Doctor’s Orders: The WWE’s Non-Wrestlemania Formula Flat Out Doesn’t Work By The Doc
About a month ago, I decided that I would take a break from the WWE’s programming. This is not a time of the year that has strongly held my attention since 2006, so it seemed like the right time to do it if it was going to be done. I assumed that I would just pick right back up where I had left off after about a month away. WWE Payback this Sunday was supposed to be the end of my hiatus. However, as I have followed the product in print, a specific series of patterns have become more pronounced that have me thinking that I might continue to stay away for a bit longer.
The WWE has these formulas. Many TV shows have them. Grey’s Anatomy, a favorite of Mrs. Doc that yours truly has come to greatly enjoy, always ends their season with a ridiculously over-the-top cliffhanger. A plane crash, an electrocution, a hospital shooting, etc. You just know that when May rolls around, Shonda Rhimes (the writer) is going to pull off something that will press a lot of dramatic buttons. The WWE’s formula for when ratings go down over the years, as they have been here recently? Put the McMahons back on television. To their credit, the McMahons were major stars (like it or not) during the most successful cable TV era in wrestling history. Unfortunately, Vince is such a lunatic in the here and now and Stephanie is such a terrible actress that they bring everything down. Vince cannot wrestle a match like he used to, so the option for a major payoff to whatever angle he gets himself involved in automatically suffers tremendously. The purpose of wrestling feuds is to produce wrestling matches. Vince used to be outstanding in his limited in-ring roles, but as he showed in 2010 with Bret Hart, that magic ended somewhere around 2006/2007 and has disappeared forever. Last year, when ratings sunk in the fall, he put himself in a match with CM Punk. It was wrestle crap. As for Steph, well she only gets into the angles with the guys and she is historically one of the most (unintentionally) annoying TV characters that the WWE has ever featured regularly.
During Wrestlemania season, there is enough star power and other angles to hide the McMahon family melodramas, but that is not the case when the intangible aura that comes with January to April disappears for another nine months. The last thing that a fan on hiatus wants to see as he prepares for a potential return viewership to Monday nights is the words “McMahon family” written twenty times per recap in two straight episode guides. It is a formula that might increase ratings just slightly due to the long-term success of the McMahons in a successful ratings period, but it creates what I like to call “Black Hole TV.” Black Hole TV applies to wrestling angles that cannot logically lead to something that will critically succeed. Vince and Steph’s presence seem to be leading to a “Vince vs. Triple H” match of some sort. Even if the point were to make the once-and-for-all on-screen transition from Vince as the TV figurehead to Trips as the TV figurehead, does anyone really care who the figurehead is anymore? Is not the “authority” figure the most played out, dated character in professional wrestling, WWE, TNA, or otherwise? Every possible take on it has been done before. I think we need to move into an era where the on-air authority spends most of his time off-camera, making logical decisions that a successful business person might make.
Another pattern is to push a heel too fast, too soon. We are now seeing this with Curtis Axel. Axel was doomed from the start, as far as I’m concerned. To read that he has shown very little despite being a featured performer does not surprise me given how his first night on Raw went down (which, you may recall, was the straw that broke the camel’s back to get me to go on this hiatus in the first place). The WWE likes to take a guy with no established character, like Axel, and put him against top stars in positions that the people have not signed off on. Sheamus began this trend in late 2009. He was talented enough to make it work, to a degree, but when you consider where they want him to be and that he already has three eyesore negative stats on his resume having been left off one Mania, spent 18 seconds winning the World title in the opening match at Mania, and being in another opening match at Mania, he is not in as good a place as Daniel Bryan, whose push happened slowly and steadily. Bryan connected with the fans and they pushed him. Sheamus did not and they pushed him anyway. Bryan is now on the verge of superstardom. Sheamus is backsliding to the pre-show because he’s not over. This is one of the worst formulas going in the WWE today. If there is no backstory, then fans cannot invest. To push a guy and not bother to establish a backstory is to put time and effort into a losing situation. That’s “Tebow to the Jets” bad.
One of my least favorite of the formulas is the “heel champion must lose”cycle. Dolph Ziggler is a case in point. He loses on Smackdown, picking right up where he left off when he last wrestled on TV – losing over and over and over again to “establish his vulnerability.” Well, Ziggler is vulnerable without all the losses because he has never won anything consistently. If you do not win big matches or at least compete in big matches with consistency, then fan interest dwindles. This happens with professional golfers a lot lately. Bubba Watson won the Masters last year. I would be willing to be that if he does not win another major by 2013’s end, he will fall off the map and into the massive category of random golfers who, to the casual fan that just watches majors (a sizeable part of the golf viewership), “got lucky” and stole one from the real stars of that sport like Tiger and Phil. Consistency, ladies and gentlemen, is what makes a wrestling star in modern times. Ziggler is not a superstar. He is just an upper mid-carder with a lot of potential who once got the best of John Cena on a random PPV. Every time the WWE puts him on TV, he loses these days. The win over Cena is a distant memory. The further we get from TLC and the more losses he compiles on TV, the more beating Cena will be forgotten. The average June PPV buys over the last four years is 171,000; well below the annual average. Ziggler will retain on Sunday, but very few people will see that. They may read about it, but far more people will see him continue to lose while he establishes that all mighty vulnerability.