Hi, everyone in the Bleachers!
Things are finally getting good again in WWE.
I will not be a hypocrite. Those of you who have had occasion to read some of my articles know I have been critical of many of the things that WWE has been doing (and, in some cases, not doing).
But as of late-despite the ways WWE creative has dropped the ball-they have also been creating a more interesting and contemporary product.
As many fellow contributors have opined and I myself have hinted at, WWE is moving in a darker direction.
Some might say this started with the infamous shoot promo by CM Punk.
The ever-thinning veil of kayfabe had a few more holes torn in it by the first of many 'pipe bombs' detonated by CM Punk.
For some, it started as far back as last year with the re-introduction of The Rock and his smash-mouth style of wrestling and cutting promos. He, in many ways, defined the Attitude Era.
Then, take a look at some of the storylines.
Daniel Bryan's relationship with AJ could no doubt be considered emotionally and physically abusive.
Chris Jericho goes after CM Punk mentally by bringing up his family's history of substance abuse. True or not, the fact that he went there is what is relevant.
Now-in the aftermath of WrestleMania 28-Brock Lesnar returns. A true avatar of "Ruthless Aggression," he goes on to give Cena an F5 without even uttering a word.
Even Cena-Mr. Suffering Humility at the moment-goes back to his Attitude days and slaps Brock Lesnar in the face in retaliation. Cena gets a bloody mouth and a kick to the groin for his troubles.
While one can never read the mind of Vince and his writers in Connecticut, an argument can certainly be made that things have been turning darker and realer.
This will no doubt be good news to some wrestling fans still pinning over the mean-spirited spectacle of the Attitude and Ruthless Aggression eras.
Lest we think Vince is doing this just to make us happy, let us not forget the ratings angle to all this.
If we examine ratings going back from the start of Raw to today, the Raw ratings are at all-time lows.
The last time there were high ratings?
Well, that would be around 2004, a time when Lesnar and Rock were still with the company.
Given all the above, the question is not 'if,' so much as it is 'how.'
The 'how,' in this case, is how is WWE going to take the show to darker places while still maintaining broad appeal.
Vince does nothing without reason, even if he's wrong.
There is a reason why WWE went PG, and that reason is that the demographics of the wrestling audience of eight years ago has shifted.
Many of those rabid fans have grown up. They have started families and had children. Going PG was an attempt to retain some of the old-guard wrestling fans while working on a new generation of traditional wrestling fans - kids.
Do you doubt WWE is and has always courted kids? Have you seen the Kmart ads on Raw?
It was a good idea that has gone wrong.
WWE has gone too far for too long toward the days of Hulkamania with their standard-bearer, John Cena.
The large segment of the audience that went in for the aggressive and sexually charged product of the late 1990s and early 2000s had turned the channel and took their ratings along with them. A move to a darker product to engage the more mature audience was needed.
In moving darker, there is the danger of alienating one group to please another, and, in the end, accomplishing nothing.
It is an old problem for McMahon. History is replete with McMahon trying to be all things to all people.
Look at the April 9 Raw that had a locker-room clearing brawl and Punk getting beat with beer poured on his head.
The subplot for the night? The Three Stooges were the night's guests.
Think back far further to when Brian Pillman was first coming to the WWE from WCW. That whole live feed. A stalker Steve Austin terrorizing a man and his wife in his home.
Of course, intermingled with that was a ad for Rock'em Sock'em Robots and a match featuring a staple of the innocent '80s-The Iron Sheik.
It was a juxtaposition too far and garnered massive criticism for McMahon. It was the kind of thing that, for a long time, alienated families from WWE.
Such a thing would potential be disastrous to WWE today.
Can WWE go darker and still be family-friendly? I think the answer is yes, if WWE does this smart.
History shows us that that is one big "if."
First of all, the darker content needs to be aired later in the evening when many kids are asleep.
Secondly, darker doesn't mean bringing back castration and crucifixion angles. I think those who are looking for those days are going to be sorely disappointed.
What happened on Raw last night in the first five minutes is fantastic, but it is better suited for hour two.
Also, McMahon needs to keep a balance between the darker and lighter characters.
At the moment, he has the darker characters like Lesnar, Kane, Lord Tensai and, to some degree, The Rock.
He also has the lighter characters that appeal to the younger fans like Zach Ryder and Santino Marella. He needs to use these in the proper ratio as well.
Where John Cena will fit in to the above is yet to be determined.
I would further say that house shows should necessarily be more PG-oriented. Those house shows are more likely to be frequented by the family crowd.
It is not an easy balance, but it can be done.
McMahon has a history of being too reactionary and going to far in one direction. In this case, he needs to cultivate a balance so as to appeal to the broadest spectrum.
WWE will never be all things to all people, but I feel it can be some thing to nearly everyone if Vince gets the formula just right.
What do you think?
I welcome your comments.
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