The WWE does many things right including their decisions on how to book and produce their flagship show Monday Night Raw, but I think we can all agree that there is much room for improvement.
As the WWE loves to remind us every week with the graphics they pair alongside awful music, Raw often beats out other major primetime cable shows on networks like ESPN, Comedy Central, MTV and others, but is that success more due to the content they produce each week or could it be because they’re the only show in town so to speak and have ingrained themselves into the weekly routines of wrestling fans?
They’ll never recapture the magic of the “Attitude Era” because the product is presented completely differently to arguably a completely different audience, but that doesn’t mean that the current formula wouldn’t benefit from a few tweaks.
During the “Attitude Era” the WWF abandoned their once family friendly presentation to target the 18-35 male demographic that drove ratings during the Monday Night Wars. They stopped trying to appeal to everyone and instead did something that I’ve always believed is a wise business strategy in super-serving their key demographic. Basically the idea is that it’s impossible to appeal to and please everyone because the range of likes and dislikes is too large, so pick out which portion of the audience is the most crucial to your success and target everything you do towards entertaining them.
The then WWF mastered that strategy back in the “Attitude Era,” but without competition to push and keep them on their toes they’ve gradually worked their way back to a PG family product over the last decade plus while again trying to please everyone by putting on a variety show each week. It’s a safe strategy because it doesn’t often chase anyone away like more edgy content might, but it also doesn’t invoke or stir up much passion among their hardcore fans to get them excited which then could in turn create more profit.
Despite the opening comments this article won’t be one that dwells on the past and just complains about how things aren’t as good as they once were, but I do think looking back occasionally to things that use to work when the business was hot during times when the business is in a lull is useful.
Instead the focus will be on how to fix the things that sap the energy out of the show each week, take you out of the moment while trying to suspend your disbelief or simply fail to entertain.
That’s the No. 1 job of the creative staff for any wrestling promotion: Allowing their fans to suspend their disbelief.
We know the product is a work, but we’re ok with that. We’re mostly adults and just want to be entertained in the same way we do when we go to a movie theater or turn on the TV.
We’re fully aware that Rick Grimes and his band of merry men and women aren’t actually roaming around the Georgia countryside during a zombie apocalypse, but if the story is compelling enough audiences are willing to let go of reality and jump into that world to escape real life or just simply be entertained.
Wrestling is at its best when it gives you that same opportunity, but some of the things on this list often rob fans of that experience.
Feature More NXT Talent
The main roster and NXT roster are treated like separate promotions at times which is fine because they’re certainly presented that way, but those performers are the future of the company so it would be nice to see them on Raw or Smackdown every once in a while. Treat the NXT performers like a sports league would with top prospects and showcase or talk about them occasionally, so that when they come up to the main roster there is some hype and name recognition associated with their character instead of them feeling like a jobber.
One way to accomplish that goal would be to have an “NXT Showcase” match once a month on Raw with two of their top guys or women facing off. To do it right the upcoming showcase would need to be promoted each week or at least the week before instead of what they’ve done in the past with surprise one night call ups to have the NXT performer just do a job in a five minute throwaway match like what happened to Charlotte Flair a couple months ago.
Not only would they be promoting their future stars and exposing them to an audience who largely hasn’t heard of them, but there is also a sizeable portion of the WWE Universe who only watches NXT and wouldn’t normally tune in to Raw that might watch if their favorite NXT star performed on the show.
Another easy way to expose the NXT talent to the Raw audience would be to do a highlight package of their stars each week. Wouldn’t have to be long, but just replace one of the Smackdown look-backs or backstage promos with a quick recap of any great high spots, finishes or promos that happened during the previous NXT show. Of course by promoting the NXT show you would also be promoting the WWE Network which can still be had for an undisclosed monthly fee; win-win.
Eliminate Most Special Guest Hosts
Did anyone tune into Raw to see the Miz talk to Grumpy Cat?
Did anyone tune into Raw to see Larry the Cable Guy stumble through lame skits with Santino Marella?
The situations they put guest hosts in always come off as very forced and bring the show to a grinding stop. When do you ever think “well that segment really added to the show” after some stupid backstage skit?
The design of any show should be to build up to a climatic finish, but when they go from a match to a backstage skit with some celebrity that has no reason to be there and then to commercial break; whatever momentum they had is completely lost. Unless the skit is really funny and well delivered—which is extremely rare—then the only thing it accomplishes is taking the audience out of the moment and giving them a reason to channel surf until the main event or whatever match they’re most excited for comes on; those segments don’t drive up ratings.
These segments rarely add anything to the show or advance a storyline, so why involve them at all?
I’m not saying celebrities should never be involved because it is entertainment, but having them on just for the sake of having them on is short-sighted and doesn’t work.
If something happens organically, can increase exposure to a Superstar or advance a storyline then by all means do it, but the appearances of Grumpy Cat and Larry the Cable Guy certainly failed to accomplish any of those goals. On the other hand I thought the couple week program with Jon Stewart worked as it exposed Seth Rollins to a different audience and was funny, so as the bullet point said they should eliminate most of the special guest hosts but not all.
Stop Rehashing Previous Matches or Giving Away PPV Matches
Last Monday’s episode of Raw—on March 16 if you’re reading this well after the article was posted—committed this sin several times and it drives me crazy.
The idea of a match is to “settle in the ring” whatever problems the two Superstars are having, so repeating the match several times without any change to the storyline feels forced. The formula is pretty simple: Create a conflict, have the performers talk about it and then have them fight to a finish. I’m not saying there should never be any rematches because conflicts aren’t always solved quickly, but there should be a reason presented for why they need to fight again.
If you want to have a rematch for promotional reasons or just because you need to fill time then have the first match end by someone cheating to gain victory or make it a non-finish that way there is a reason for them to meet again and finish unsolved business. Too often though a clean finish will happen in the first match and with no promotion or reason given to have the match again the commentators will announce that for some unsaid reason the match is happening again.
Why? Wasn’t it settled when they met four days or a week ago? It sometimes feels like creative assumes that no one watches every show, so they get lazy and just repeat matches because they don’t think anyone will notice; we do notice.
Why did we need to see the 6-man tag between the performers—minus R-Truth—who will be involved in the Intercontinental Title ladder match again; once on Smackdown the Thursday before wasn’t enough? What changed in the story that warranted another match? Why partially give away your PPV match twice?
The WWE has a terrible habit of promoting a match involving four or more performers by breaking them up into individual matches before the event. I’m sure the Superstars in the ladder match will put on a great show at Wrestlemania, but when we’ve seen several variations of that match for several weeks leading up to the event it kills some of the anticipation or excitement I have for the match and at times makes the big match being promoted for a PPV feel anti-climactic.
Seeing individual members of two tag teams fight against each other in singles matches leading up to a PPV match between the teams has sadly become as much of a lock as death and taxes like with Nikki Bella facing A.J. Lee last week. At least with the Divas match and 6-man tag they were promoting something—although I disagree with the strategy—but why in the world did we need to see Ryback vs. The Miz on back to back shows?
They don’t have a feud and beating The Miz doesn’t help put Ryback any more over than he already is; what purpose did it serve? I guess you could say it promoted the Battle Royal at Wrestlemania, but wasn’t one match enough to serve that purpose?
We can probably all agree that five hours of TV each week is too much, but if you want fans to watch all of it you’ve got to help us out by not rolling out the same matches week after week with no twist or change to the storyline.
Present the In-Ring Action More Seriously
Speaking of things that take you out of the moment during an episode of Monday Night Raw, nothing does it more for me than commercial breaks during an important match or the commentary being nothing more than a podcast discussing storylines rather than actually calling the play-by-play.
As a viewer what you’re telling me by going to commercial break during a match is that what’s happening in the ring isn’t important. The NFL doesn’t go to commercial break between second and third down, the NBA doesn’t go to break while a point guard is bringing the ball up the court, MLB doesn’t go to break with one out in an inning; they wait until the action has concluded or hit a natural pause.
Of course the WWE is scripted so we know that the match will never end during a commercial break, but it takes me out of the moment. When a match is only 10 minutes long to begin with and you cut out two to three minutes in the middle, how are those performers supposed to capture a TV audience? The better performers like Dolph Ziggler and Seth Rollins still find a way, but it’s much more difficult to tell a story when several of the chapters have been removed.
It wouldn’t necessarily have to be every match, but a couple of their main event level matches should be presented without commercial interruption each week. Of course I’m not expecting or saying they should just eliminate breaks and throw away money, but by tweaking the format to make the segments early in the show shorter to get in more breaks than they are now, they could in turn take fewer breaks later in the show during the important matches.
My point on the commentating probably doesn’t need much explanation: Call the action in the ring. Once again when the announcers are talking about everything except what’s happening in the ring what you’re telling the viewer is that the action in the ring isn’t important.
Like many others I loved Jim Ross as the lead announcer, but I don’t expect the current announce team to call every arm drag or headlock like he did. However the current style really does feel like a podcast they recorded earlier that was just dubbed over the live video with Michael Cole only calling a couple high spots and the finish.
The current direction of the announce team shouldn’t be blamed on the announcers themselves because we all know they’re being directed, but it needs to change. I don’t need the announce team telling me over and over again about how Dean Ambrose stole the Intercontinental Title from Bad News Barrett—Yes Bradshaw it’s theft, we get it—or how Randy Orton could be outnumbered by the Authority; we watch the show, we know what’s going on.
Besides with how many highlight and look back segments they do of previous shows the job of laying out the storylines for any casual fans has been done. Between those highlight packages, the promos backstage, the promos in the ring and the time between matches where the camera goes to the announce team they have more than enough time to make sure every viewer is caught up and knows what’s going on.
So when the bell rings we don’t need the announce team to repeat back the same stuff we’ve heard and watched a dozen times already, just call the match.
Shorten Raw Back to Two Hours
Taking Monday Night Raw back to its previous two-hour format would solve nearly every issue listed above simply because creative wouldn’t have as much time to fill.
If they shortened Raw to two hours they wouldn’t have to throw in matches—or at least not as many—that you’ve already seen before.
If they shortened Raw to two hours they wouldn’t have to open the show with a 20 minute monologue each week.
If they shortened Raw to two hours they wouldn’t have to spend several segments each week recapping and showing highlight packages of what happened the previous week or on Smackdown.
One of the goals in the entertainment business is to leave fans wanting more so that the feeling of not getting enough might drive up merchandise sales and of course have them come back to view the product again.
Do you remember the last time you watched a full three-hour Monday Night Raw and were genuinely upset because it ended before you had your fill? I can’t, more often I will get excited for a couple matches that are their selling points for that episode, but find myself bored or fast-forwarding through everything else.
I DVR Monday Night Raw which isn’t shocking because many people DVR most of the things they watch, but I would certainly be more motivated to watch it live if I didn’t have to sit through an extra hour of filler programming each week.
Few things are DVR proof nowadays, but cutting out the hour of filler to present a shorter show without all the lulls in this age of short attention spans would do wonders.
Thankfully returning the show to a two-hour format was one of the things Triple H mentioned wanting to do during the Steve Austin Show podcast, so the WWE should be in good hands in the future. Like with nearly everything else in entertainment adding an hour to the show was most likely a 100 percent business move to increase the ad revenue, but hopefully once it’s time to negotiate new contracts when the current deals expire they’ll realize that the extra hour has done more harm than good.
What do you think? Comment below with your thoughts, opinions, feedback and anything else that was raised.