Seth Rollins transformation over the past year from “Burn It Down” babyface to deranged Monday Night Messiah has come across as the rare case of WWE deciding on a character arc and sticking to it.
But while Rollins says he’s kept that in mind from week-to-week, the creative team hasn’t necessarily had a plan. He explained that to James Delow on the Gorilla Position podcast:
“It’s very much a week-to-week thing. I definitely don’t have a timetable on how things are going to go or where they’re going to shift to or anything like that. It’s nothing set in ink or set in stone for months. It’s different than any way I’ve approached putting a character together. It’s certainly more calculated, as far as like, even though we’re making adjustments week-to-week, I’m still thinking about how I see it moving forward and making sure it doesn’t jump off the page in a bad way, so it doesn’t become like ‘This week he was bad, now it’s something totally different.’ It’s something I’ve thought about and been careful to cultivate and craft, but it’s not something that’s been perfectly planned out for months in advance.”
He also defended WWE’s lack of planning as being a function of what the audience will accept:
“I think it [long-term storytelling] is kind of a lost art across the board in entertainment. And not that it’s a lost art, just the audience, as we get into this age of instant gratification, they don’t have the patience for long-term storytelling. When you can binge-watch your favorite series in two days as opposed to two months, it creates a different precedent for how we intake our entertainment. It’s the difference between watching a full match and just seeing the GIFs of it or the highlights of it. So, I just think people are intaking their entertainment on a different level. It’s the difference between artists releasing singles as opposed to full-length albums because of the way the consumers are taking in their entertainment, so that shift, wrestling is not immune to that shift and so we have to do that as well to keep up with our audience. But I do think, I’m not a twenty-something, I’m a thirty-four-year-old guy, so the storytelling I grew up on had a longer form and that’s what I enjoy, so I think if our younger audience could learn to appreciate it might be something they’re into. But it also might not be how their brains are wired or how we’ve rewired people’s brains to think. It’s a very interesting time in entertainment, in television, and music and movies altogether really, and that shift of how things are going.”
He’d go on to explain how his Eye For An Eye match with Rey Mysterio at Extreme Rules was designed to appeal to the short-attention span crowd:
“If this stipulation had happened in 1999 in the middle of the Attitude Era, I don’t think anyone would have scoffed at it. I think it would have just been a crazy moment of wild stuff happening in WWE and obviously, we are twenty years later and things are different in the way we watch things and the audience sees wrestling differently At the end of the day, it is what it is, that’s what the moment was meant to do was to create interest in the casual viewer. I think the moment you said ‘Eye For An Eye Match’, the hardcore wrestling fan, and if I was a nineteen-year-old kid would probably say the same thing, would be like ‘Oh please, why can’t they just let these two wrestle?’ you know? But, at the end of the day, the wrestling spoke for itself and the end moment ended up on TMZ, so we’re doing a service to both of our audiences. We gave them a great wrestling match on the front end and gave the casual viewer to say, ‘What the hell are they doing over there?’. I loved it, I thought it was great, I was really happy with. I loved sharing the ring with Rey Mysterio and I was pretty overwhelmingly happy with the final product, particularly considering we sort did that last scene with limited time and in one take. So, I was overwhelmingly pleased with the finished product.”
There’s some truth to what Rollins is saying about the 21st century media landscape and how audiences consume things. But the fact Delow praises what came off as a long-term story - and Seth himself admits the reaction to Eye For An Eye was based in fans wanting the substance of a match instead of the sensationalism of a spot - indicates there are fans who want something other than moments and GIFs.
In fact, he points to the Mysterio feud as an example of WWE serving both types of audiences - and I’d say he’s right. So it’s clear the company can tell long-term stories with beats that will trend on social media and get attention outside the wrestling bubble.
Maybe do more of that instead of saying your customers don’t want that? And I realize Rollins isn’t in control of the product, but the “wrestler blames the fans” bit just gets old, no matter who’s doing it.
Let us know what you think, Cagesiders, and listen to Rollins and Delow’s entire convo here.