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Tuesday, 31 July 2007

RAW needs to play the Long game. (And I don’t mean Smackdown’s Teddy)

I have just finished watching this week’s episode of RAW, and while I normally would be anxious to see what kind of rating it pulls in, this time I am much more concerned about how this show is followed up next week.

I have read this week that USA Network executives are onto Vince McMahon and his team to improve ratings, and that they are interested in taking the RAW show to three hours. I believe there was even a rumour that USA are pressuring WWE to try to show more of people like Steve Austin, Mick Foley, The Undertaker, and have even seen the names Sable and Chyna come up, although there might be more chance of me being on than these two again.

In my opinion, several things are necessary for WWE to ‘stop the bleeding’ and redress the falling ratings trend.

Firstly, take time to build character, and most importantly keep the viewer guessing. This week’s show

Here in the UK, we have a beautiful thing called Sky Plus. I’m not sure what the American equivalent is, or indeed what exists in a similar vein in the rest of the world, but essentially a key element of Sky Plus is that you get to fast forward, rewind, pause etc. TV as you please. I have found myself increasingly watching Raw in about an hour. Watching all the backstage segments and in-ring promos, but having the matches on six-times normal speed, just about being able to make out who is on top, suits me fine.

The seemingly infinite amount of replays, recaps from earlier in the night for people with the memory of a goldfish, plus video packages from previous weeks or about stuff I know (Snitsky, Triple H, Booker/Jerome) earn themselves the +30 treatment – that’s as fast as I can fast forward.

But this week, I got tripped up. Raw took me over two hours. And I skipped all the adverts.

I watched the opening segment, which by the way featured possibly the three most entertaining guys in the mic in the company, in Cena Carlito and Kennedy, and I enjoyed it. But when Kennedy v Lashley and Cena v Carlito were set up, I sighed. Lashley takes punishment and looks imperious, Cena overcomes the odds and probably gets attacked post-match by Orton. Same old, same old.

So I flicked through the beginning of the show, slowing the TV every now and again to hear JR get Jillian’s name wrong THREE times, and then to gaze at Maria. (ah, Maria).

I listen to Santino’s speech. Perhaps it’s the easy stereotyping, but Marella always remind me of the Italian restaurateur from The Simpsons. (“Eh, Salvatore, get-a some pasta for the ugly kid-a. And-a tell-a de boss not to keep-a booking me with Jamal. Dah, I mean Umaga-a.) Anyway, I watched him get flattened because it’s fun.

A bigger sigh as we find out its Orton v Sgt. Slaughter. Yawn, another squash.

I watched Cody v Daivari in full because I’m interested in how this young man will develop. There is a lot of Rocky Maivia in his build up thus far, with was short-term good, slightly longer-term bad, then major long-term exceptional. I hope they give Cody a chance at being face and heel within his opening year, so they can point his career the best way. I’m not saying he’ll be the next Dwayne Johnson, but perhaps he’ll be in the ballpark.

So then it was Kennedy v Bobby Lashley, and put me in a mask and cal me Kwang, I called it wrong. Kennedy wins.

More to the point, Lashley loses!

That, folks is a big thing. Not because I’m saying they’ve ended Lashley’s push. I think this may symbolise a new ethos among the RAW booking team.

It was so shocking, I missed the ending. That’s right, my machine was doing its super-speed gimmick (that wasn’t a Randy Orton joke) and I missed the end, because essentially I was waiting for a spear to hit. The fact Kennedy beat Lashley clean is hopefully a signpost that the man really called Ken Anderson is scheduled for big things.

Later on RAW, after a puzzlingly long Cryme Time segment that went nowhere, a storyline-progressive Booker v Lawler match, and a predicted Orton annihilation of Sarge, the main event came. Of course it was due to Orton’s intervention, but Carlito picked up the win. Yes the ‘in the doghouse’ Carlito.

Now, mark this. Khali beat Cena. But in a non-title match. Shawn Michaels beat Cena – but in a non-title match. Cena beat both of these men on PPV with the belt on the line, and the challengers winning over the The Champ was a way of building up to future clashes.

So is Carlito in line for a title match? Will it be triple threat at Summerslam. Will Kennedy or Lashley be inserted somehow. And what of Jeff Hardy, who beat Kennedy the week before, was scheduled to face Umaga, but wasn’t even seen on RAW this week?

At the moment, Randy Orton is the number one contender, but Cody Rhodes-Runnells is after him. And remember Triple H is lurking.

I like the way the lines are blurred here. We’ve seen a RAW that admittedly was padded with obvious squashes and sub-standard ‘funny’ segments. However, it had a couple of shocks, some good mic work and interesting storyline progression.

In the early Vince Russo days people watched because he wrote interested, shocking TV. He let it go to his head and started writing nonsense (mainly WCW) but when his name is vilified in the Wrestling Press, it ought to be remembered that when he was top man for the WWF writing team, they ruled the world, and have never been that high in terms of popularity again.

The reason the rating has dropped, short term, is the Benoit case and the surrounding hype of steroids in wrestling. This is a significant issue which needs to be addressed, must be addressed and will be addressed. The important thing for the WWE to do is to continue producing solid TV, which entertains and amuses the hardcore fans. And I don’t mean hardcore in the ECW sense – I mean those of us that watch come what may.

Focus on entertaining us, the mainstays, the diehards. If we like it, others will join, see a coherent piece of serial television and join. Don’t use Kevin Federline’s and people like that to spike ratings for two weeks. The people you’ve tempted back on the promise of a name and shock will be let down because it sucks. And eventually these people will stop coming back.

Three hour RAWs would be terrible, because it would mean over exposure of the top guys, longer matches which may be more entertaining, but would actually take away from the essence of selling Pay Per Views, and more tedious skits which don’t work. Add in more pressure and potential for injury leading to (whisper it) reliance on medication and it’s a recipe for trouble.

As is calling on people past their prime. Use the Benoit tragedy and a stepping stone if you like.

Apologies to the Hart family, but two of the worst things that ever happened to them may have helped the business. The ‘screwing’ of Bret Hart meant the creation of ‘Mr. McMahon’ who went on to set the sports entertainment world alight with his feud with Stone Cold Steve Austin. The sad and untimely death of Owen hart made Mr. McMahon realise that he was perhaps a little out of touch and allowed the stars themselves more leeway for character development. This led to more air time for Foley, Rock, Angle, Triple H, Benoit, Jericho, Edge, Christian, The Dudleys, The Hardys and everyone else who made 2000 possibly the best year in WWE history.

Maybe they can go from this Benoit incident and realise that we don’t want to watch gene Snitsky. We don’t want Test, Matt Morgan, A-Train, Great Khali, Nathan Jones, Bull Buchannan, or any amount of freaks with limited talents who succeed because they are nearly seven foot and look carved out of granite. No matter how often JR and Michale Cole tell us how athletic they are.

Every now and again, you get an Undertaker, Kane or Brock Lesnar from this group, but they are the exception not the rule.

Maybe they can focus on the future and continue to build on what could well be decent foundations.

Or maybe this is yet another in a series of false dawns.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Nice post.

I also find myself speed watching wrestling most the time, they have to freshen it up and stop the matches been so predictable.