6 Lessons AEW Can Learn from WWE to Ensure Successful Weekly TV Show
All Elite Wrestling's TV premiere is on October 2, but without even an official title for the show, we're still in the dark on just what type of program this will be.
There are only so many ways a wrestling show can be done, and after decades at the top of the food chain, WWE should have worked out all the kinks and streamlined this to a science.
However, Raw and SmackDown are struggling, and since AEW has made its name on being an alternative to WWE, now is the perfect time to strike with something different.
The trick will be looking at the problems with WWE's programming and learning from those mistakes, so let's take a look at some lessons AEW should keep in mind on its journey toward crafting the best show possible for today's wrestling fans.
Don't Be Repetitive
Practically everything has already been done in wrestling, but WWE is even repetitive on the presentation of shows, which AEW needs to avoid.
Nearly every episode of Raw and SmackDown for over a decade has started with a 15-minute promo that is then recapped immediately by the commentary team.
Longtime fans have an almost Pavlovian response to wrestlers being dumped outside the ring, because they've been trained to know that a commercial break is about to happen. Once Michael Cole says to stay tuned "as SmackDown rolls on," it's time to get up for the bathroom.
WWE has deviated from some of these norms in the past few weeks, but in a way that feels desperate rather than a more organic evolution of ideas.
AEW will inevitably have its own feel, but it must avoid becoming formulaic in any way, no matter how fun the content is.
A concerted effort should be made to have a script supervisor who keeps track of trends to prevent each show from feeling like it comes from a template.
Don't Script Everyone's Promos or Overdo Talk Time
WWE used to allow performers to cut their own promos with just guidelines and bullet points, before getting into the habit of scripting every bit of dialogue.
This led to a bland atmosphere where everybody sounds the same, with WWE sacrificing character, variety and execution for control over specific words.
You can tell when someone is struggling to remember lines written in someone else's voice, because it is jarring and unnatural. Since WWE heavily focuses on talking segments, far too much time is spent listening to bad actors poorly delivering weak dialogue.
Thankfully, AEW has taken a stance against this by allowing people such as MJF to do their own thing. But while the new promotion's events have yet to feature much talking, more words will be needed to buffer the wrestling and tell actual stories—and not everyone is MJF.
AEW needs to keep the focus on the in-ring product and limit the mic time of people who aren't gifted talkers. This isn't Shakespeare, and most stories are no more complex than "I'm going to beat you up for revenge or to take your title."
Those who aren't naturals on the mic should be coached, take acting classes, be given a manager to speak for them or avoid a mic altogether.
"It" factor charisma cannot be manufactured, so AEW's writers should work alongside wrestlers to help them find their voice rather than tell them what to regurgitate.
Plan Ahead and Don't Change Direction on a Whim
WWE Creative has an entire week in advance to plan each show, yet there are often times when matches advertised mere hours before the edition get changed.
Rewrites and changes should only happen in rare circumstances, such as when injuries occur, not based on what side of the bed someone woke up on.
AEW shows cannot be run with the same hectic scheduling. The card is always subject to change, but that shouldn't happen mid-show, when even the writers are thrown for a loop.
Ideally, the more that can be decided months in advance the better, but even a few weeks or days beforehand can make a big difference.
Since AEW will have four big events per year, there needs to be an outline of how major feuds will play out leading up to those shows, with minor details being tinkered with on a weekly basis.
Changes should happen on the fly to account for unexpected reactions to wrestlers and stories, but people shouldn't show up to work without a clue as to what they're doing for the second hour.
Don't Be a Buzzkill for the Crowd
If you watch an episode of Raw from the 1990s, you'll see a much more invested audience compared to today's crowds.
These days, WWE polices fans too much in an attempt to mold them into a certain image of what it wants the background for its shows to be. Fans are told what they should like rather than being allowed to make their own decisions.
Some censorship is needed at times to prevent offence, but WWE is just as quick to confiscate a sign that has CM Punk's name on it.
If a babyface is booed, the commentators occasionally cover it up. Taped episodes are edited to replace the crowd audio to better fit the narrative.
WWE even goes out of its way to call certain markets "Bizarro World" and clarify those fans don't reflect the opinions of most.
AEW cannot let the inmates run the asylum, but it has to learn from WWE that it isn't good to treat fans like they are only appreciated if they follow the script. If AEW crowds want to chant "one fall" along with a ring announcer, they need to be allowed to do that.
Being too strict has hindered WWE's fan participation and made the shows weaker, as a hot crowd can really upgrade a show's vibe.
If AEW wants to avoid looking like it's run by a bunch of curmudgeons, things should be more relaxed to promote fan engagement.
Not Every Match Should Revolve Around Interferences
WWE seems to think virtually every match on television should end with another wrestler interfering.
To avoid having someone take a true pin or submission loss, this results in a disqualification. At best, Wrestler X shows up to distract Wrestler Y, so Wrestler Z can hit them with a move after they turn back around to get a tainted victory.
Even in tag team bouts, the rules get thrown out so anyone who isn't a legal competitor can come into the ring and the dominoes can fall in order.
When watching a match on Raw and SmackDown, it's usually just a waiting game for the inevitable interference, and AEW has to think of different ways to end matches.
The answer may be as simple as just letting people lose by pinfall or submission, and the new promotion seems to be going in this direction by not yet having multiple non-finishes on its pay-per-views.
But AEW can't rely on something like time-limit draws as a replacement for this or ban disqualifications entirely. The key is finding a balance of finishes for matches and not using the same few ideas as a perpetual crutch.
Don't Expand Unless Absolutely Ready
WWE has six shows with nine hours to fill per week, along with content on YouTube, the WWE Network and more.
This oversaturation of programming has stretched the company too thin to make sure it's all high quality, which is why both brand splits eventually resorted to co-branded events, as separate PPVs were too hard to maintain.
Sometimes, less is more, and AEW can't lose sight of that. The company is already expanding considerably from what it does now with Being The Elite.
There are much lower expectations for a YouTube show that mostly goofs around for 20 minutes compared to producing two hours of live content every Wednesday night for TNT.
AEW cannot make the mistake of getting too ahead of itself by adding a third hour in a few months, or a second television show. No matter how much fans demand more, expansion should only happen when it is sustainable.
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.