5 Reasons Why It's Time for WWE to Ditch the PG Era
WWE has been struggling to keep its audience and fix its ratings slump in recent months, and among the most common suggestions for how to turn things around has been the abandonment of the PG Era.
The shift to "parental guidance" programming started in July 2008 and—despite hiccups now and then, such as Corey Graves swearing on the air—remains firm to this day.
There are benefits to being PG, with the biggest being a more family-friendly pitch to sponsors. But fans who miss the edgier product of the Attitude Era, blame this lighter tone as a major reason for tuning out.
While switching to a more mature TV-14 television content rating is nowhere near the magical solution to fix every problem in WWE, there's weight to the argument that it could help.
Here are five reasons why it might be time for the company to put the PG Era in the past.
Younger Fans Are Growing Up
By its very nature, PG is supposed to be digestible for children who are integral to WWE's success. Kids are the target audience for toys and merchandise.
But the PG Era is now 11 years old, meaning any child born at the start is nearly in the PG-13 bracket while kids who were 10 and above are now of legal drinking age.
Tastes may have matured, and WWE's aesthetic may no longer be considered cool as the young fans grow older.
WWE's lack of mature storytelling causes these fans to look elsewhere to satisfy their hunger for more adult-oriented content, and the cycle can't sustain itself without enough new young fans.
According to a study by Magna Global for Sports Business Journal (h/t Kevin O'Neal of Wrestling Inc.), the median age of pro wrestling viewers increased from 28 in 2000 to 54 in 2016.
This shows younger viewers aren't sticking around anyway, despite being catered to by the PG rating, and a move to TV-14 programming designed for young adults is more fitting.
PG Isn't Even the Main Attraction Anymore
Variety reported the top 100 most-watched television shows of 2018-2019, and with programs like Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead among the top, it proves PG isn't the majority content rating.
2013's Grand Theft Auto V is still one of the top video games on the market, third only to Minecraft and Fortnite, and that is rated M (Mature).
Avengers: Endgame just broke the all-time worldwide box office record, and nearly every film in the top 100 that isn't a Disney cartoon is PG-13—the modern industry standard, which is trending more toward R than down to G.
No matter how much WWE likes to portray itself as a catch-all entertainment show with a little for everyone, it's still about people fighting each other, which lends itself much more to the PG-13 environment.
The company should follow the trends of the biggest franchises in pop culture like Star Wars and Marvel and sit comfortably in the TV-14 middle-ground that parents can feel safe letting their children watch, and teens and older can better connect with.
If it works for everyone else, there's no reason it can't work for WWE.
PG Won't Compete with AEW's Cooler Image
All Elite Wrestling is proud of WWE classifying it a blood and guts promotion and will be TV-14 come its premiere October 2.
The key demographic of adults 18-49—fans noticeably above the PG rating—will inevitably compare the two shows and see WWE is hokey next to AEW's edgier content.
During the Monday Night Wars, WWE beat WCW in large part because of characters such as D-Generation X, which were a step away from the Thurman "Sparky" Plugg-type gimmicks of the early 1990s.
Jon Moxley raising hell with foul language is a much closer modern analogy to "Stone Cold" Steve Austin than Becky Lynch, whose primary insult is to call people a "dope."
Which show is cooler, the one that breaks the rules or the one that sets even more for itself?
When in Doubt, Go Back to What Worked Before
WWE drew its highest ratings during the Attitude Era, including a 9.5 from June 28, 1999, which still stands as the all-time record.
Judging by the ratings bump for Raw Reunion, modern-day pop culture's obsession with nostalgia carries into WWE, with a fondness for how things were done before the PG Era.
Perhaps that's because that time fostered a better environment for creativity, with less restrictions.
Imagine how much darker Bray Wyatt could be without the stifling limitations of staying PG and if Kevin Owens had more freedom to be rebellious like Austin in 1998.
The bigger the playroom, the more potential for WWE's writers and Superstars to tap into characters and storylines that wouldn't be allowed on a PG show.
Why Not? What Harm Is There in Trying?
Over the past year, WWE has tried countless short-lived gimmicks to win fans back, from dimming the lights in the third hour of Raw for only two weeks to changing the Wild Card Rule's limitations the same night it began.
Taking the product out of the PG bubble is scary, but what does WWE have to lose when there's always a reset button available?
It isn't as though the sponsors will pack up and leave overnight, especially if the ratings were to improve; viewers are the measuring stick for companies wanting to advertise on television.
It won't kill the company's reputation, either. As much as Vince McMahon might think otherwise, it's foolish to overlook how most people still view professional wrestling as crass, lowbrow entertainment.
If turning up the heat to PG-13 programming creates problems, WWE can simply go back to PG and chalk it up to another failed experiment like the rest.
Without trying, the idea of the PG Era as an albatross around the company's neck will remain a complaint for many fans.
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.