Ranking the Best and Worst WWE Network Shows and Specials 5 Years After Debut
Believe it or not, time has flown so fast that the WWE Network has reached its fifth anniversary already.
When the buzz first started, many were skeptical of the staying power of the platform, but it has revolutionized how professional wrestling is consumed and become the new standard.
WWE is still trying to work out all the kinks and figure out the best system for balancing growth, entertainment, revenue and advancements toward the future, though.
Over the years, plenty of experiments have been tested out, resulting in some great content, some terrible shows and a wide variety of middle-of-the-road programming.
Let's look back at some of the best and worst the WWE Network has had to offer in its first five years.
Setting the Ground Rules
Before getting into this list, it's important to put up some parameters for context and clarification.
The elephant in the room when talking about the WWE Network's content is pay-per-views.
Special events such as WrestleMania, Royal Rumble, Survivor Series, SummerSlam and others have to be exempt from something like this. Otherwise, it could be a list just speaking solely about different editions of Money in the Bank or something like The Beast in the East.
That is why Crown Jewel won't be included in the running for the worst programming, despite how bad it was.
With anything like this, there is also a level of subjectivity that every individual will have a viewpoint on. WWE tries to cater certain programming toward viewers who will respond to that, and everyone has their own tastes.
Before listing a single best or worst, keep that in mind and be sure to tell us your favorites and least favorites by leaving a comment to keep the discussion going.
Without further ado, here are my personal picks for the top five best and worst, with some honorable mentions thrown in for good measure.
5th Worst: Kitchen SmackDown
Sometimes, it's apparent that a show only exists on the network because WWE saw it done elsewhere and figured it would be worth trying to put their own spin on it.
Copying and improving on something can work, but WWE forgets to improve on the previous work and just slaps together a cheap imitation "with wrestlers" and calls it a day.
Kitchen SmackDown is nothing more than a sorry excuse for something liked Chopped or Cutthroat Kitchen or any competitive chef shows on Food Network or elsewhere.
Why are the wrestlers cooking? If the only answer is "because people watch cooking shows" and nothing more, that mentality is what leads to a one-episode bomb like Kitchen SmackDown.
No disrespect to the folks involved, who are talented in other ways, but WWE should at least know by now that putting some of the Superstars who aren't as popular isn't going to draw much of an audience, either.
John Cena doing a guest spot cooking on Good Morning America by default appeals to more people than Dana Brooke and Curtis Axel botching some random recipe in a superfluous competition.
Stay tuned for WWE's next great ideas of the Alexander Wolfe doing dirty jobs, Titus O'Neil hunting antiques in pawn shops, Alicia Fox dating a bunch of bachelors and Kalisto doing house renovations.
5th Best: Breaking Ground
Breaking Ground was a show that put a camera in front of the Superstars of NXT and documented their time in developmental.
In its 11 episode run, some were called up to the main roster, some were released from the company and others fought to find their place and establish themselves.
It was a great first look into how hands-on figures such as Triple H and William Regal are, while introducing the trainers and Performance Center staff who never received any real acknowledgment beforehand.
WWE could have kept the cameras rolling and made this a perpetual series but, for whatever reason, decided to cut it from the lineup.
Thankfully, fans of the show can see aspects of it incorporated elsewhere. It's nature and style has bled into things like the WWE Performance Center channel on YouTube and other avenues that present a similar idea.
Following the journey of the NXT crew makes viewers even more invested in them, so Breaking Ground was an influential show.
4th Worst: Jerry Springer Too Hot for TV
Does anybody actually remember this was part of the lineup in 2015?
Too Hot for TV was exactly what you would expect, in that WWE took Jerry Springer—famous for his taboo talk show—stood him in front of a green screen, had him read off some pre-written narration and thought that was good enough.
This is a clip show that doesn't even make good on the premise of what it's selling as a concept.
If these moments were too hot for WWE television and are being shown on the WWE Network where censorship doesn't have to be taken into account, why are they just the same clips we've already seen before?
For something like this to work, it would have had to be the R-rated raunchy thing it was presented to be.
There should have been uncensored footage of people beaten to a bloody pulp, full-frontal nudity, harsh language, controversial material cut from even the Attitude Era and more.
Instead, it was just a 10-episode compilation of material that could have been 10 editions of WWE Countdown or any other list-based program.
4th Best: Mae Young Classic
A key component to the Women's Evolution has been the Mae Young Classic tournaments that have aired over the past two years.
Following in the footsteps of the Cruiserweight Classic, it was great to see WWE apply the same strategy to female wrestlers across the globe in a show that has doubled as fun extra in-ring content as well as a talent search.
We have the Mae Young Classic to thank for introducing us to Candice LeRae, Toni Storm, Shayna Baszler, Mercedes Martinez, Mia Yim, Kairi Sane, Jazzy Gabert, Meiko Satomura and so many more talented women who may not have had a shot otherwise.
Over half of the competitors joined the WWE family, so this has been a great means to scope out performers to sign for the future of the company and give fans more action in the process while also taking another step forward in the Women's Evolution.
3rd Worst: Swerved Season 2
Swerved was a WWE prank show—again, biting off something that had been done dozens of times in much better formats outside of the wrestling industry.
The first season had its moments, as it saw the wrestlers and management as the butt of the jokes, with folks like Zack Ryder sitting on a stool that would shock him and fake fans making meet-ups awkward for the Superstars.
Season 2, on the other hand, flipped the script by having the wrestlers prank random fans and strangers.
That killed the fun, as viewers have no connection to those people and can't take as much joy out of seeing Joe Schmoe fail to recognize Becky Lynch in a blonde wig.
The gags were also lame. At the very least, both Stardust and Hornswoggle had segments revolving around them simply hiding and then popping up to scare someone, which is a trick toddlers can pull off.
Swerved had so much potential to be a show that featured the Superstars of WWE playing practical jokes on each other, but it turned into the equivalent of watching some teenagers in a parking lot poorly replicating toned-down versions of their favorite stunts from MTV's Jackass to no-name people.
3rd Best: 205 Live and Cruiserweight Classic
205 Live suffers from a poor time slot and a rushed presentation due to WWE clearly not caring too much about it, but even in its mistreatment, it's able to succeed far more than it should with what little tools it has been given.
The cruiserweight division is the true underdog roster in WWE as those Superstars are some of the most magnificent in-ring performers in the entire company, yet nowhere near as many people watch 205 Live as they should, so the recognition doesn't go around.
Virtually every match on 205 Live is better than what is put out on Raw and SmackDown every week, and the Cruiserweight Classic that started it all proves there is even more potential not being tapped into.
That original tournament was the best thing going for 2016 WWE programming and set the template for not just the cruiserweight division, but also the tournament talent scout structure itself.
Without the Cruiserweight Classic, there would be no Mae Young Classic and no NXT UK spawned out of the United Kingdom Championship Tournament specials.
Mustafa Ali, Cedric Alexander, Drew Gulak and more super-talented performers came out of this tournament and the 205 Live program and continue to wow audiences on a more regular basis than the bigger names who are supposed to keep WWE afloat in a time with weak ratings.
You always know what you're going to get when you tune in to 205 Live, which is high-quality in-ring action.
2nd Worst: Holy Foley!
Reality television is the worst—so much so that even fans of the "best" reality shows will fully admit it's all garbage and they only watch it for the trashy presentation of the whole thing.
Holy Foley is on par with other awful shows like Total Divas and Total Bellas in that it copies the same formula of scripted incidents and manufactured drama surrounded by an intense hope that the viewer is interested in the "wacky family" at its core.
But even something like Legends House at least has a cast of characters wrestling fans would be interested in watching, as they come from WWE's past and are larger than life. Holy Foley failed in that regard.
It's painful to have to say hurtful things about someone as interesting and kindhearted as Mick Foley, but watching Jimmy Hart cook his 10th potato and baked beans was more entertaining than anything the entire Foley household brought to the table.
If your baseline of entertainment value is wanting to watch this show because Noelle is pretty, at least you can take something out of that, but your average Raw fan was never going to be hyped for the next episode revolving around Colette's doll collection.
Foley is a great storyteller and captivating in so many ways, but this show was not compelling in the slightest bit.
2nd Best (tie): WWE 24, WWE 365 and WWE Chronicle
All three of these shows need to be lumped in together as they follow essentially the same formula, with minimal tweaks to make them just slightly different.
They are all documentary-based, like Breaking Ground, but they have a more dedicated focus per episode.
There's really no reason WWE 24 episodes are called that, as opposed to WWE Chronicle. In fact, the Chronicle name makes considerably more sense and could be used interchangeably with all of these.
WWE 365 follows one Superstar over the course of an entire year, capturing the highs and lows they experience along the way. There have been two episodes revolving around Kevin Owens and AJ Styles that are must-see glimpses into their struggles.
One of the best things WWE puts out every year is the WWE 24 special about the previous year's WrestleMania, which gives a backstage look at people preparing for their matches, their insight into anxieties they feel before performing and the fun we're all not normally privy to.
With Chronicle, there isn't a set timetable to bookend the documentary as episodes tend to center on themes, like Dean Ambrose's return from injury and Shinsuke Nakamura's journey leading up to WrestleMania 34.
All three of these shows best exemplify the behind-the-scenes aspect of WWE Network as the fans are given insight past the curtain in well-edited, concise editions that are packed with information.
Before bowing out with the top picks, there are so many other shows that deserve quick mentions about their pros and cons that didn't quite make this list.
Ride Along is a program that has a fun idea behind it, but often comes off too scripted to tap into its potential, which is sad.
The same goes for Story Time. That could be so much greater if better stories were told.
A show like Superstar Ink was faulty in that it has niche appeal, so if you aren't interested in tattoos, there's nothing to entice you about it.
Table for 3 is best when the groups make sense and it doesn't seem like a random pairing to just promote something, or if the same stories aren't rehashed. Again, if it's too scripted, it feels fake.
Talking Smack was a great platform for people to talk when they didn't have the screen time, but that devolved and took Raw Talk down with it as a pointless post-show.
This writer is not a fan of Camp WWE because of the terrible voice acting and the jokes not being funny enough, but plenty of others enjoy that style of comedy. To each their own.
The WWE Network has had lots of interview-based programming like Bring it to the Table, Legends with JBL, Something Else to Wrestle and more, all with varying degrees of success. Dean Ambrose's Stone Cold podcast was a mess, but Photo Shoot can be a great trip down memory lane.
There are far too many hits and misses to run through, but let's get into the top of the line.
Worst: Music Power 10
Music Power 10 is the worst thing on WWE Network primarily because it epitomizes how lazy the company can be when trying to create content for the platform.
Obviously, WWE is interested in getting as much programming for as little work and expense as possible, but this "show"—if you can call it that—consisting of clips of entrances in an arbitrary ranking to illustrate theme music is beyond worthless.
Anyone interested in the topic is infinitely better off just downloading the songs from iTunes or just firing up the particular event on the network to watch the entrance in its proper context.
There isn't any added insight or bonus material worth making this its own show. It isn't even a top 10 breakdown of entrances that WWE Countdown or The WWE List could have done as it's just a series of entrances from a particular WrestleMania, so if you watched that event, why bother watching this?
This is no better than your average random YouTuber putting up a do-nothing compilation video. In some ways, it's even less, as WWE has the footage and resources to make something better.
It's frustrating knowing WWE could have put up an amazing program about Jim Johnston and CFO$ and the rest of the WWE music group talking about the inspiration for entrance themes and discussing the songs but chose to do this instead.
Likely, you haven't even heard of it, because there's no potential for people to talk about it.
Let's be honest, could there be anything else to top this list other than NXT? This show has it all.
The matches are among the best, particularly at TakeOver events. If you're a fan of the athleticism of professional wrestling, this is the brand to watch, rather than Raw or SmackDown. This is the show where The Revival and others excelled before going downhill.
The character work is often better than anything on the main roster, too, as evidenced by the amazing storytelling of the Johnny Gargano-Tommaso Ciampa feud and the Kevin Owens-Sami Zayn rivalry.
Characters like Velveteen Dream, Elias, Tyler Breeze and The Wyatt Family were all birthed from this show, which has featured the rise of Seth Rollins, Paige and the undefeated streak of Asuka.
The Four Horsewomen wouldn't have been a thing without NXT. That in itself is monumental.
It's a platform for established indy stars to hone their craft to the WWE style and reach a new audience, such as Samoa Joe, Bobby Roode and Shinsuke Nakamura.
Somehow, with all of that in the mix, it also manages to be the program that allows viewers to watch Superstars grow so there is a personal investment in following their journey, and no other in-ring show has that.
To cap it all off, this is the show that has Mauro Ranallo on commentary breathing more passion and life into his work than anybody else on the broadcast team.
It is the most consistently amazing aspect of WWE, so much so that those who watch it are essentially all in agreement that it surpasses the main product across the board.
Anthony Mango is the owner of the wrestling website Smark Out Moment and the host of the podcast show Smack Talk on YouTube, iTunes and Stitcher. You can follow him on Facebook and elsewhere for more.