Tuesday's WWE SmackDown didn't open with the WWE champion, the United States titleholder or one of the brand's biggest villains. Instead, the show's commissioner and general manager, Shane McMahon and Daniel Bryan, discussed business in the ring for nearly 13 minutes.
It wasn't until almost 18 minutes in that the episode featured a segment not starring an authority figure.
That's indicative of a growing problem on SmackDown: McMahon and Bryan are taking over center stage. The brand's rising stars are struggling for airtime. And the stories WWE seems most invested in involve a 47-year-old sometimes wrestler and a guy not cleared for active competition.
McMahon and Bryan offer SmackDown star power and presence, but we're seeing too much of them of late. The blue brand is taking on one of Raw's worst characteristics. It's become overly reliant on its authority figures.
Tuesday's opening scene saw tension rise between the commish and the GM. Their continued disagreements about how to handle Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn seem to foreshadow something big down the road.
The trouble is, a McMahon vs. Bryan match isn't going to happen.
Bryan's concussion-related health issues will keep him from teaming up with KO and Zayn. And while McMahon has been a compelling spectacle, he's not going to carry the show with his ring work. He doesn't need to be one of the show's top focuses so often.
Yet, SmackDown fell into a familiar pattern on Tuesday night, one where Shane-O-Mac is a central figure.
That has left other Superstars on the bench. ProWrestling.net columnist Jake Barnett (warning: link contains brief profanity) wrote: "We didn't see any of Shinsuke Nakamura or Dolph Ziggler. It's kind of odd how this show is only a few weeks away from Clash of Champions and it doesn't seem like very many feuds have been established."
The amount of time WWE spotlighted McMahon and, to a lesser degree, Bryan is a big part of that. WWE spent 15 percent of its show on Tuesday with the authority figures at the forefront.
Meanwhile, the newer additions to the brand have had little opportunity to plant their flags in the show. Per CageMatch.net, Bobby Roode hasn't competed on SmackDown for the entire month of November, Carmella has gone five consecutive SmackDown shows without a match and Tye Dillinger hasn't wrestled on the last eight episodes.
SmackDown has begun to focus on the established rather than the emerging.
At Survivor Series, one of the biggest events of the year, it was McMahon who played the gutsy hero fighting for the brand until his legs gave out underneath him. Nakamura and Roode were out of the frame by that point.
Chris Walder of The Score mocked WWE's decision to zero in on Shane-O-Mac like that:
And now the lead narrative is built around McMahon's response to Owens and Zayn's mutinous ways. Where is Nakamura's tale? What plan does SmackDown have for Carmella, for The Perfect 10, for the forgotten Mike Kanellis?
Not one of them has anything in line for them just weeks away from the next pay-per-view.
There won't be enough for those warriors if the show's foundation remains the two men in control of it. More and more, The Land of Opportunity is becoming a less true description of the blue brand.