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SLAM! WRESTLING: And Nothing but the Truth

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EDITOR'S NOTE: Eric Benner is SLAM! Wrestling's regular Friday columnist.

Friday, September 15, 2000

The consistent quality just isn't there

Eric Benner
By ERIC BENNER
Special to SLAM! Sports


A weekly
SLAM! Wrestling
Editorial Column

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I don't get it. I'm supposed to be some kind of wrestling analyst, but there are certain things that never cease to amaze me. I'm not sure what it is about professional wrestling, but so many of the rules of entertainment and television programming don't ever seem to apply to them that I sometimes find myself questioning the latter half of the moniker ‘sports entertainment'.

I like to use other television programs from time to time as a yardstick by which I compare my favourite wrestling shows. Sure, it may not be fair to compare and contrast wrestling, admittedly a niche ‘sport', with higher-budgeted, more-watched programs on major television networks, but the fact that I still rank wrestling above many of those high-rated programs probably evens things out.

Still, I'm forced to ask: What is it about the wrestling business that precludes either organization from running a long streak of strong shows?

It would be silly for me to suggest that a show should maintain its peak level of entertainment and quality at all times. Clearly, there will always be peaks and valleys, better episodes and worse episodes. But take any well-produced, well-written, and well-acted program. The West Wing, The Sopranos, The Practice, ER, The Simpsons, and Law & Order, for example. Now, you may like or dislike any or all of these shows. Unless you pretty much don't watch television, though, I'd bet dollars to dimes you appreciate at least one of them.

Personally, I'm a Simpsons buff (though Law & Order and The Practice are also shows I enjoy). I enjoy the humour, and the stories are getting increasingly creative. Also, it's absolutely top-notch. Ever since roughly the fourth season of the show where the animation and voice actors hit their respective grooves, it's been gold ever since. Now, I tune in pretty much every Sunday evening, provided I'm home and the episode is new. When I'm gone, I'll go so far as to tape it.

In exchange for that kind of commitment, I expect consistent quality. Rarely am I disappointed. If I were, especially for consecutive weeks, I confess I'd probably still watch the show. But I wouldn't tape it if I went out, and I'd make no special arrangements to watch it (timing dinner, studies, writing this column, what have you) anymore.

Wrestling fans, I've found, are among the most loyal of any brand of entertainment. Sure, some folks watch every odd week just for fun, but there are a lot of WWF and WCW and ECW fanatics. Count me in that category.

I find it puzzling, thus, why the World Wrestling Federation and World Championship Wrestling, and to a lesser extent, Extreme Championship Wrestling, find themselves unable to provide the same quality service as The Simpsons -- consistent strong programming.

It would be easy to write off wrestling as just not on that level, but unfortunately, that's just not true. Take the best episodes of, for instance, Monday Night Raw. Not the all-time best, but the really good ones that I find pop up about once a month. There's nothing inherently different between these episodes and others, they're just better. The main event is more appealing, the lesser matches and skits are better and funnier, storylines are well-developed, and (and this is extremely important in wrestling) there's little or no ‘garbage'. By garbage, I mean stupid, useless, utterly offensive scenes that serve no purpose.

I understand that wrestling is hit-or-miss. New concepts are constantly being brought in, and not all of them can succeed. But the people atop the WWF, which by and large has the best shot right now of producing a consistent show, have been doing this for years. Why, oh why, are some of the shows still less good?

Two weeks ago, both Raw and Nitro hit their respective strides and it was great, one of the best head-to-head wrestling battles in recent memory. I taped both shows, and will probably watch them again in the future. That's how good they were. Then this past week, the exact opposite was true. WCW produced a main event that they almost deliberately sabotaged (who wants to see two competitors argue about who's going to lay down for the other, especially when such an occurrence is frequent in WCW?), and the WWF produced a not-necessarily-bad, but certainly unmemorable Raw which totally went against the grain of the previous week's show.

Maybe it has to do with the performance for the live audience being most important, and the appearance of the show on television not being quite as gauge-able. Still, I don't buy that. The best episodes on TV are also the best ones to attend live.

Like it or hate it, Friends is a consistent show. From one week to the next, it's generally as good as it was the week before, or as it will be the following week. There are highlights, and perhaps lowlights, but while its performance may vary like a heart rate, wrestling's weekly television programs vary like the NASDAQ.

This is not meant as an insult to the wrestling industry. It is, in fact, my great respect for the awesome shows they can put on -- a top tier episode of Raw, or even Nitro, is as good as anything else on television, in my opinion -- that I question why this isn't possible all the time, or at least most.

It's not the huge swerves and surprises that I like, or the rare appearances. It isn't Austin's comeback that made last week's Raw good -- it was delayed for Smackdown!, and a major focus of this week's less successful effort. Granted, Nitro from two weeks ago can't exactly be duplicated every other week (Wargames being a rare match), but the other aspects that made the show great, like good build-up for the main event and intertwining stories, certainly can.

I offer no solution to the WWF, nor to WCW. But if the writers behind ER can make it an exciting, touching program every week, or at least most weeks, then I don't see why wrestling bookers can't make each episode of Raw or Nitro fast-paced, adrenaline-pumping, and smart.

That's all I have to say.

Here's the mailbag.

Jeff, from JeffHCross@aol.com, writes:
"One name ... STING.
And I don't mean the new Metallica one, it is utterly pointless. Instead, remember the Crow theme, or better yet, check out the theme off of the Ready to Rumble soundtrack (thank you George S. Clinton!), and imagine either one with the current lightning/thunder intro he has.
~ Jeff ... Sting mark 4 life"

Yeah but that's just it, I do have to imagine it. Sting's old music was great, and really added dimension to his otherwise one-dimensional character, but now his music is as ambiguous as his personality.

Jason Shull, from mshull@frontiernet.net, writes:
"I was wondering if you could shed a little light on what happen at Bash at the Beach. I watched Nitro and saw the interview with Russo. When he said he couldn't talk about anything that happen because of the lawyers, is that because Hogan is gone for good or just sitting on his can on a sunny beach somewhere?"

Here's what's known.

At Bash at the Beach this year, Hogan was slated to fight Jeff Jarrett for Jarrett's title. Apparently, there was some controversy over the finish (like Bret Hart at the end of his WWF days, Hogan has some creative control over his own character), and Russo and Hogan were at odds.

When Hogan came out for his match against Jarrett, Russo was there, too (which didn't fit in with stories at the time), and Jeff Jarrett just lay down, allowing Hogan to pin him. Hogan made some brief remarks about how this is what was wrong with WCW, and then Russo made some extended comments, attacking Hogan and setting up a match for the 'real' heavyweight title later, in which Booker T would defeat Jarrett.

Hogan is suing Russo over Russo's comments, but that's kind of a strange allegations since a lot of wrestlers make negative comments about each other in front of thousands of fans.

The most obvious fact pointing to the idea that this is a real situation (a 'shoot') is that Hogan hasn't appeared on WCW television since then, and WCW hasn't really capitalized on that situation the way, for example, Vince McMahon capitalized on the Bret Hart-Survivor Series controversy.

I don't know whether it's legit or not, but who's to say? Certainly not me -- I still think Survivor Series was a work.


That's all for this week. Thanks for reading, and for writing in. Have yourself a great week.

Send email to ebenner@hotmail.com.


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