Extending WWE's flagship show by an hour was a move that brought a shower of criticism.
Monday Night Raw went from two hours to three last July. One would think that giving WWE fans more of their favorite show would be welcomed and applauded.
Instead, the company heard claims that its third hour was light on substance, that it only managed to highlight the mismanagement of the roster and that it was just too tough to make that long of a show entertaining each week.
WWE audiences are some of the most critical and vocal fans around, so some of the criticism was exaggerated. Some of the harping, though, is well deserved.
Recaps, Fillers and Fluff
How could fans not enjoy an extra hour of something they love?
The answer lies in what makes up that extra hour of material. The perception is that Raw's third hour is largely made up of recaps of events that just happened, stats about WWE's social media prowess and product placement segments.
Welcome to 3 hours of #Raw! I mean 2 hours of Raw and 1 hour of Raw recaps.— K Schad (@KSchadWrestling) August 27, 2013
That was certainly true during the early part of the three-hour era.
It felt like we'd see Triple H brawl with Brock Lesnar four or five times in the same show. Jerry Lawler ordered from Domino’s Pizza on the air and Michael Cole walked the audience through how to download the WWE app several times over.
WWE flopped with that third hour early on, making the show feel stretched out and packed with filler. The sports entertainment program had too many non-sports, non-entertainment elements.
More recently, that issue has been addressed.
Recaps and product-shilling segments still happen, but WWE has wisely used the extra time to offer up longer matches. Rob Van Dam vs. Chris Jericho, John Cena vs. CM Punk and Daniel Bryan's gauntlet match against The Real Americans and Ryback are some of the longer, awesome matches that have been a part of Monday nights.
The more WWE moves in this direction the better.
Mentioning Twitter trends on the air or showing a video recap of a feud is fine, but too much of that stuff is like Taco Bell loading their beef with everything from oats to cocoa powder. It's not what fans tune in for.
It's going to take a sustained period of limited filler for the stigma to fade away.
Where's My Favorite Guy?
When Raw moved to its current time frame, fans of the less-used Superstars had to rejoice.
Here was another 60 minutes up for grabs, a chance for JTG and Alex Riley to get in on the action. With one or two hours, it would be rather difficult to build more than a few major stories. This has proved true for a three-hour show as well.
The hell? They got 3 hours of Raw, and yet there's no time for Ryder? #WWWYKI— Henry Gilbert (@hEnereyG) December 11, 2012
Zack Ryder may not be featured as much as his supporters would like, but plenty of other guys are getting minimal airtime in spite of the added time to the show.
WWE's roster is expansive. It's not possible to have everyone from Yoshi Tatsu to Sheamus all be heavily involved at the same time.
Still, it's weird that when Ted DiBiase Jr. left WWE it was the first we'd seen of him in months. Wasn't there ample time to showcase him a little? There's some validity in not having more of its roster get some of that added time, but the company has done reasonably well with that tricky balance.
Aside from the main feud right now—consisting of The Shield, Randy Orton and Daniel Bryan—CM Punk and Curtis Axel are involved in a high-profile feud, and Alberto Del Rio and Rob Van Dam are getting solid airtime along with Cody Rhodes.
The Prime Time Players have been getting a push as of late as well.
There are certainly names one can point to that aren't reaching their potential—thanks to inactivity from Antonio Cesaro and Wade Barrett—but that will be an issue regardless of how long the show is.
The extra time likely allowed for AJ Lee's scathing promo to go on for as long as it did and also permitted Ryback’s bullying antics to make it the show, as well as gave WWE the opportunity to properly explore the feud with Bryan and Orton/Triple H.
Just Too Long
It's toward the third hour of a movie when many movie goers begin to get restless. As much as baseball fans love seeing their favorite team, a game that stretches past the 11th and 12th innings can make folks antsy.
Is three hours just too much for our attention spans to handle?
This is the 1st time in ages I've watched RAW live. The 1st 90 mins were great. It's lulled the last 25 mins or so-3 hours is a LONG time.— Matt Hardy (@MATTHARDYBRAND) April 9, 2013
When WWE delivers an episode like the one where Mark Henry gave a fake retirement speech, the Raw right after SummerSlam or the episode that saw Dolph Ziggler become world champ in front of a roaring crowd, the time frame doesn't seem to matter.
The old "time flies" adage applies for these kinds of moments.
The problem is, no amount of trimming down filler or making full use of the roster can have WWE deliver compelling shows from start to finish more than every so often. Even the oft-acclaimed Attitude Era had down episodes.
More at-bats means more potential home runs, but it also means more potential strikeouts.
It'd be hard for The Wire or Breaking Bad to maintain their quality with longer episodes, and the same goes for WWE Raw. Having the show go longer makes the creative team's job far more difficult.
In doing said job, the team has excelled at times and stumbled at others.
Some Superstars will sit on the bench too long and sometimes the company is going to lean too much on recaps. Still, there's been plenty of entertainment on Mondays since last July.
The longer format is just something fans are going to have to accept, warts and all.