In the late 1990's Professional Wrestling was at the height of its popularity. Competition between the two largest wrestling organisations on the planet at the time was the ultimate reason for this.
WCW, owned by Ted Turner and run by Eric Bischoff was becoming incredibly popular due to its major league storylines, controversy and the acquisition into the company of some of the biggest names in the wrestling industry.
The WWF meanwhile, was not having so much luck. Many major league names left the organisation to join the competition, enticed by the promises of stardom and higher paychecks. The storylines were lacking the quality, depth and length of the competition.
Every Monday night, the wrestling fan had to choose between these two behemoths, had to choose whether to watch WCW Nitro or WWF Raw. Well, for many it was not a hard decision, at the time WCW had more to offer. This led to Monday Night Raw being beaten in the ratings for 80+ consecutive weeks.
What on earth could WWF do to overcome this dominating opposition? How could they come out on top in this fight to the death? One man had the answer. Vincent Kennedy McMahon. His grand idea to turn the tides was to give rise to what became known as the attitude era.
Vince McMahon decided to take WCW on and beat them at their own game, possibly inspired by the controversy surrounding The Montreal Screwjob. He adopted a strong TV 14 rating, which allowed the likes of Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Rock, The Undertaker, HHH and Chris Jericho to thrive. As a matter of fact, Vince saw talent where Eric Bischoff did not. Bischoff fired Austin and let Jericho go, whereas McMahon made them superstars and front-runners in the fight against WCW.
The attitude era is viewed by many as the greatest period in the history of the WWE, with controversial programming featuring extreme violence, taboo, controversy, great matches, antiestablishmentarianism and half-nude women. Vince was at the heart of it, the evil corporate boss who would do anything to steal power. His rivalries with Steve Austin and Undertaker were arguably that major transition that made WWF eligible to compete with WCW.
Finally, WWF Raw beat WCW Nitro in the ratings and continued to do so. In the end, this master-plan by McMahon led to the demise of WCW, which was purchased by its competition.
In the following year we saw yet more evidence of the sheer talent McMahon had in marketing the business. Instead of revelling in the defeat of WCW and letting his guard down, he turned the purchase of WCW into a kayfabe storyline which involved Shane McMahon taking control of WCW at the end of the final Nitro. Then we saw a classic invasion storyline, where former WCW and ECW stars combined to form the alliance, a huge stable intent upon destabilising the WWF and taking over.
In the following years WWE left behind the attitude era and entered the ruthless aggression era. Though not quite as popular as the attitude era, it was still a very good time for wrestling featuring plenty of worthwhile storylines and controversy. In 2006, WWE took a step towards becoming a more violent promotion once more, reviving ECW and attracting a more adult audience once more.
Then, in summer 2008 it was announced that all WWE programming from then on would be rated PG, hence the start of the much disliked and generally criticised PG era. Linda McMahon was the mastermind behind this move and the reasoning behind it perhaps became a little clearer when about 6 months later she announced she was running for senate. She wanted a clean product that would not bring negativity upon her.
Since then WWE programming has become more child friendly. Rated R has become Rated PG, blood and vicious matches have been vanquished, women are now far less exposed (both in terms of clothing and in-ring time), taboo is now a thing of the past and perhaps what is more telling is that programming that was once anti-establishment has become the establishment.
Funnily enough, since turning PG, WWE's ratings have been steadily declining. A company that reached ratings of 7 in the attitude era and steady 4's in the ruthless aggression era have now dropped to a low not reached since 1997. A 2.34 rating for Monday Night Raw.
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Issues have also become prominent in the nearly dead women's division and the truly deceased tag team division.
How can WWE turn the tide? How can they reach the heights they once soared to? Do these questions seem familiar? You are damn right they do, and they also have the same answer they did over a decade ago: Vincent Kennedy McMahon.
Whether you like to admit it or not, Vince McMahon is a creative genius. His actions during the darkest days of the WWF are evidence enough of that. He will take anything and make it glow, put aside long time rivalries for the sake of the business. However, it seems in recent years that this creative genius has been dormant inside the mind of Vince McMahon.
In fact this creative genius is as dormant as it was before it needed to act to fight against WCW. This creative genius is waiting to re-awaken, and the lowest Raw rating since 1997 may make it stir once more.
Linda McMahon's run for senate will be coming to an end in either victory or defeat in November. If she is beaten in her quest, how long will it take her to return to WWE and how long will it take Vince to re-consider the ratings of his shows?
WWE's PG rating has totally isolated what should be WWE's main target audience. Teenagers and adults. Come to think of it, WWE being PG may have isolated children from the product as well.
Let me explain. Children these days and over the last decade have grown up watching violent programmes featuring blood, taboo and violence. Programmes like The Simpsons have more controversy in them than the current WWE product. How many parents actually monitor what their kids watch stringently? Not the majority is the answer. For children raised on a diet of TV violence, WWE must be a bit tame. Really, WWE is only being successful in targeting 5-10 year old's. Children older than that tend to like and be used to violence, blood and gore more than a lot of adults.
I started watching WWE in the attitude era at the age of 9, and I preferred the product much more back then to the one I see now. As a matter of fact, children that watched WWE in the attitude era have grown up to be the ones criticising the current product. WWE's whole motivation for going PG was attracting a younger audience who would be life-long fans, but the attitude era did that job arguably a lot better.
WWE is 20 years out of date in terms of its marketing strategy to children.
Am I suggesting that Vince McMahon needs to create the attitude era again? No. What I am suggesting is that the product needs to feature more content to attract back the main male demographic. This doesn't even have to require a TV 14 rating. The current WWE rating is PG V, yet WWE can add a D (suggestive dialogue) and L (coarse language) to that to get a PG DLV rating. Now just look at what WWE can get away with on that rating.
Can you believe that video has a PG rating? No. Well just forward to 1:31 on that video for proof. So you see WWE could keep a PG rating, whilst making the product more adult. By doing this they appeal to the maximum possible audience. It is the perfect compromise, WWE can keep its treasured PG rating and still appeal to adults.
That would be my model for increasing viewership on all WWE programming. However, Vince may see it differently. He may find a way of keeping the current rating and making it more appealing and adult, or he could just re-introduce a full TV 14 rating once more, going back to what saved the company a decade ago.
All I know is this, the creative genius of Vince McMahon has been in hibernation and is ready to re-awaken at any time, poor ratings and bad reviews will accelerate the process. Vince may have made a mistake in allowing the company to become PG, but then again everyone makes mistakes. Vince is the only one with the power and business mind-set needed to turn the WWE around. Looking back to The Monday Night Wars, who dares to bet against him doing it again?