A lot of writers on Bleacher Report have commented on WWE's new child-oriented show, Saturday Morning Slam, saying things along the lines of "I am not a huge fan of the show, but I am not the target audience, so I will refrain from criticising it."
Though commendable this acknowledgement of the show's target audience is, that is not to say the show is not of benefit to the rest of us, however.
It is true that children are the target. From having the camera highlight them to the show's Saturday morning time slot to having Santino on commentary, this is not the WWE most of us older fans like. Then, there's the more drastic changes to actual matches—restricted move-sets and so forth.
So then, what do older fans get out of this show that might not initially be so obvious to them?
It keeps the kids happy
WWE loves its younger fans. To be more specific, it loves the level of disposable income that their parents allow for many of them to have. While the PG style of wrestling WWE currently chooses to broadcast is also attractive to investors who might not want to be associated with anything too brutal and cannot hurt Linda McMahon's dreams of political office, the merchandise that children buy is vital to take into account too.
Kids tune in to see Kofi Kingston and John Cena smiling as they smite evil. Since R-Truth's 2011 heel turn launched WWE's "conspiracy" angle and CM Punk had his shoot promo, WWE has entered what many fans are calling the "Reality Era." The result is a product which is significantly edgier than before and possibly less appealing to children. These people want John Cena as WWE Champion, not the cynical heel CM Punk.
However, with Saturday Morning Slam keeping the kids happy, WWE can push Raw in an edgier, more mature direction again without worrying about sales of Kofi Kingston action figures, Sin Cara masks and John Cena t-shirts dipping.
More money in WWE's pockets allows it to take more risks
A major criticism of the post-Attitude era, one which could even be leveled at the Hulkamania era and the Ruthless Aggression era, not just the recent PG era, is that WWE does not take enough risks with its product. John Cena always wins. Randy Orton always wins. World Champions never have a feud with each other. The Diva's Division is never given more than about five minutes of match time at most. It is certainly a problem.
Only really the New Generation and Attitude eras had this increased level of creativity as WWE was forced to adapt to the threat of WCW. Other periods may have been more consistent, but were never as surprising.
Part of the reason for this problem has been WWE's recent gradual dip in popularity. A company only takes risks for two reasons—when it is doing so well that fans are likely to get behind anything the company does or when it is doing so badly that it has nothing left to lose.
An increase in WWE's fortunes will mean it can afford to do things a little more off the wall without worrying about rocking the boat too much. If WWE consistently makes a good sum of money from shows like Saturday Morning Slam, Main Event and NXT (which does air in many countries despite not airing in major areas such as the USA). This means splashing a little cash on guys like Brock Lesnar and The Rock become more reasonable prospects.
I know those two men might seem like obvious draws, but how does one quantify that? I am sure WWE's estimates for the value of Brock Lesnar—around $5 million for 25-30 appearances—were based on numbers pulled almost out of thin air. The buyrates have not been comparable to UFC, and much has changed since Lesnar was last in WWE in 2004—his star power having arguably increased, but WWE's fortunes decreased. The risk is paying off, it would seem, but it was definitely still a risk.
Allows Superstars and Divas to develop
Children are an easily satisfied audience relative to some older WWE smarks, and allowing Superstars to perform in front of them can only make them more confident.
The wrestlers typically featured on Saturday Morning Slam are mid-card guys who are out of training but rarely given major TV exposure on Raw and Smackdown until a major face like Randy Orton or John Cena needs a new opponent and then they are shoved straight into the spotlight, often before they are ready.
Main eventing Saturday Morning Slam is a great opportunity for these Superstars to prepare themselves for big matches on WWE's main two shows, meaning those of us who stick to Raw and Smackdown will get to witness better performances. A great example of someone who could benefit from this is Sin Cara.
Furthers "Be A Star" campaign safely away from Raw and Smackdown
The WWE "Be A Star" initiative, which campaigns against bullying, is great. However, it is often incongruous with WWE's on-screen product, where you have Jerry Lawler making fun of Vickie Guerrero's weight and such on a regular basis despite Lawler supposedly being a kindly face.
Not to mention a lot of us might approve of the initiative—it is a nice idea—but we are not exactly fans of it. As Saturday Morning Slam becomes a greater focus for WWE's young audience, you can ensure it will also be where a lot of "Be A Star" coverage will be shown. This means WWE's investors and Linda McMahon's campaign team are kept happy, but my WWE shows have less boring stuff on them. Well, unless they're replaced by matches which involve The Great Khali.
Some older fans do enjoy it
This is a point worth mentioning, even if most of Saturday Morning Slam's audience is younger than that of Raw/Smackdown.
Saturday Morning Slam feels slightly smaller than Raw and Smackdown, something which may appeal to older wrestling fans who remember the days before Monday Night Raw, in the era of NWA territories.
There are older fans of men like Kofi Kingston, who seems to be over with just about any crowd he performs to, and some WWE obsessives who will simply watch anything WWE puts on a screen.
I am a fan of Josh Mathews and Tony Chimel, and given they are not featured prominently on WWE's two main shows, it is nice that Saturday Morning Slam is one of their homes in the company.
What are your thoughts?
I would love to hear your input on all of this. Please leave a comment!