Grading WWE SmackDown Since Move to Fox
WWE SmackDown arrived on Fox over two months ago to much fanfare, and already any excitement fans seemed to have about the blue brand's future on the network has faded.
Once it was announced in May 2018 that the show was set to make the move to Friday nights on Fox, rumors soon followed of WWE wanting to legitimize SmackDown by giving it a sports-oriented feel. How they planned on going about that was unknown, but the possibilities were endless, especially with a hard Brand Split in play.
WWE proceeded to phone in most episodes of SmackDown until its grand premiere on Fox this past October, which was heavily touted in advance. It was a stacked show that featured the return of The Rock, a rare WWE Championship defense, Brock Lesnar in action, a Ladder match, and more.
SmackDown's Fox run is still in its infancy, but it isn't too soon to start analyzing the best (and worst) of the show so far. For all the necessary changes that were made early on, there is a lot the company could be doing better as well.
Here, we'll break down a few key elements of SmackDown's stint on Fox over the last two months and what can be improved upon going forward before offering one final grade for the Friday night program.
All in all, SmackDown had a successful debut on its new network, pulling in a whopping 3.9 million viewers, per Matt Webb Mitovich of TVLine.
That number was expected to drop drastically the subsequent week for Night 1 of the 2019 WWE Draft, and while it did, it wasn't alarming. When you look at the ratings slowly trending downward, however, it is certainly is concerning.
The show has lost almost a third of its audience since its premiere on Fox. According to ShowBuzzDaily, the December 6 episode (which was headlined by Roman Reigns vs. Dolph Ziggler) drew an average of 2.4 million viewers.
Raw's rating that same week wasn't far off. Alex Welch of TV by the Numbers reported that its first hour peaked with 2.4 million viewers, so despite all the talk about SmackDown surpassing Raw as the flagship show ratings-wise, it sure hasn't felt that way in recent weeks.
If they can maintain numbers in that range, SmackDown will be just fine, and if nothing else, it's pulling in better ratings than it was while it was on USA Network.
SmackDown's creative direction has taken a significant hit on Fox. Although many assumed the new network would ideally encourage WWE to produce better content for the show, it has had the opposite effect for whatever reason.
Reigns' rivalry with King Corbin has largely dominated the blue brand for the better part of its Fox era and has failed to deliver. Their matches have been uninspired, their promos have been downright deplorable, and neither man is gaining anything from working with the other.
Instead of taking a sports-oriented approach, WWE instead has relegated to sports entertainment silliness with SmackDown. Worse yet, every attempt at humor on the show appears to be designed to entertain only Vince McMahon and no one else.
On the bright side, Bray Wyatt's reign as Universal champion is off to a solid start and has provided SmackDown with some of its more memorable moments on Fox. Other than that, there isn't much else to get excited about on Friday nights.
Lack of Compelling Characters and Stories
Needless to say, there are a number of issues SmackDown must address before it can truly be considered the "A-show" of WWE.
Above all else, developing compelling stories worth investing in is crucial. As it stands, nothing about the blue brand feels must-see in the slightest.
There's no real reason for viewers to drop what they're doing and tune in.
Additionally, giving fans an incentive to care about the roster is equally important. The top of the card is nearly depleted outside of the obvious suspects and rehashing rivalries (Reigns vs. Wyatt, New Day vs. The Revival, Daniel Bryan vs. The Miz, etc) isn't the answer.
In so many words, SmackDown has Superstars who have matches for the sake of having matches. There isn't any sense of urgency or importance. Stuff just happens.
That isn't to say SmackDown is in a terrible state by any means, but there is no excuse for the shows to be as boring as they have been lately. Fox is a major platform and WWE should be doing everything imaginable on the show to bring in new viewers, not drive the existing ones away.
The tag team scene would benefit from a few new tandems being created, spotlighted or brought up from NXT, as New Day and Revival can't continue to trade the tag titles back and forth forever. Heavy Machinery, for example, should be inserted into the championship chase soon following their recent showings on SmackDown.
Meanwhile, Bayley needs credible competition who can pose a legitimate threat to her SmackDown Women's Championship. Dana Brooke stepped up to the champ on Friday night, but the outcome to the contest was never actually in doubt.
Flushing out certain characters' motivations would prevent Superstars such as Elias and Lacey Evans from randomly turning face with zero explanation. Finally, establishing an identity for SmackDown separate of Raw would do wonders for its long-term growth.
The building blocks are there for a great wrestling show, but it's up to WWE to put those pieces in place. Regardless of its upside, it's difficult to give SmackDown anything but an average grade based off how it has suffered so far on Fox.
Final Grade: C
Graham Mirmina, aka Graham "GSM" Matthews, is an Endicott College alumnus and aspiring journalist. Visit his website, Next Era Wrestling, and "like" his official Facebook page to continue the conversation on all things wrestling.