Whether you love it or not, the Attitude Era will go down in history as the most beloved period in WWE history.
But was it really that good?
And how does it compare to the often maligned PG Era? We’re about to find out.
Whenever I tune into WWE these days, one glaring thing always strikes me. I don’t mean there being no fans in attendance, although that is jarring. What I’m talking about is the clear differences I see on today’s product when compared to the Attitude Era. It’s simply chalk and cheese.
I actually didn’t start watching wrestling until late 1999, so I missed pretty much the entirety of the Vince Russo penned Attitude Era. However, thanks to the award-winning WWE Network (if I put it over, maybe they’ll throw me a free subscription), I’ve been able to enjoy every episode of Raw from that tremendously successful period in wrestling.
Because I didn’t grow up on the Attitude Era, I don’t look at it through rose-tinted glasses like many do. I can see all the faults, and there were many of them. However, for everything they did bad, they did ten more things better than ever.
The over the top angles, the reality-based characters, every wrestler on the roster had something to do, every episode of Raw have a story to invest in and make you want to tune in again the following week. Those are things Vince McMahon has not done during the PG Era, for whatever reason, be it out of boredom or zero competition. McMahon had no reason to put any effort into the product, and it shows.
The PG Era is not all bad, despite what many will tell you. WWE officially became child-friendly in 2008, which signalled the end of profanity, ladies in bra & panties, and lots of blood in matches. Cutting out the first two has actually helped WWE, but the third one severely hinders the drama especially with all the gimmick bouts they insist on booking.
Currently, WWE has over 30 writers on their books with backgrounds in Hollywood. They insist on scripting every single line for the wrestlers which is exactly what Russo did in the Attitude Era, only a million times better. Why? Because he understood the characters, he made them cool, and had them act and talk in ways that made sense. Today’s writers are just looking to add things to their CV and get Hollywood to see their work and save them from the wrasslin business.
So, scripting is not the problem. The writing is. WWE should revert back to the old-style way of writing promos which saw one of two writers along with an agent discussing an angle with the wrestlers in question and coming up with something believable and engaging. This continually happened in the Attitude Era, but the PG Era has seen nonsensical stories and lines being uttered by their top babyface. I can’t imagine Stone Cold Steve Austin ever reading pre-prepared statements, can you?
Speaking of the face of the Attitude Era, Stone Cold Steve Austin was the ultimate anti-hero that resonated with the masses, while the PG Era’s flag bearer, John Cena, appealed only to five-year-olds and teenage girls. That fanbase is never going to move the needle when it comes to ratings which is another reason why the numbers have continually nosedived since 2001.
The in-ring product is unquestionably better today than it ever was back in the late-90s. Maybe that has something to do with the level of athleticism displayed by the performers, who are by far more athletic than their counterparts. What it lacks, however, is logical storytelling. The Attitude Era was all about developing the story, and everything had to make sense. Today, we just see good match after good match but nothing actually means anything. When nothing matters people tune out.
I am not trying to get the Attitude Era to return by any stretch of the imagination. It would never fly today, and rightfully so. However, many of the elements that made the era so successful can and should be used today to better the product.
They have to make the audience care again, and not just shill out cringe-worthy advertisements in an attempt to become popular with Disney. That will only happen if and when Disney actually purchase WWE, which is incredibly looking more and more likely, but that is definitely another story for another day.
The PG Era is all about gearing their product towards children. That’s their audience today. That’s one of the big reasons WWE keeps turning to relics of yesteryear to bring lapsed fans back into the fold. If your eight-year-old child or relative tells you, The Undertaker, Goldberg or Hulk Hogan is back, it will pique your interest because it reminds of you a time when wrestling was cool. That’s why WWE keep using them for WrestleMania to get the biggest number of subscribers they can for the award-winning Network. (Did I mention it is award-winning? Because it is, and it’s incredible value for money).
The PG Era arguably also has the better roster when you think about it. John Cena, Triple H, Brock Lesnar, Shawn Michaels, Chris Jericho, The Shield, Randy Orton, Edge and everyone involved in the women’s revolution, just to name a few. They have all paved the way in this era. They are just constantly hampered by the shoddy writing and lazy storytelling.
WWE should cut back on some of the writers and keep the ones that are actually invested in wrestling. Write a coherent product that develops week to week and gives fans a reason to watch. It’s not rocket science, and the evidence that this formula works is there for all to see on the award-winning Network. What an amazing Network that really is.
The Attitude Era revolutionised the business, while the PG Era has slowly helped to kill it. That’s the basis of this story, anyway. There is some truth to it, but just like the Attitude Era wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows, the PG Era isn’t the big, bad, and ugly of sports-entertainment that it is portrayed to be.
As ratings keep crashing to all-time lows, Vince McMahon has to do something sooner rather than later. Taking what worked in the Attitude Era and blending it with today’s product is the way to go.
Fans won’t return overnight, of course, but in time they will if WWE delivers them a consistent show that is both enjoyable and engaging.
So, what I’m trying to say is that the PG Era is not the problem, the writing and entire structure of the shows are. There needs to be a back to basics approach to get things back on track before we are witnessing the rise and fall of WWE books and documentaries everywhere in the coming years.
You can find the author of this article on Twitter @JK_CFC3. Thanks for reading!