This year, Monday Night Raw celebrates twenty-five years on the air. Take a look at banner, Michael:
Noticeably absent is any trace of a “th anniversary,” thus avoiding the WrestleMania 25 fiasco that grammar snobs still flip their lids over today.
Now, I’m sure the big anniversary show will be filled will all kinds of self-congratulations. No one knows how to verbally masturbate Vince McMahon like Michael Cole. It helps that Vince is feeding him the lines. But if you strip away the half-dozen qualifiers, RAW currently sits in second place behind The Simpsons for “scripted” TV show longevity. Granted, RAW has far more episodes than The Simpsons, but on the other hand RAW is on every single week (which itself is quite the accomplishment*).
But again, qualifiers: In terms of (1) live, (2) weekly, (3) episodic shows, on (4) prime-time (5) cable that are (6) still on the air, RAW is tops.
It’s that last qualifier that’s worth discussing, but it’s best discussed in the context of the others.
RAW has managed to last, while so many others (including others who set out to do the exact same thing) fell by the wayside. It has lasted for twenty-five years while being, as Michael Cole puts it, a...
LIVE - The amount of work that goes into a single live broadcast is enormous. Twenty five years of them is just stupid. And yet WWE is a well-oiled machine. It’s easy to complain about Kevin Dunn getting the zoomies and other production gimmicks that hinder the broadcast more than help, but the fact that the show has endured for over a thousand live-episodes with only a handful of “live TV gaffs” (some of which we wonder about) worth mentioning is amazing.
*WEEKLY - No NFL-style off-season for the athletes to recharge, no Walking Dead-style summers off for the writers to develop new plots, no Rick and Morty-style hiatus for the fans to theorize, debate and anticipate the return. It just keeps going and going and going, and not even a blizzard can stop them. They’re like Newman’s description of the mail. It should not be possible, yet here it is.
EPISODIC - Sure the CBS Evening News is the granddaddy of them all, but they read the news, not tell made-up stories. WWE has been telling scripted stories for twenty-five years straight and though most of it is forgettable (like...literally Vince seems to forget storylines while they’re happening), the fact that it’s been done at all is remarkable.
PRIME-TIME - Competition for people’s evening entertainment has outpaced the output of evening shows. That’s evident due to the steady decline in ratings over the past fifteen years. In terms of traditional “turn on the TV at a certain time to watch an advertised program,” that aspect of American life is disappearing at a faster pace than “sit around the radio to listen to Little Orphan Annie” did. Viewers are opting for streaming and “after the fact” viewing. Prime-time TV needs to either adapt or die and most are dying, yet WWE keeps on trucking...
CABLE -- ...but though fewer people are watching traditional TV, it is still true that the expansion of cable TV has continued to cut a massive chunk out of the broadcast network monopoly of 1950-1990. The final episode of M*A*S*H was seen by 100mm people. Fifteen years later, the final episode of Seinfeld snagged 80mm viewers. Seventeen years later CSI’s final episode (keep in mind CSI was one of the most watched shows on broadcast television) brought in only 12mm. Around the same time Breaking Bad (one of the most watched shows in its final year on cable television) aired its final episode to a comparatively-large 10mm. Cable is rapidly catching up to broadcast. When RAW debuted the number of cable channels airing weekly shows was minimal. Today it’s massive. And yet, despite the addition of literally hundreds of new channels, RAW has persisted. Over twenty-five years of up and down and way-up and down-again ratings, Raw has persisted. And through it all, it is...
STILL ON THE AIR - Despite channel changes, time changes, a revolving door of stars, the show is still on the air, 24 years and counting. That’s remarkable.
How many shows run out of steam after just a handful of seasons? How many shows have changed networks and managed to retain the vast majority of their viewer-base? How many shows have seen a major star depart and the supporting cast just limp along or try to replace him only for fans to turn off the show because of how pathetic it had become.
To endure for twenty five years is one thing, but to survive so many pitfalls that have doomed other shows is even more impressive.
But the question is will Raw “always” be around?
Of course not, nothing will be (except for Hulk Hogan), but will it be around long enough to reach another anniversary milestone? Say, thirty-five years?
At the rate cord-cutters are going, at the rate prime-time TV is diminishing, at the rate viewers are abandoning live TV (which used to be the major selling point for WWE to advertisers), it’s hard to imagine a realistic scenario in which RAW is still a live, weekly, prime-time, cable, episodic show with all the bells and whistles it currently operates with. It’s hard to imagine any show on the air being “on the air” in ten years. “Television” is fast becoming an anachronism. It’s only a matter of time before it sweeps up RAW as well.
Happy birthday, I guess?