June 13, 2000
Listen to constructive criticism, Mr. Russo
When Vince Russo abruptly departed New York for Atlanta in the fall of 1999, he championed himself as a writer for the people. He talked of how the internet was a great outlet for fans to contribute their feedback about the product and how this feedback could help him shape WCW's programming.
Yet it seems that the only people who have had any input are those who already agree with his approach. Rather than constructively addressing valid concerns of various wrestling fans and internet writers, Russo has become defensive. He claims that those who knock him are WWF-biased or ill-informed, rather than assessing the logical strengths of their arguments and using them to improve WCW's product.
I'll be the first to admit that the internet is filled with ill-informed and WWF-biased individuals. Most fly-by-night internet "reporters" are twice as quick to jump on a WCW gaffe than a WWF one, and far more lenient in their criticism of Titan Sports. However, recently these people have had legitimate gripes with Russo's booking approach. There are three problems in particular that he and Eric Bischoff should look towards fixing, if they are willing to actually read this column and consider a viewpoint opposite to Russo's own:
1) Bouncing WCW titles. On a recent WCW Live! program, Russo claimed that frequent title-switching makes TV shows more exciting because the viewer will not want to miss a potential switch. This logic has led to too many World Title changes to remember in the span of weeks and such illustrious champions as David Arquette and Daffney.
What doesn't seem to concern Mr. Russo is that none of these title switchings have made a single fan excited about title matches. Arquette holding the WCW title makes future World Title matches about as dramatic as the Ready to Rumble plot. Frequent title switches cause people to forget who the champion even is and why they should care if their favourite wrestler wins it, since he probably won't hold it past a week anyway. The average fellow wrestling fan that I talk to today can't even remember or care less who the WCW champion is.
What is also troubling is the poor promotion of title switches. Kronic steals the WCW tag belts, which apparently doesn't make them the actual titleholders until a couple of weeks later when announcers proclaim them the champions. It's okay because WCW is a soap opera, Russo might argue. So logistically, if Cliff Barnes broke into J.R. Ewing's office, I guess that would have counted as ownership of Ewing Oil; no need to follow the storylines of negotiations and so forth.
Whether you want to look at WCW as a wrestling company or a sports entertainment company, all of this diminishes title lineages and makes fans care that much less about plunking down their dollar bills for a WCW championship match.
2) WCW Saturday Night's decline. This program served as an excellent show for those who enjoyed quality wrestling matches and watching up-and-coming WCW talent. The Russo/Bischoff regime immediately turned it into a recap program, thus destroying a long WTBS legacy.
Now the show is only useful for those who miss Thunder and Nitro. This type of programming would be far more useful for the syndicated Worldwide show, so that those without cable can be up-to-speed. Aside from this, young WCW talent such as Kid Romeo or the Jung Dragons sit on the sidelines doing nothing. Their skills are eroding, and they are not getting the chance to develop their personae.
This might all be defensible if the show's ratings were improving. So how do Russo and Bischoff explain that the most recent Saturday Night program was the lowest rated for WTBS in that timeslot since the 1970s?
3) The lack of quality wrestling matches. When it was announced that Bischoff and Russo would work together, I was hoping that Easy-E would be able to improve on Vince's glaring weakness of presenting poor quality wrestling matches. Who better to show Russo the way than the man who brought exciting cruiserweight battles to national cable TV?
Well, apparently my hopes were for naught as wrestling matches have become secondary to endless run-ins, screwjobs and downright nonsensical finishes. Russo says that sports entertainment fans don't want wrestling. I say that if this is the case, then do what WCW's video game designers have done and get rid of the ring altogether. Why commit to doing something if you won't do it full-force?
It seems ludicrous to me that a WCW wrestler would bother risking his body to put on a match and build to a finish that no one cares about. Why is the average "sports entertainment" fan even going to bother to buy a WCW PPV when s/he doesn't actually care about the match, only the inexplicable heel/face turn at the end? S/he'll be able to find out about it just as easily in a two-second blurb on the following night's Nitro.
All of these problems are masked by the fact that WCW's Monday night ratings have improved. What is being overlooked is that anyone could have improved on the previous regime's ratings (which ran the endless Hogan-Flair feud). Thunder's ratings remain the same, PPV buyrates are still low, and WCW buildings remain loaded with empty seats.
So while the Russo/Bischoff programming is better than previous WCW shows, it still needs a lot of improvement. That improvement will only come if the brash writer from New York actually listens to constructive criticism and makes some positive changes.
Bryce McNeil is from Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org. He has written columns for SLAM! Wrestling in the past, including: