Much has been made of the absence of "casual fans" in today's pro wrestling landscape. There's always someone or something to blame for the fact that WWE's Neilsen ratings aren't at
Cord cutting, advanced technology, quality of the program, established stars -- it's hard to point to any one single thing. If you looked at WWE's present day financials, it doesn't tell the gloom and doom tale that some do. The same with the ratings in general -- plenty of networks would be giddy over 100+ guaranteed episodes annually at 2-4 million domestic viewers per year.
When covering the show week in, week out, I never feel like its a chore. It's something I love to do, and wouldn't rather anything else. Even in my line of work, there's fatigue, there's churn and there's a struggle to find new, creative, different content in order to draw eyeballs. It seems as if to counter that, WWE often feels as if they already have those eyeballs and no motivation to strive to be better.
We've always heard how much Vince McMahon values internal competition, brand loyalty and brand supremacy. The TV-PG rating is often used as a scapegoat for the fact that pro wrestling outside the ring isn't as edgy as it once was. I think there's more to it than that.
WWE is facing the stiffest competition they've ever experienced.
The "Attitude Era" met an unofficial end around 2001. Around this time, Oz, The Sopranos, The Wire and other programs were in the midst, or just about to turn television on its head. These weren't cheesy sitcoms with laugh tracks or formulaic monster of the week drama shows. They were deep, characters were given layers, and every moment meant something. They have the benefit of not facing injuries, not having the concerns of who "goes over" and who doesn't. Only having to write 10-16 hours worth of content doesn't hurt either.
There have never been more television shows, much less gripping, innovative and creative television shows than the last ten years. You have shows about things that most viewers couldn't imagine themselves doing, shows that give you a dramatized look at the lives of others, historical recreations, documentaries, that's before we scratch the surface about much more realistic diverse characters are portrayed these days. The intelligence of the general television viewing audience isn't insulted to the degree it was in the days of laugh tracks. Sitcoms were kind in the 1990s, and WWE was counter culture. Times have changed.
Despite the juggernaut of today's television, it's not like WWE is working hurt.
WWE is running with ten times the number of creative minds as twenty years ago, and a roster three times the size to work with. Matches are longer because by-and-large the loyal audience craves competent in-ring wrestling. With the difficult nature of competing with TV storylines, they're given the crutch of wrestling just being enough sometimes. They're given the benefit of more talent and creative. Yet here we are, days removed from the ninth six-woman tag match in a matter of mere months on WWE TV.
WWE isn't alone in this battle. The film industry is criticized for non-stop retreads, reboots and licensed products. Plenty do great numbers, so maybe there's not much motivation to change in that regard. The advent of binge viewing is something that benefits television shows as opposed to the "live sports" category that pro wrestling fits under. One could argue that hasn't hampered cinema from a financial aspect, only creative -- that could be the same boat WWE is in.
What we grew up on is often romanticized when something poor is on our screens presently. I thought re-establishing Seth Rollins over 65 minutes on a go-home episode of WWE Raw was masterful storytelling, booking and performing. There wasn't a ton of creativity required in that regard. A guy went out and used his athletic ability and a few guys who could help him and in one night regained steam that he may have lost since WWE fumbled his 2016 return from injury to begin with.
WWE isn't constrained by a genre. It's action, humor, drama, horror and reality TV all in one. The fact that it is and can be all of those things should be a benefit, not a detriment. Going from watching The Walking Dead Sunday night, WWE Monday and Tuesday, then Fargo on a Wednesday can be a real wake-up call about how WWE's lack of motivation can insult their viewers. If what is so often put on the screen is what they consider motivation, they're doing themselves a real disservice.
WWE Smackdown Live's Road Dogg publicly lobbied on Twitter months ago for Sarah Logan to be a part of his roster. A little green to say the least, Logan had a ready made character of being a sustenance hunter. I know it, and I believe it. I'm from Kentucky and I have a thousand girls in my town just like her, and Logan fit the role well. After fumbling a couple of lines on the microphone early on, neither she or her Riott Squad cohorts have been anything resembling an interesting story to help establish any semblance of emotion? Why should I care?
Bray Wyatt and Matt Hardy are an excellent indicator. So bad it's good type of stuff helped launch Matt Hardy into superstardom (yet again) outside WWE, and he and Jeremy Borash helped create it on a low budget. With all the resources in the world, WWE can't capture the magic that a couple of guys in one's backyard did with their own creativity.
With the bad, there's plenty of good. WWE has over 260 hours annually of USA Network content, and the idea that all of it is going to be good is insane. There's no offseason, no time to catch up. But that's not an excuse to leave glaring holes in what simply makes sense. Not when that's the standard in television excellence in 2018. WWE not having competition in the form of WCW isn't the problem. WWE not rising to the occasion against their competition in mainstream TV is. Your competition is there, and from story telling standpoint you're getting your ass kicked.