The July 23, 2012 edition of WWE Monday Night Raw was going to be a historic event even before Thursday's big announcement. That's because July 23rd will mark the 1,000th episode of Raw. What would they do to celebrate? I figured it would be a three-hour edition of Raw, but that only turned out to be part of the big news.
We got our answer at 4:34 p.m. ET in a tweet from @JohnCena, in all caps no less:
STARTING Monday Night July 23 @USA_NETWORK WILL BE ADDING A 3RD HOUR TO @WWE MONDAY NIGHT RAW - PERMANENTLY. #3hourRaw
Since May 2009, I've reviewed every episode of WWE Raw. It's been an interesting three years, because the first year gave us a lot of bad shows thanks to an endless array of "guest hosts" that got way too much screen time. Summerfest, anyone?
In 2010, things got a bit better because guest hosts stopped being booked, but it wasn't a great year for WWE, all things considered.
Last year was an upgrade in terms of better PPVs, better stories and better episodes (usually) of Raw, too. Having The Rock back, even as a part-timer, certainly helped. This year has been OK, as evidenced by my average rating of Raw being around a 6 out of 10.
Raw is not a great show every week. It's above average, though. It's also appointment viewing for a lot of wrestling fans, although not at the level it was during the Attitude Era from 1998 to 2001. The ratings tell that story. Despite the show not being at the Attitude Era ratings level, it's still one of the highest-rated shows on cable television. If it wasn't, would USA Network commit to adding another hour of weekly programming to Raw? Of course not.
Make no mistake about it, WWE is a very healthy organization that makes money every year. If this fails for whatever reason, then in six months or a year they can always go back to the two-hour format. This isn't a make-or-break move.
With all of that said, I've come up with three pros (good things) and three cons (bad things) as a result of this move to the three-hour Raw format.
Pro - More Opportunities for Wrestlers to Get TV Time
Every so often, I get people asking me who I think is going to get fired when WWE makes cuts. I never know what to say other than if a wrestler isn't on Raw or SmackDown regularly. then they're probably in danger of being cut.
By doing an extra hour of Raw every week, that means more people will be at the tapings and hopefully more of them will not only get to be on every week, but those that may have appeared in danger of losing their jobs will be able to keep them going forward.
The current roster has over 70 performers on Raw and SmackDown. If you add in the talent that appears exclusively on NXT (including the new version that involves FCW), then that total nearly reaches 100 people. There's talent all over the place.
There isn't always room for them on the shows, though. With an added hour of Raw, perhaps this will allow them that opportunity to shine on the flagship show of WWE.
Pro - The Development of the Midcard Characters
This is a big one in my eyes. The Raw midcard these days consists of very few Raw performers who barely get any promo time while they are thrown into tag matches or are forced to lose to make the directionless Brodus Clay look good. There are also the SmackDown performers that appear on the show who usually take up the spots that would have gone to the midcarders before the "Supershow" format took over last year.
The three male secondary titles (Intercontinental, US and Tag) are all poorly booked these days. While I have hope for the tag division with the additions of new teams on both Raw and SmackDown, I have concern for the other two. There's not much of a division.
Cody Rhodes had that feud with Big Show over the IC Title that went on for too long while Santino has had no real feuds since winning the US Title. The more important titles appear to be on Raw, the more the matches on PPVs will mean. It's not hard to book secondary titles in a good way.
The question is, do they want to make those titles seem important? I hope the answer to that is yes.
Pro - Attention Given to the Divas Division
I really hope this happens. Generally speaking, the divas matches on both Raw and SmackDown are generally short. Most weeks, the actual matches get maybe two minutes at the most, with three minutes being rare. Now that they have an extra hour of content every week, perhaps that could lead to an increase in screen time for the girls.
Not only do they need more time in the ring, but they need to be better developed as characters. Why should we cheer for Layla? She was a heel before. She has a heel theme song. She hasn't spoken one word to the live audience. Sorry, but WWE.com videos don't count. We need to be given reasons to cheer or boo these women.
Hopefully, a returning Kharma will be a spark to the division as well. If you use her wisely and throw talented divas like Beth Phoenix and Natalya into the mix, then the division could be a useful part of the company. It was before in the early-to-mid-2000s. It can be again.
The addition of an extra hour could open some doors for the women that weren't there before. And if not, at least Eve isn't wrestling and instead looking hot in those business suits. Am I right?
Con - Quality of 3-Hour Raws Are Not Generally Better Than 2-Hour Episodes
As mentioned, I've reviewed every Raw for three years. In the last year or so, every time a three-hour Raw was upon us, I usually complain about it because they are usually below-average shows.
What usually happens in a three-hour episode is even more time is given to the top guys, even more video packages are run showcasing the same things multiple times (remember how many times they showed the Lesnar video?) and it doesn't necessarily mean the show is better.
It's up to the creative team to be smart enough to realize you need different people on Raw instead of putting the same people in even more scenes. When that happens, characters tend to get overexposed, they lose whatever momentum they used to have and it doesn't help anybody in the long run.
The way these three-hour Raws are booked is crucial. The best way to book them is to use the first hour to build up things that will happen in the second and third hours, which is when the audience will be more used to key stories being told.
From September to December, they can also use the first hour for big angles since NFL games start at 8:30 p.m. ET on ESPN, which will allow WWE to get a 30-minute jump on the competition (the NFL destroys WWE on Monday night ratings and always will because the NFL is the biggest sport in America).
The point remains that the better the show is, the more people will watch. It's up to Vince McMahon, Triple H, the creative team and the performers to ensure that we get their best efforts every week.
Con - Fans Remember WCW Nitro Going to 3 Hours
In January 1998, WCW expanded Monday Nitro from two hours to three hours. They also added another weekly first-run television show called Thunder on Thursday nights. Within a few months, thanks to the extremely hot Austin/McMahon feud, WWE passed them in the ratings and by the time 1999 got here, they never looked back.
Three years after WCW went to the three-hour Nitro format, WWE bought them out and WCW died. I would argue that the three-hour Nitro was not the biggest reason why WCW died.
The main reason it died was because of the lack of new stars, the inability of top guys past their prime to have lesser roles on the show and there being too many people having authority on what made it on the television show. Most fans will point to three-hour Nitros as a big reason for the company's demise, and I don't blame them for doing it.
I just think there were other, bigger reasons for the company's rapid decline. The point is that with Raw going to three hours, fans are going to point to Nitro's downfall after they went to three hours as well. As a company, WWE is much stronger than WCW was and are clearly run by competent people who have built an empire that has lasted generations. Let's just hope they learn from the mistakes of their former competitor.
Con - This Move Could Hurt SmackDown
The ratings for Friday Night SmackDown have been pretty consistent since the show moved to the Syfy Network. When they've done live Tuesday specials, the ratings have been OK, but not encouraging enough to permanently move the show to Tuesdays.
Even though it airs taped on the worst TV weeknight, WWE and Syfy are pleased with the viewers they have. The biggest thing that can hurt SmackDown is an over-saturation of WWE's product.
Think about what it will be like on a PPV week. You'll have a three-hour PPV on Sunday, a three-hour Raw on Monday and then two hours of SmackDown on Friday. That will be eight hours of WWE programming for 12 weeks in the year. It might cause some fans to tune out the product simply because there's too much of it. I'm one of those people that likes SmackDown. If I'm not home on a Friday, I DVR it and watch it Saturday morning.
It's usually a wrestling-heavy show. It looks different than Raw. It feels different than Raw. The problem is, a lot of people already miss it because of the day it airs and because they can only take so much WWE in a week. I get that. Two hours a week is enough for most people. The potential of five hours is a lot, and eight hours once a month might be asking too much out of the viewers.
I hope that SmackDown remains a consistently good show because it's important for the health of the company. However, now that there is another hour of Raw on the docket, that could affect the importance of the "B" show.
I'm leaning more toward the pros than I am the cons because I like to think of myself as a positive-minded wrestling fan who wants good things to happen in the business for all involved. I'm hoping for the best.
It's a move with some risk, but in my opinion, the potential reward far outweighs whatever negative feelings there may be. If this works and it improves the midcard roster, which in turn would build main-eventers for the future, then ultimately that is something that is beneficial to management, the wrestlers and, most importantly, the loyal fans of World of Wrestling Entertainment.