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 22, 2000

The overrated stories of the week

Eric Benner
Special to SLAM! Sports

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So much going on lately. Raw is moving to a new network following the last-minute decision by the courts to hold up the previous ruling to allow it. WCW may or may not be bought out by a conglomerate of people that may or may not be led by one Eric Bischoff, who now works as a consultant in Hollywood. ECW continues to search for a home and USA is rumoured to be the closest match. Stone Cold Steve Austin is slated to return to action soon. Finally, Booker T will wrestle in a marquee match-up worthy of his talents, the long-awaited clash against Vince Russo this Monday. As a relative veteran to the behind-the-scenes world of wrestling, none of this surprises me. What does surprise me is the fans' and writers' complete and total overreaction to much of this news. Here's what the latest news really means for the future.

WWF Raw Moves to TNN

A big deal to us, sure, but not exactly something that'll turn the industry on its head. When television programs shift from one station to another, and this is typically rare, there is a predictable pattern of events and only a few alternatives. Most likely, Raw will experience a dip in ratings as confused viewers who don't follow wrestling religiously won't immediately switch to Raw. After a short period of time -- anywhere between a few weeks and a few months -- Raw will be back on track, and hit its early peak of whatever rating it can score on TNN given the various constraints therein. What it does after that is anybody's guess: it could attain new levels of popularity or see its momentum diminished by the move to a currently unpopular network.

One thing is certain. Folks are overreacting to this news. Some seem to believe that WCW can take advantage of this switch and capitalize on it enough to start winning the ratings war. Not only will it not do that, I don't think this will even be enough to make it competitive. When they make such statements, people are making two faulty assumptions. One, that viewers of Raw will immediately switch to Nitro. I can name three members of my immediate family alone who love Raw and watch it weekly, but are so confused by WCW happenings that they avoid it like plague. These people, and everyone like them, will not become new viewers for WCW. The second assumption is that these viewers will stay. Given WCW's track record lately, I say that's only marginally likely. Put on a show like the War Games episode of Nitro recently and you might have luck. Make it more like more recent shows and I doubt people will make it through a whole episode. I don't think Nitro will experience that large a boost in the beginning, but more than that, I don't think they'll keep it longer than a few weeks -- all other things being equal (assuming they don't improve their show).

Stone Cold to Return

I hate to say it, but the more I think about it, the more I realize that Stone Cold Steve Austin is a character like any other. Sure, he's charismatic. But so are The Rock, Triple H, Chris Jericho, and Kurt Angle. The WWF proved that they could replace Austin in short order -- with Rock -- when he left the first time. Triple H seems almost on the verge of overtaking The Rock in terms of upward momentum. With so many strong matches and so much storyline behind him, I wouldn't be surprised.

Austin didn't make the WWF what it is today, Austin-McMahon did. Steve Austin did as much for Vince McMahon's character as McMahon's did for Austin, maybe more, but it was still a two-person operation. Whether people would have tuned in each week in increasing numbers to see Austin and any other man is a question I'm not sure I can answer.

That Austin's return is a good thing is a given. But ultimately, with so much talent near the top of the card, it won't make any difference except perhaps to stifle any stagnation that was otherwise inevitable given that the same people are feuding for the title (or Stephanie McMahon) all the time. A fresh face always helps, and Austin's will help more than most, but I think he'll just blend in and help build what is really an entourage show.

Vince Russo This, Vince Russo That

Vince Russo is just a booker, whatever people might like to think. Sometimes I think us smarts confuse his on-screen character with his backstage reality. Russo is a booker like any other, and whether you think he's doing a good or bad job is really all there is to talk about. I think he's a huge mark for himself by giving himself so much camera time when he's not a proven commodity, but ultimately, it doesn't matter. WCW isn't really doing significantly better -- or worse -- now than they were just under a year ago when he was first hired, so ultimately, all this adds up to nothing. If anything, Russo has proven he's all smoke and no fire, as his antics have neither drawn in nor deterred fans. I say just ignore him until he does something important.

No, for the record, talking about doing something important doesn't count as actually doing it.

ECW Needs a Home

ECW, I think, aside from a few mainstream news stories and maybe a new viewer or two, is barely better off for its TNN experience. It's not more financially solvent, best as I can tell, and it doesn't exactly have forward momentum. I do think that TNN sabotaged its efforts early on. Still, I'm just saying it doesn't really matter whether they have a home on TNN or not, except for the small portion of people who watch it each week. It's not like the stuff on the TNN show was nearly as good as stuff from Heyman's heyday.

Eric Bischoff Goes to Hollywood

Oh wait, no one's talking about this anyway.

I know that as online enthusiasts, we like to analyze, read about, write about, and talk about what's going on in the world of professional wrestling, but everything has its context. In order to keep some kind of rational integrity, to give ourselves and our fellow wrestling fans some credit in the eyes of the rest of the world, and to generally help quash that stereotype that wrestling fans are “marks" in the derogatory sense, let's try to keep things in perspective.

Now here's the mail.

Max Berlin, from, writes:
"You know, Eric, I strongly agree with your comments. However, I came up with an interesting theory that might explain why this is happening. Subconsciously, both feds feel that if every week's show was top-notch, it would sorta raise the bar on what we, the fans, expect from them on a weekly basis. Also, we wouldn't be able to differentiate the good shows from each other until the company or companies start putting out PPV-like broadcasts on free TV. What is now considered a good show will be pegged 'subpar' by audiences nationwide because it won't live up to the newest standards. But by putting out two quality shows followed by a crappy one, the feds will be able to live up to pre-existing expectations and satisfy our cravings. Like you said, we will keep watching no matter what, therefore they have nothing to lose. Even if it's not a correct assumption, it would make a good excuse for them."

I agree with you Max, to an extent. I think it's true that both feds like to have the ability to create an above-average show from time to time, to kick things into high gear and really go for it. Maybe they need to take advantage of the pre-emption of the opposition, or maybe they just need a boost. So they have to have room to maneuver, and that means not putting on the very best show they can do each week.

Unfortunately, I'm not talking about "very best". I think that wrestling shows are erratic. It's not like they usually rate four-out-of-five stars and once a month they hit five-out-of-five. I think they put out shows that are all over the spectrum. Ones, twos, threes, fours, and fives, with a good five being as strong as anything on television. I don't expect the best all the time. All I'm saying is that they've proven they can put out fours and fives, so why should they ever descend down to twos. I think there's no excuse. There should be a minimum standard, I argued, not a constant maximum.

This still fits into my mainstream model. Even a strong show like ER hits a peak every once in awhile. Season finales or premieres come to mind. And then the next week, they settle down, but they settle down to a still-high level.

I don't see why wrestling can't do that. Personally I think it comes down to the creative process, but that's another matter.

Jonathan De Geit, from, writes:
"I feel that the comparison that you are making between the wrestling shows and high quality shows like The Simpsons is unfair. That is simply because of the pure volume of television they have to fill. It would me much fairer to compare them to a soap opera like Days Of Our Lives. Inevitably in a soap opera you run into low times and repetition. Wrestling television suffers from this same problem. However, compared to Days Of Our Lives it is far superior in terms of quality."

I think you're right that soap operas may be a better comparison for wrestling, with its daily grinding schedule. Unfortunately, I have no experience with soaps, so I couldn't really discuss relative quality of day-to-day efforts.

With respect to me being unfair by comparing them to admittedly very different shows like The Simpsons or ER, which are taped maybe twenty something times a year instead of twice a week, every week of the year, I stand by what I said.

If anything, I think people are underestimating what goes into a show like ER. That's a whole different standard. They have to come up with near-movie-quality sight and sound, with countless takes and editing. That's a different can of worms, granted, but I'm not willing to stipulate that it's easier to make ER than wrestling because wrestling is live or more frequent. Fine, ER actors get a break in the summer or during reruns.

I don't even think it's the wrestlers (equivalent to actors on ER) who are responsible for the lack of quality in some shows, though, I think it's the writers, or maybe the writing process. And that's solvable -- hire more writers. That kind of task can be divided. Maybe workaholics like Vince McMahon or Paul Heyman like to do it all themselves, or with a smaller group of writers, but that doesn't make it the right way.

All I'm saying: I don't think this problem is unsolvable, and I do think the average quality of televised wrestling can be improved. Points taken on all accounts though, lots of you presented intelligent opinions favouring the other side and I can't prove you wrong.

That's all for this week. Hope you enjoyed it. Thanks for reading, thanks for writing in, and have a great week!

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