July 7, 1996, Bash at the Beach. WCW, a company that had great potential. Eric Bischoff had managed to sign and debut Scott Hall and Kevin Nash, who had only weeks earlier been on the WWF's roster as Razor Ramon and Diesel.
There was a stale story within the company: They had a phenomenal superstar, at least a big-money draw, at the top of the roster, but one that was in serious need of an overhaul. Enter the third member of the invading WWF talent, that being the aforementioned superstar, Hulk Hogan.
This revamping of the storylines led to a new direction throughout the sports entertainment business. It would eventually lead to WWF's dominance and WCW's demise, but not before WCW came very close to putting the WWF out of business.
Why bring this up? Like Hulkamania in '96, the WWE "creative" team—and I use that term loosely—is in serious need of new blood to reinvigorate the product and make their product exciting again. It is no secret that I have been very critical of their work. Tonight's show, however, was yet another nail in the coffin.
"Beat the Clock"
The "Beat the Clock" challenge held potential, but it was rather easy to decipher for anyone who follows wrestling on a regular basis. Let's break down the five competitors.
- Eliminated immediately, is Jack Swagger, who is a heel. Face versus face matches are extremely rare, and heel versus heel matches never happen. It's a fact of the business that the crowd has to be able to root for someone.
- Right behind him is Mark Henry, who is making a face turn but does not have the ability, charisma, or drawing power to make him a credible champion.
So, you had three competitors left before even one match took place: MVP, Triple H, and John Cena. Not too much of a problem; after all, MVP has been doing much better and is getting a good following behind him.
Mark Henry has an OK match, and sets a beatable time of 6:49. A fairly good start to the challenge. Then, it breaks down. MVP is taken out by a double count-out, and the question is now whether Randy Orton's SummerSlam challenger will be Triple H or John Cena. Swagger could have come up next so that there would have been some drama, but instead, the next match was Triple H. When Triple H failed to beat the clock, you had about an hour left of a show where everyone knew that John Cena would be heading to SummerSlam to face Randy Orton.
The structure of the match aside, WWE has yet to give Randy Orton a challenger that was not the Innovator of the Chain Gang or a member of Evolution. Two hundred eighty-eight days is the cumulative amount of time that Orton has held the WWE Championship. In that time, he has only faced challenges from three individuals.
The thought of a guest host is an intriguing idea, one that could inject new life into the product on a regular basis. Since the introduction of the guest host, however, we have only had two individuals remotely associated with wrestling in a substantial way.
Instead of Dusty Rhodes, Ric Flair, or a number of legends who would be 10 times more credible, we have, instead, had Seth Green, ZZ Top, Shaquille O'Neal, and, for next week, Jeremy Piven promoting a TV show, a concert tour, a basketball team, and a TV show-movie combo.
When one starts an idea in business, it should be with the overall goal of promoting the business itself. If I own a shop and start a promotional deal, it will be with the final goal of creating long-term customers. None of these stars—other than, perhaps, Shaq—bring a large fanbase with them, and the shows that have been built around them have done nothing to bring in more fans on TV or in the arena. They were probably paid a good deal of money to come on the show, but their presence will not increase ratings, merchandise sales, or Pay Per View buy-rates in any way.
More important than any of those, however, is the structure of the show: You have approximately 30 minutes devoted to commercials, one hour of talking or self-promotion, and approximately 35-40 minutes of honest, solid wrestling.
Think about it: The Beat the Clock matches tonight took, roughly 6:49, 3:30, 6:49, 3:00, and 4:00; the main event took about seven minutes; the diva match took about 4-5 minutes; and the Hornswoggle-Guerrero match took about five minutes. That's 40 minutes of unremarkable matches.
The "more talk, less action" model might have worked when you had such personalities as the Rock, Stone Cold, etc., but when you fail to let any of your performers develop meaningful mic skills, taking an hour to let them speak is the equivalent of ear rape. You would save money by simply putting up white noise on the screen.
What you don't necessarily have in Hollywood-caliber actors, can be made up for in the ring. Look at the stars on the Raw roster. Besides the triumvirate of Orton, HHH, and Cena, you also have Jack Swagger, MVP, Chavo Guerrero, Chris Jericho, Evan Bourne, and a whole host of others who are capable of putting on four-star matches right out of the gate.
They said that the accumulation of talent on the WWF and WCW rosters in the late 1990's was the greatest of all time, but if you ignore the supposed split of Raw, Smackdown, and ECW, you have about 20 to 30 superstars who, given the right opponent, can rock the fans right out of their seats on a nightly basis. So, give them that chance.
Get Your Act Together
Right now, ratings are holding steady, but it's not going to be much longer before the hardcore fans start deserting the product in the face of a leadership team that seems to look at what the fans want and then do exactly the opposite to assert the fact that they are in charge and the fans aren't.
This reason could be that the WWE doesn't want anyone for their creative team if they didn't get a degree in film or communications. Seriously, go to their corporate Web site and check for yourself.
Ignore that cocky nature that informs you that you know best because you got a film degree from Cal Tech and start listening to the fans, that is...if you want to actually be a successful and employed writer. Otherwise, the hardcore fans won't be around much longer to watch the "creative product" you're putting out there.