Katz Files: Bad Booking Hurts Good Wrestling

The Katz Files – Arnie Katz

The Kingfish Arnie Katz puts some heat on a few of the folks who script the dramatic segments on WWE and TNA TV shows.

There is no fan so soulless as to have never said, “I wish they’d do it this way,” when watching professional wrestling in the relative quiet of their living room. And it would dishonest not to admit that all of us have occasionally enjoyed Walter Mitty-esque dreams of taking over the booking at TNA or WWE to “show them how it should be done.”

That’s part of the fun of being a smart wrestling fan. It’s like the privilege of second-guessing baseball umpires and debating the judges’ scoring in MMA and boxing.

Some fans have surrendered to such fantasies and written elaborate columns in which half-dozen guys commit career suicide while the writer’s special favorites miraculously rise to the pinnacle of success.

I’d also like a crack at the job, but I promise you that this edition of The Katz Files isn’t an excuse to audition for it. There’s plenty wrong with the booking in both major promotions, but both feature a lot of effective booking, too. You can fault TNA for inconsistency and abrupt direction changes and cite WWE for pointless plots that puff up non-wrestlers, but the Samoa Joe-Kurt Angle and Shawn Michaels-Chris Jericho feuds show both promotions can hit the target.

The topic this time is not match-making and choreography, but the writing of dramatic scenes. The Booker T and Michaels-JBL storylines are flagrant examples of bad writing.

Booker T was a main event star when he arrived in TNA. He has had some good moments since, but he has also slowly trended downward in status. Dumb gimmicks like the glitzy dressing room and the weird accents have made him less credible and that self-awarded Legends Championship doesn’t do a lot to improve the situation. It would’ve been better if some TNA official had created the belt and Booker T won it in a hard-fought match. This way, it’s meaningless.

Booker T now gives one basic interview with very little variation from week to week. His scenes often lack focus or resort to the simplest and most over-used wrestling traditions, in lieu of original, focused material. A booker needs to give him a well-defined feud and a writer need to give him some interesting material.

The JBK-JBL storyline has been a mess from the beginning. They tried two other things with Leyfield immediately before starting the Michaels story – and the latest plot contradicts the ones that preceded it.

Since the weak start, Michaels has done a wonderful job portraying a man caught in a frustrating, agonizing situation that makes him think less of himself as a human being. His facials and gestures are exemplary, but the interviews haven’t been quite as strong. They run long and cover the same ground two or three times before he stops, which is a dead giveaway that there isn’t enough content to justify the time.

John Bradshaw Leyfield’s speeches have sounded confused, and confusing, for some time. The election of Barrack Obama seems to have set him off on a marathon rant. He often slides into the over-the-top rightwing dogmatism that flaws his radio show. Letting Leyfield “improvise” usually leads to a long irrelevant polemic.

The Biggest Problems

The two biggest drawbacks of current booking and writing are that all the talk often doesn’t lead to a worthy match and a lack of originality.

Complex and lengthy storylines that focus on non-wrestlers like Hornswoggle or Traci Brooks are a waste of time and effort. WWE has hired writers from outside the wrestling field and they seem to have a hard time grasping that essential point.

Bookers used to take refuge in the idea that the audience turned over every two-three years. There surely is some turnover, but a lot of fans are staying for decades rather than years. You can’t just feed them the same old clichés without adding in a lot of fresh ideas.

A Final Thought on Writing

Dramatic scenes express aspects of the stories that go beyond the straight-forward action in the ring and set up the context for the matches. The right angle gives a match meaning and significance while guiding fans to love the babyface more and the heel less.

Matches without that context don’t have nearly the same appeal to the mass audience of wrestling fans, even when the action is scintillating. Wrestling is a show that requires setting, nuance and character as well as athleticism.

Plots that go nowhere, plots that undercut individual characters instead of building them up, plots that come across as stupid – they don’t help the show at all. In fact, bad writing can turn a potentially exciting match into so much card-filler.

That’s it for this time. I’ll be back tomorrow with another installment of the Internet’s fastest-rising daily pro wrestling column. I hope you’ll tell you’re friends about it – and please do come back tomorrow and join me here.

— Arnie Katz
Crossfire4@cox.net
(1/6/09)

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