Reflecting on a frustrating start to the new year for AEW & WWE, TWM columnist James Klonowski places this creative blip in the context of a wider problem that has seen unfamiliar situations for all entertainment productions…
Naturally, and understandably, the Internet Wrestling Community always jumps into life the moment when a blip turns into a crisis, especially when it’s a top company who are suffering the long lull in creativity. They have one of the most expensively assembled rosters, thronging with unbelievable talent and widely assumed to have the best creative minds money can buy backing them, yet are suffering embarrassingly low ratings on a weekly basis, and is starting to resemble the dying embers of WCW, and all anyone can do is look on dazed and blinking in utter confusion. But enough about AEW.
To be fair, it hasn’t even been a particularly fruitful period for WWE either, and certainly not the action-packed, drama-filled bonanza that we are used to being treated to by WWE at their very best. 2020 was a bizarre year for everyone, but nothing more strange than seeing WrestleMania held in an empty warehouse. When WWE are on their game with their creative juices flowing and are in a rampant mood, no one does this version of sports-entertainment better. WWE currently have Roman Reigns and Drew McIntyre, in their career-peak runs as their World Champions, and yet they still can’t garner more interest than the latest episode of The Great British bloody Bake Off.
But no. I’m struggling to remember when WWE was less enjoyable to watch,
Jinder Mahal as WWE Champion notwithstanding, of course, the twinkle in Vince McMahon’s eye seemingly vanished, to the point where it looks like he is no longer running a wrestling promotion but is about to board the starship enterprise.
And, by the way, we also have to bring into the discussion the small matter of a worldwide pandemic that has hugely affected millions of people around the globe. There are far more important things to be getting upset about than the horrible booking of a wrestling promotion. I absolutely get it, even though it’s always my impression that the people making this argument most loudly at any point haven’t necessarily attempted to book and promote a successful TV show, as well as keep a locker room of 60 men and women happy daily, and also keep everyone in the world delighted at what you’re producing. We can all be hindsight bookers, but it’s not as easy as it looks if it was Jim Cornette would still be in the business.
Also, is it strictly accurate to say that ‘other things are going on in the world right now more important than Goldberg getting a shot at the WWE Championship’? In some respects, and definitely at certain points already this year, there are virtually ZERO other live entertainment offerings available, because everything is closed and we all finished Netflix and the WWE Network months ago.
So, yes, even in the midst of an unprecedented and still unfolding pandemic, I’ll admit to having devoted some time this past couple of weeks to feeling glum about the prospect of wrestling no longer existing soon if it continues down the strange path it currently wanders.
Even so, one attempts to retain a sense of perspective amid the noise and smoke and to seek one’s consolations wherever one can find them. And the simple fact is this:
In 1996 (the year before the Attitude Era officially kicking off) WWE was garnering some of their worst ratings and reviews whilst WCW (along with the NWO) were dismantling them and threatening to put them out of business. Fast forward 18 months and WWE were ushering in record numbers, rave critical response and leaving WCW in their wake.
None of that was done during a pandemic, I grant you, but it just goes to show wrestling has been through these dull periods before and history tells us they usually bounce back bigger and better than ever before. For the record, regular TV shows have been suffering drops in ratings over the years to thanks to the boom in popularity of on-demand networks, so it’s not just wrestling that is suffering. You can point at WWE being creatively bankrupt which is a fair assessment, but the same then has to be said about AEW who seems to be in freefall and running out of ideas at a rapid rate.
So, yes, at this stage, I’m still broadly in favour of calling this a “creative blip” in the history of WWE. A blip like every other wrestling promotion has ever suffered, just like AEW are also suffering. Moreover, don’t WWE deserve a non-judgmental blip period? Vince McMahon, in particular, has been the number one wrestling promoter for close to 50 years, he can’t get it to spot on every week, but judging by the company’s profits, I’d hedge my bets and say he isn’t doing a bad job after all. Certainly one very much admires Vince McMahon’s public view of the current situation as a set of unprecedented problems to be worked on and solved by a diligent application of everyone.
By contrast, Tony Khan seems to be on Cloud 9, even though his company has yet to grow their audience one iota even though they’ve been on primetime TV for over a year. Really, Tony?
Tony Khan is hell-bent on being the popular boss, but ask Eric Bischoff how that ends. Dixie Carter is another example of why he should avoid being pals with his employees at all costs.
Khan can’t even complain that WWE has been around for generations and have more popularity, as ratings prove millions of people have stopped watching WWE, so there’s plenty of fans out there that AEW could go after, but they’re too inept to even bother. Staying with a small hardcore fanbase is good for the short-term, but I don’t see much talk about ECW these days.
Credit WWE with one thing at least, in this forgettable period in their rich history: Roman Reigns is on a Hall Of Fame worthy trajectory. Since he turned heel and aligned with Paul Heyman in the summer of 2020, Reigns has been given a new lease of life in his career, and he’s never been better. He’s arguably the best character in the entire business today. WWE aren’t often praised for great storytelling but for this, they deserve heaps of praise. They’ve finally created a new mainstream megastar to build their entire promotion around. I just wonder if fans were in arenas they’d ruin the entire angle by actually cheering Roman, rendering the whole thing bloody pointless.
And now bring on the Royal Rumble, the most exciting WWE PPV of the year, and after that we head out onto the road to WrestleMania which promises to be an intriguing watch, to say the least. That’s the thing with blips, it can end in the blink of an eye, and we’ll never talk about it again.