Reaction to Smackdown ratings
May 4, 2002 - by Stephen Lyon

The Emperor is Wearing No Clothes

So the chickens have finally come home to roost. The emperor is wearing no clothes. The cupboard is bare, the tank is empty. This past weeks' Smackdown rating - the lowest rating in the history of the show, a 2.9 - could prove to be a watershed moment in the WWF. Regardless of what the WWF p.r. machine puts forth, Hulkamania really IS dead, save for two matches. One with Steve Austin, where Hogan should be made to PROPERLY put over Austin. And the other is a midcard Wrestlemania 19 match with Vince McMahon. Hogan comes out to Real American, does your standard Hogan match, wins, poses, and retires. No matches with Taker, Jericho and Angle. Definitely no matches with Flair. Sure, Hogan could be used as a midcard attraction, similar to how Giant Baba was used. But Hogan loves the limelight. And I just can't see him settling for a midcard comedy spot.

Of course, anyone who paid the slightest bit of attention to declining WCW ratings and who was main-eventing at the time knew that Hulkamania actually died 3 to 4 years ago. But Vince paid no attention to WCW. The people running that company were clueless. They didn't know how to handle Hogan. Hulkamania was his baby, his creation. A certain Mr. Gagne might object to that statement, but what's that current favourite saying" Perception is Reality"

But it isn't. Vince might perceive the crowd's reaction to Hogan in the arenas to be an endorsement of Hogan's push. But the reality is that same arena is also half to three quarters full. Ratings are falling to unheard of levels. Crowd reaction and viewer interest are two entirely different animals, and unless Vince is careful, he's headed (yet again) down WCW mistake boulevard. So how can this situation be rectified"

Well, the most important thing for Vince and the WWF to do is not to panic. They shouldn't drop the split. That's not the ratings loser here, it has far more to do with the writing and portrayal of wrestlers. Although, I'd tag 'Hogan as Champ' with at least 70% of the blame for the ratings decline, the Smackdown writing crew also have a lot to answer for. Elevation of talent on Smackdown is virtually non-existent. The Mark Henry test of strength angles have resulted in not only Henry not getting over, but the rest of the midcarders, both talented (Storm, Christian, Venis) and untalented (Faarooq, Godfather, maybe Test) becoming one homogenous mass, easily interchangeable with one another. The pathetic cruiserweight division consists of one feud, Tajiri and Kidman. Why hasn't Kidman been given the ball" Didn't Vince hear the crowds reaction to him at Backlash" Or was that another one of those piped in chants, like the Hogan one" Yes, they debuted Randy Orton. But he's also ha! ving his first feud with somebody that nobody cares about, Bob Holly. Unless their likely Judgement Day match is spectacular, that won't get Orton over. What happened to introductory vignettes, to build anticipation for a newcomer"

The last six months have shown that Vince has gone for quick fixes whenever the ratings start declining. When the Invasion angle was killed off, Vince reset the game by bringing in Ric Flair. Once the newness of Flair wore off, in February he brought in the nWo. Once the nWo was quickly exposed as having no legs, particularly with Hogan having another agenda, Nash on the injury list and Hall unreliable and washed up, the big split was initiated. Whilst Raw has been a relative success (compared to Smackdown anyway) with the well-paced Flair-Austin storyline, Smackdown, with its' two top faces largely unavailable to wrestle, appears to have no identity.

By looking at Vince's last few months, it would appear that Vince will be looking to sign Scott Steiner or Bill Goldberg (or both) sometime in the next month. This decision will also be hastened by the debut of the Jarrett promotion, and maybe even (this is a stretch, I know) if the XWF unveils a t.v. deal. Whilst the signings of Steiner, and particularly Goldberg, would make a big difference initially, both in providing a ratings increase and fresh match-ups, this is not a solution in itself.

The time has come for Vince to get behind a mid carder, and shoot him all the way to the top of the tree. No half-ass Jericho push. I'm talking the Diesel/Rock push. A serious attempt at creating a new fresh main eventer. The title should be kept on this guy for at least three to four months. Word has it that the next in line for such a push is Edge. So why not" I say go for it.

At Judgement Day, have a four way title match (Hogan vs Taker vs HHH vs Jericho). There could be a disputed finish, with Flair favouring one guy as champ, and Vince favouring another. Linda McMahon could declare the title vacant, and for the first time ever, the winner of the King of the Ring tournament would also be declared WWF Champion.

This scenario would result in a number of things. For one, it gets the title off Hogan, without totally burying him at the same time (you still need him for the Austin and McMahon matches). Two, it creates intrigue for the King of the Ring pay-per-view. Both Raw and Smackdown could pick their best eight guys and have one qualifier on the show each week, to whittle down the numbers to four guys from each side. Three, and most importantly, it could create a situation where a guy like Edge could beat, say, Hall, Taker and Jericho all in one night to become WWF Champion. Not only would Edge be champion, but he would have been visibly elevated at the same time. Of course this would involve certain egos being hurt along the way, but tough. The time has come for sentiment to be thrown out of the window.

But of course, all of this depends on Vince deeming Hogan to be at fault for the low ratings. Bearing in mind that this is the same company where some were blaming Jericho himself, and not Stephanie, for the lack of interest in his title reign and feud with Triple H, well, I'm not about to hold my breath for any major changes.

Stephen Lyon,
St. Helens, England, U.K.

[email protected]

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