Raw's 900th – Legacy of the Longest Running Weekly Episodic Drama

Marc MattalianoCorrespondent IIIAugust 17, 2010

Quite a mouthful to say when referencing the precursor to Nitro and Impact, and the inspiration for Thunder and Smackdown.  By creating a weekly dose of action, WWF Monday Night Raw, at one time, gave us a one-hour dose of body slams, hip tosses, collar-and-elbow tie ups, gimmicks, funny costumes, and above all…action, surprises, and the ever-popular promise…”anything can happen in the World Wrestling Federation!”

As many of us have written here, in articles and comments, times have certainly changed for the McMahon’s wrestling legacy.  What was once a franchise that honorably respected the tenets of Professional Wrestling as a sport, began supporting dramatic characters like Hulk, Warrior, and two of my favorites, DiBiase and IRS, among many others from way back.  Years later, we’d see the word, and feel the ambiance, of the Attitude injected into what became Sports Entertainment, that repeatedly made us say in front of our sets, “dude, they can’t say that!” 

They did, our ears did not deceive us.  But like I said, times have changed drastically and we can point our fingers in any direction we please in our attempts to pick out the exact perpetrator for making WWE a PG place to be, though it won’t do much good.  The simple fact remains that Monday Night Raw (to the dismay of some) is still going.  Going strong?  Even I, a fervent WWE supporter still, will say it is not as strong a product as it once was.

This is partially due to Raw being a drama that doesn’t stop!  I know many wrestling fans don’t watch, but allow me to briefly reference Days of Our Lives?  General Hospital?  Young and the Restless?  These types of shows have been on for at least 20 years and some are still going to this day!  Although they have season finales, they’ve been going for so long, trying to reference a plot device that occurred 13 years, six months, and five days ago either doesn’t work or can’t happen because the actors involved don’t want to go back to the characters or believe it will hurt their careers, which has likely seen a rise in stock due to their leaving the show in question. 

Factor in that professional wrestlers work their bodies for more hours and more strenuously than your average daytime soap opera actor, and the result?  The best storylines in wrestling will run eons shorter than most soap actors will stay with their own product, thus making references to past episodes of wrestling programs that much harder.  I can say from years of writing experience…referencing past events makes the present so much more relevant.  It makes what’s going on right now seem like it was meant to be!

Whether you’re WWE or TNA, you’ll admit…it’s been happening less and less.  Most recent example I can remember?  Edge and Christian during the last draft.  Those two could have reignited a years long rivalry right then and there, but sadly, it did not occur.   

This isn’t to say that a wrestling TV mainstay like Monday Night Raw should go the typical TV route of present day:  show four new episodes, then two weeks of reruns, then another four new episodes, and jerk from start to stop to start, making me think my DVR missed new ones.  Incidentally, I hate it when Michael Cole says it’s the season finale of Raw…what does it matter?  Raw’s “season finales” are exactly the same as every other episode.  It’s never been, like…”okay, here’s the season finale of Raw, big things are coming.”  Nope, just another day at the office.

It’s this kind of routine that has caused a show like Raw to be in a rut.  I’ve heard others reference the shortened storylines taking place in WWE, where rivalries go nowhere, and I’ve been stating emphatically that it needs more new stables that last multiple years to start putting more performers on the map and giving them impactful positions where they may not gain that respect on their own. 

One of the reasons I don’t strive to write a TV show is because the ideal TV show stays on the air as long as most daytime soaps have, and unless new, fresh characters come in to replace the older, mainstay characters, the story quickly gets old, the people involved overstay their welcome, and the things that drew us to the story fade as we develop tolerances to their lures. 

Obviously, one of those characters is John Cena.  He started as rookie, became a white boy rapper whose fame was comparable to…other white boy rappers…then, he turned his raps on the heels, came out with a few movies, and now we’re so Cena’ed out, most of us can’t stand to watch anymore because of how predictable it’s gotten.  Cena always saves the day, he always does what’s right, and he’s a plucky, clever kid who manages to outsmart an Animal like Batista instead of always beating him up...he used brains instead of brawn!

I’m going to go out on a limb now and say that Cena is worse than the Superman moniker he’s been given.  He’s this generation’s Hulk Hogan…while Hulk Hogan is this generation’s Santa Claus…he’s old and gray, promises we’ll get great things if we’re good, and he doesn’t really exist...just a fairy of legend.

Like most TV and movies, the politics and money factor in greatly.  For instance, if NBC hadn’t paid the Friends cast every penny they demanded, NBC would’ve been forced to either recast certain key characters or cancel the show altogether.  Despite enjoying it for a long while at the beginning of its run, this type of nonsense is what caused me to begin hating the program, as the cast couldn’t simply do their job of entertaining; they needed more money to feel motivated enough to make us laugh.

In essence...by news outlets informing us that Monica, Rachel, Phoebe, Chandler, Ross, and Joey were sextuple-teaming the network...their own kayfabe was broken.

Many have accused WWE of keeping Cena on the top pedestal because they don’t want to lose merchandising dollars.  I’ve added many times by citing the weak economy and WWE’s fear of losing what they consider to be their biggest draw, and like many, agree that by looking elsewhere for a hero or turning Cena into a heel, they’d effectively double if not triple their viewership.  Loyalists to the Cenation will keep watching regardless of his character's affiliation, fans tired of the same old same old will watch to see what new surprises Cena will have in store, and marks will watch so that Heel Cena gets his in the end, or turns over a new leaf while realizing the errors of his blah blah blah, like the little goody-two-shoes’ they are.

But he is just one prime example…feel free to add your own…

Ultimately, by starting a regular television broadcast, WWF created a legacy.  With every episode that airs, the bar gets raised ever higher to keep the show interesting.  Like movies and books that last beyond more than one or two sequels, the creators risk seeing the mood of the story diminish, the characters’ initial punch lose its explosive power, and the conflicts become stale and rehashed.  While I don’t look at the fact that it’s aired 899 previous episodes and forgive WWE on the whole for lacking the stones to take their storylines in unpredictable turns, I also don’t fail to look to the future.  WWE is packed with great stars that can either wrestle phenomenally or talk our ears off.  Say what you want about which is better to encourage and which is more important, but one day, we’ll encounter another specimen that can do both like a true pro, and we’ll proudly worship them as our new hero.

Chew on this for a conclusion:  In wrestling history, aside from Hulk, two of the biggest, most popular stars were Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Rock.  While their wrestling abilities got them the respect they needed to arrive at the big dance, it was their personalities that kept them in the spotlight while their wrestling abilities became less important.  Seemingly, at exactly the right times in their individual careers…either when people were slightly bored of their characters or maybe a touch before that…Rock and Austin turned heel, and either went back to being faces before fading away or left on a bad note.  We still love them today, though, and we always raise eyebrows and middle fingers when they make special appearances, but those are two prime examples of two “faces of the company” that survived while pursuing their characters' interests.

Their personal (kayfabe) vendettas, ideals, and desires turned them into heels just when we needed them to.  Not all heroes keep their beliefs static.  WWE may be PG now, geared towards developing a kids’ friendly program, but one thing kids need more than anything is a distinct lesson in how to make decisions on who and what they support.  If a hero of yours changes, you have the option to continue liking them or not.

The real questions are…which way do you choose?  And why?

Picture taken from http://crazysharescom.blogspot.com/2010/04/wwe-monday-night-raw-hd-2008-12-15.html