"Well it was a WrestleMania crowd."
"Well it was a Summerslam crowd."
"Well, they're after the casuals."
93 percent to 7 percent. That was the final tally of a poll WWE ran weeks ago asking if the fans had actually supported Becky Lynch in her quest to become Women's Champion. A victim of a bloated roster and overwhelming heel booking, Lynch essentially was forced to turn heel to make an impression of her own in the Smackdown Women's division. Fans were all about it.
Well, sort of.
The problem is, Becky Lynch was instructed to follow her vicious attack on longtime friend and Summerslam opportunist Charlotte by saying the crowd had never supported her. As difficult as it can be to support someone when they're not on television, fans still did as much. That, coupled with the fact that her opponent isn't exactly relatable to most: Charlotte Flair is a multi-time champion and daughter of Ric, who opened up many doors for her that helped lead to a dominant run in WWE thus far. Shortly after her return from surgery, Charlotte was added to a Summerslam match that looked to have Becky finally regain a coronation on Smackdown. Becky had the right to be mad, and the fans felt for her. They weren't buying what WWE was selling about jealousy. She was wronged. The crowd rejected the force-fed storyline and sided with Becky Lynch.
Just one week later, there was no mention of "alllllll youuuu peopleeee" being the reason. There was no "poor me" from Charlotte Flair. I wouldn't call Flair's promo heelish. It was heartless, and rooted in truth, as were the attacks by Becky. Did WWE pivot? They rarely do, but it seems so.
WWE's resistance boils down to one person. Vince McMahon has the final say. Regardless of crowd reaction, he'll make the final call, decide the direction and make the moves. The stubborn nature of the world's most successful wrestling promoter led him to a billion dollar empire, so the desire to trust his personal instincts are understandable. However, the almost unbelievable refusal to change his mind to cater to the preferences of the paying audience is almost so hardheaded that some wrestling fans believe it doesn't exist.
A couple of examples.
Daniel Bryan's run that led him to the main event of WrestleMania in 2014? WWE fell into it. Bryan is very transparent in his words, as displayed in his book. WWE not transitioning to make Daniel Bryan their top star led to even more popularity, and in fear of an audience turning on their biggest show of the year, a move was made to put Bryan in a spot fitting and no harm was done. However, many believe this was the plan all along. Anyone involved on the inside will (and have) tell you that wasn't the case.
Roman Reigns has been pushed as the most important character on the show since 2014, and despite having the tools to fit the role, rarely has the creative power behind him to satisfy audiences consistently. WWE, more specifically McMahon himself, make repeated efforts to manipulate a reaction to gain unanimous cheers. From turning popular babyfaces, to pairing Reigns with other characters who have "go away" heat, to lowering crowd volumes, there hasn't been a real effort to roll with the punches.
Several members of that creative process and employees backstage have extended to me that there is much frustration with all involved, I received a plethora of tweets with the text "imagine thinking WWE wants Roman Reigns cheered in 2018." Well, they do. The more employees that end up hitting the bricks, the further that point will be reinforced.
However, I believe WWE has the opportunity to harken back to their early national days and ride the wave of their live crowd. For many years, the territory was booked as a "babyface promotion," and would usually send the crowd home happy. They used their television to promote live events, and put more asses in seats locally.
WWE gained two billion dollar television deals, and could see their priorities shift. How they'll shift, I'm not sure, but as opposed to booking for hypotheticals and the wants and needs of one person, they'll have to take the considerations of a broader audience into consideration. This is hardly about Roman Reigns, and more about making sense of things on a weekly basis.
Despite the gimmick of the show, I doubt that many will accuse The Big Bang Theory of being a more intellectual program than Breaking Bad, but the former certainly targets a demographic more akin to WWE than the latter. The insistence that substantive programming, and disregarding reactions for the coveted "casual viewer," could change in favor of those that brought them to the dance. In the absence of major competition, creatively satisfying programming could be the motivation WWE needs to excel on Network television to the level in which they weren't able to on UPN 20 years prior.
That's not to say that all fan favorites should go unbeaten, or that "REIGNS NEEDS TO BE A HEEL." That's not really what it's about. Forcing an angle that clearly doesn't jive with the way things have unfolded on their own show, not closing major plot holes, and avoiding topics that are at the forefront of the viewers' minds -- those are the things easily adjusted that could make WWE's programming match up with the dollars they're being paid.
The perception that pro wrestling only appeals to broke hillbillies held down their ad rates and TV deals for decades. The company has since told those with that idea to kick rocks, and quite frankly, got the money they deserved from USA Network and Fox. Here's to hoping that WWE gives their loyal viewers who helped prove that they can remain atop viewership rankings in a DVR world the show that they deserve, and compliment the intelligence they possess. This is a real opportunity, with no real downside.
That'll put butts in the seats.
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