On September 27th, 2010, the WWE's RAW program scored a 2.7 in the ratings. This number was the same as the 2.7 rating gained on the live RAW on September 20th, one night removed from the crowning of Randy Orton as the new WWE Champion at the Night of Champions pay per view.
Those two numbers were both down from the 3.0 rating from the September 13th episode of RAW, which saw the return of the RAW Roulette and Randy Orton defeat John Cena in a Tables Match as the main event.
In short, RAW has dipped from a 3.0 to a 2.7 in three weeks time.
From one perspective, that's extremely depressing for a show that at one point during this year averaged a 3.6 in the ratings.
If you understand that pro wrestling travels in cycles, much like several other aspects of popular culture and the status quo, then these numbers may not be alarming to you at all. Pro wrestling on the whole is experiencing some severe "down time," and there's no real reason to panic over a slight dip in the numbers.
If you understand that the start of Monday Night Football also plays a role in this equation, then these numbers are not a bad thing at all. Fans of pro wrestling are usually fans of other high profile professional sports, so it's expected that the ratings may not now be as rosy as they were earlier in the year.
However, if you recline in your easy chair with your hands firmly planted behind your head, grinning cheerfully as you continue to financially support the WWE through your viewership or their television programming and merchandise purchasing, then you're only kidding yourself about the glaring problem that is staring right back at you through your high definition television screen.
RAW's abysmal 2.7 rating from Monday night was the lowest rating the company has received in thirteen years!
That includes thirteen seasons of pro football "stealing" viewers from the WWE on Monday nights and at least two cycles of pro wrestling fan enthusiasm (The Attitude Era and the "Ruthless Aggression" Era).
So what exactly does this rating mean for the WWE? What does it mean for their product? More importantly, what does it mean for us fans?
While we can debate on whether or not RAW's recent shows have been "good" or "great," we cannot debate on the numbers that have been reported. The WWE's flagship show on Monday nights is starting to pull ratings like their B-show on Friday nights.
From a corporate perspective, I imagine that most within the company would think that's a HUGE problem.
As a fan personally speaking on his opinion of the product, that number is an even BIGGER problem than fans or the company will ever imagine.
While the quality of the product is not really in question regarding the 2.7 rating, it is significant to note that the product's appeal to fans is decreasing rapidly. That is to say that while RAW's show from Monday night may have been good, a huge chunk of fans were turned off from it more so that night than ever before in thirteen years.
So the question begs to be asked and answered: "What happened?"
There are three key things that have taken place that could help unearth some real answers to RAW's embarrassingly low ratings as of late:
- The Creative Writing Team Can't Write for Pro Wrestling
- There Is Nothing Exhilarating that Creates Exciting Moments
- The WWE Has Embraced Its Own Mediocrity
1. The Creative Writing Team Can't Write for Pro Wrestling
Given its seventeen year run in the company, RAW has transformed from the company's gamble on a live, primetime wrestling program into a landmark ratings giant for the USA Network and guaranteed money maker for the WWE.
After the initial brand split in the WWE, RAW transformed into backyard where the most experienced and renowned superstars roamed freely. Anyone who wasn't a top star that ended up on the brand usually got nudged to the back burner while the big dogs played fetch with one another over the brand's top prize at a given time.
You could almost say that by now, RAW resembles WCW in the sense that the veterans are given huge amounts of screen time at the expense of forcing the undercard and young, hungry superstars to retreat quietly into the night.
With this mindset and the dawn of the "PG Era," whose focus is really on attracting casual fans and gaining mainstream exposure to the status quo, the WWE has created a sports entertainment self-image that it projects to the world. To maintain this image, the WWE has to appeal it's product to those they wish to attract.
Hence they hire writers overflowing with experience in Hollywood to craft the story lines and feuds for their pro wrestling product. If you think I'm lying, just Google Freddie Prinze, Jr. and pull up the time he spent writing for the WWE.
That's where the problem begins; a slew of writers from Friends, That 70's Show, and 3rd Rock from the Sun are drafting stories that escalate the animosity between Randy Orton and Sheamus. As we all know, those three shows were well known for their testosterone-driven feuds and outstanding feats of athleticism.
For those of you that don't recognize it, that was sarcasm.
2. There Is Nothing Exhilarating that Creates Exciting Moments
Since the television writers are writing for a "sports entertainment" audience, it's safe for us to assume that they're used to writing a product that tends to float from show to show. This means that they're quite adept at writing on one main theme that continues throughout the show and is resolved by the end of the program.
Very rarely in sitcoms will something "exciting" or "cliff-hanging" happen unless it starts off or ends the season. This is because if a show is good most of its fans won't need these moments to keep them watching. The show will thrive off of the actors and actresses bringing life to the story they're telling in that one particular instance.
While this is an important hallmark of pro wrestling, it no where near represents the totality of pro wrestling. These moments should only serve to intensify the in-ring action and abilities of the superstars. Unfortunately, we are in a WWE era where the action supplements the drama, and not the other way around.
The actual wrestling now serves as an accessory to they story lines. Compare the time spent on backstage segments, promos, and skits to the amount of time performers are wrestling inside the ring and you'll see exactly what I'm saying.
So now we have a product that not only coasts from week to week, but is also more focused on "telling a story" than it is on in-ring action. Our pro wrestling has turned into the country's "longest running weekly episodic program."
Yes, "pro wrestling" in the WWE's eyes is comparable to The Simpsons, Seinfeld, and MASH.
But what is there exciting about The Simpsons after so many years of being a staple of our Sunday evenings? Nothing. We watch it religiously because we've always watched it religiously.
In that sense, the creators of The Simpsons don't have to do much except provide fans with what they've been producing for the past umpteenth years.
RAW and her writers are in that exact same position. They don't have to produce exciting and exhilarating moments because people are going to watch the program anyway because it's the country's longest running weekly episodic program.
Randy Orton punting the entire McMahon family; Nexus' surprise dismantling of John Cena and the RAW set; Chris Jericho's debut with the WWE; Stone Cold Steve Austin guest hosting RAW; all of these moments caused us to tune into RAW in large numbers.
After that, the show returned to normal. The writers failed to capitalize off of the momentum created by these events and went right back to writing entertainment kissed with a hint of wrestling on the side.
3. The WWE Has Embraced Its Own Mediocrity
As such, the WWE has adopted this business model completely and are now succumbing to the monster that they've single-handedly created.
It is no secret that the WWE has run largely unopposed since the year 2000, when the Monday Night Wars were officially brought to an end with the purchase of WCW by the WWE.
For ten long years, the WWE has been the only revolutionary force in pro wrestling and "sports entertainment." For ten years, fans lapped at the milk nursed to them by Vince McMahon and the WWE.
Some fans turned their support towards independent organizations, but for the rest of us, the WWE was the only game in town.
Ten years was, and is, a long time to digest mediocrity. The recent RAW ratings are proof of that.
Without real competition, and by relying on a team of writers not really familiar with a pro wrestling product, the WWE essentially laid in a comfortable bed trimmed with linen of mediocre proportions. There was no need for the company to push the envelope to keep fans entertained because the only promotion they'd outdo would be themselves!
With no other promotion chasing the WWE fast behind, the company has relied on brief popcorn farts of excitement here and there in order to keep fans from becoming totally bored with the product.
McMahon's Million Dollar Mania. Reuniting De-Generation X. Donald Trump "purchasing" RAW, only to sell it back to Vince McMahon. The RAW Guest Host format (anybody else here compare that to Saturday Night Live?). The eliminated NXT Season One superstars tearing up the RAW set.
Hell, the WWE even tried to compete against itself by separating its "brands" and hosting a "draft" each year, where superstars would remain "exclusive" to the "brand" they were drafted to. The Bragging Rights PPV attempts to capitalize off of this "split" by having the "brands" face each other to determine which "brand" is the "best."
While we're on the topic, can someone explain to me how the Smackdown exclusive stable, The Straight-Edge Society, was able to appear on RAW to challenge the then Unified Tag Team Champions, De-Generation X, when the only team that was allowed to float between brands was the Unified Tag Team Champions, De-Generation X? I digress.
So essentially, the WWE embraced its own mediocrity and celebrated the fact that they had no competition to fight with over ratings. Even with TNA barking loudly at the back gate, the WWE ignored the company's chihuahua-esque squeaks and shuffled along without a care in the world.
It wasn't until sometime last year after witnessing the success of CM Punk that the WWE finally seriously considered scouting Ring of Honor wrestling for future superstars by courting Bryan Danielson, Nigel McGuinness, and allegedly sending feelers towards The Briscoes and Austin Aries.
They even picked up Austin Creed from TNA's list of "We'd Rather Have Frank Gotch" future endeavored ex-employees.
But again, this sudden surge in creating new superstars and recruiting new talent only served as the proverbial Lysol to cover up the stench of RAW's pedestrian writing and poorly conceived "Sports Entertainment." Most massive problems cannot be fixed overnight, so this band-aid solution to a gaping wound of epic proportions was not necessarily all that bad an idea.
It was, however, too little and too late to resolve the issue at hand created by a team of men and women who write to appeal to casual fans that are as fickle as the entertainment industry they viciously salivate over. Pro wrestling has to be exciting, captivating, mesmorizing, and ACTION PACKED!!!
When fans tune in to WRESTLING, they EXPECT TO SEE WRESTLING!!! What's so hard about that, I ask?
Why sit in board meetings and bemoan low PPV buy rates, blaming it on fans and the economy? Look no further than the highly paid writers crafting bulls*$t stories for wee fellas, ditzy co-diva champions holding a torn belt, a "monster heel" that hasn't won a serious match clean to date, and John Cena miraculously beating seven grown men by himself at one time.
Why are the ratings for RAW terrible? To answer Maximus Decimus Meridius' famous question, "No sir, we are not entertained."
So what is the company to do at this junction? As of this writing, it has been reported that the WWE has hired a private firm to conduct studies with focus groups in order to fully explain RAW's recent ratings. It was also reported that participants would receive $85 USD for two hours of their time.
Hey WWE? Here's one for free: stop trying to pass off "Sports Entertainment" as PRO WRESTLING!
That is all. Thank you for your time, and I now return you to your regularly scheduled B/R programming.
1. Pro Wrestling Conspiracy Theories: Is the WWE Promoting TNA? by Big Nasty
2. The WWE Directive: Why WWE Fan Favorites Don't Get Their Pushes! by Mike AKA the Professor