With the final episode of ECW looming this Tuesday it made me stop and think, how did we get to this point?
Of course we can debate the relative flaws and merits of this soon to be deceased "brand," but it may be better to use ECW as the case study for how in 10 years, wrestling has done from swilling beer, crimson masks, and chants of "holy shit" at high spots to the mollified TV PG product that we consume weekly with as much joy as a heroin addict gets from a methadone shot.
We'd really rather have heroin, but the methadone is all we can get.
First, let's start with a brief account of WWE history and how we got to this whole John Cena on bedsheets and Hornswoggle as part of DeGeriatric X (those wacky 40 somethings!) I, like many grew up watching wrestling in the late 80s and early 90s.
We had wrestling buddies, cheered for our favourite face, and booed those dastardly heels. But as the wrestling fans of my generation started growing up, the subject matter began to be more adult.
The business grows with us and lo and behold, the WWF/E starts giving us serious high spots, intense storylines, wonderful sophomoric humor, and arguably the most important element, fun.
Go back and watch a Raw from 1999 and see how hot that crowd is, but we'll discuss that in a bit. Alongside this, we had WCW and ECW with their own unique talent and matches.
The very existence of these organizations provided excitement to WWF/E as we fans would get to see these seasoned but new wrestlers with developed characters that we are just not getting from FCW or OVW.
In 2001, both fold and are absorbed by WWE and we see a continuation of this more adult approach, but eventually it really starts to lose steam and the adult audience starts filtering away to MMA and things like fixing sinks as we're adults now.
Now, the WWE panics because kids weren't watching the flaming tables matches in the same way that kids watched, let's say Hogan/Warrior.
During the 1997-2004 era (roughly), the WWE was catering more to an older demographic, making money, and killing in the ratings. Can you imagine if Bret Hart returned to Raw in 2001? None of this 3.4 business, they would have done a high 6.
Now, the powers that be at WWE had to make a choice. Did they go and try to compete with MMA, have a TV MA rating, and try to win back that adult audience, or would they make a new base of fans?
Well, made the shows TV PG, have Boy America as your main face, and for goodness sake, stop the match if someone is bleeding!
My heart, of course, lies with the previously mentioned era of wrestling, but the business changes. And it is a business. I understand, you have to pay bills here. Cena t-shirt sales allow you to push The Miz. I get that. But let's discuss branding...
Arguably, during the WWE/WCW/ECW days of wrestling, different demographics had different choices. When Monday Nitro went off the air, it was still getting ratings in the 2s and Raw was in the 5s.
Simple math tells us that with Nitro gone, Raw should have absorbed that audience and scored 7s, but that audience vanished somewhere because they did not enjoy Vince's particular brand of vodka.
We finally get back to ECW here. WWE had the opportunity to capitalize on a decade of lore of ECW when they launched it on Scy-Fy appealing to a different demographic rather than having another show to groom the next generation of fans.
But in 2010, what were we getting with these "brands" (Oooh, ooh, different logos, different themes... who will win the Bragging Rights?) when they're all targeted at the same basic audience with the WWE being shocked that ratings were down around .8.
Those of us looking for our heroin of extreme rules and risque stories were quickly ushered back in line at the methadone clinic. Same look, same rating, same demographics = the same audience.
Now my heroin/methadone metaphor is a bit hyperbolic, but it has a ring of accuracy. Track down a VHS tape of a Raw from 2000 or find a channel of it on justin tv and feel the energy in those buildings.
They were always sell outs, they were always hot, and my goodness look at the sea of signs. Now turn on any of the tweedle dee/dum brands of 2010 WWE and see a crowd of dopesick faces, less signs, and audibly less excited. No "season" of NXT will fix this.