconsistent public messaging. Even using the term "call-up" was confusing given that NXT theoretically was supposed to be equal to Raw and Smackdown. Second, NXT needed a consistent roster of fully ready-to-go talent to compete with AEW. That meant less call-ups as the best talent needed to remain in NXT. It also less developmental as its difficult for developing talent to compete with the likes of Kenny Omega, Cody Rhodes, or even Darby Allin over on TNT. As a result NXT began to suffer not just because of booking mistakes like taking the women’s title off Rhea Ripley but because the roster wasn’t able to be refreshed and it began to get stale.
WWE’s problem is they’ve gone too far in the opposite direction now. NXT is fully developmental again, with green wrestlers receiving TV time arguably before they’re ready all on set that looks it belongs on a Saturday afternoon in 1992. The rights and wrongs of WWE’s talent development process are best left for another column but the fact remains if WWE thinks this is the best use of NXT that’s all well and good. USA cannot possibly think that. They are paying WWE tens of millions of dollars for a primetime wrestling show. NXT 2.0 is simply not a primetime wrestling show. It would be perfectly suited for Peacock but it doesn’t belong on USA anymore. The ratings dipped this week and they’re likely to continue dipping given the wrestling school vibe of the show. The question is how low will USA allow NXT to get before they pull the plug. Reruns of Law and Order SVU or Chicago PD are cheaper for USA to run. Just from a dollars and cents standpoint it is unsustainable for USA to keep throwing money at WWE while NXT’s ratings continue declining.