Okay, so perhaps the title is a bit too clickbaity, in the same way certain people scream ‘FAKE NEWS!’ at an article they just plain don’t agree with. But stick with me here.
Something dropped on WWE Network this week after Monday Night RAW went off the air that I feel like we need to talk about. It was a show called ‘Bring It To The Table’, a panel show featuring Peter Rosenberg pitching topics to Paul Heyman and JBL. The clip that has people talking – and the one clip WWE uploaded to their Youtube channel – was discussing a white-hot topic amongst fans, i.e. the length of Monday Night RAW. Rosenberg pitched that maybe three hours is too long for RAW week-to-week, and within two minutes JBL had shut down his point by saying ‘TL;DR it ain’t gonna happen, it means MORE MONEYS FOR WWE, stop whining (maggle)’ and Heyman shouted down any further attempts by Rosenberg to explain his point. This was weird, borderline uncomfortable television, folks.
So why do I want to talk about it? Not because I want to make the point that yes, RAW probably is too long at three hours (most movies aren’t even that long, how do you expect a weekly TV show to succeed when it is as long as a Harry Potter sequel each week?). Rather, I want to talk about it because once again, it demonstrates a baffling attitude towards fans that only WWE can ever pull off.
First off, anyone criticising JBL and Heyman directly are completely off-base. Both men were in character as heels, for a start, which was puzzling; this was a face vs heel dynamic of Colin Delaney and James Ellsworth on the babyface side and Goldberg and Ted DiBiase on the heel side. But they at least played along to kayfabe here.
Second, would you really expect WWE employees and personalities to go on their own network show and criticise the product? Do me a favour.
But moreover, ask yourself this; what sort of attitude towards the fans and viewers does a segment like this demonstrate? Even if you take it as pure fluff, it basically says ‘we’ve listened to your concerns, we think you’re stupid, you don’t understand how TV works, shut up.’
Now you see why I was only half-joking with that title.
I bring up a point made by Jim Cornette on his podcast, in a discussion with Lance Storm about the whole Roman Reigns vs Authority storyline debacle; why is WWE so insistent of portraying itself, the promotion, as a heel? Given a) it makes no sense especially when placed alongside all their happy-smiley charity campaign work and photo ops, b) it’s only a thing largely because of the Montreal Screwjob, which happened nearly TWENTY YEARS AGO, and c) it effectively creates a dynamic where WWE is bullying fans into paying them money, which makes even less sense. Especially when you get situations like in 2014-2015, where in attempts to go full hard-sell on Network subscriptions, JBL (ever the good corporate heel schill) would practically mock and berate fans who paid full-price for PPV shows. In principle, yes paying $10 for a Network sub over $60 for a PPV buy is logical; but why the hell would you mock fans for PAYING YOU MORE MONEY? WHAT SORT OF COMPANY DOES THIS.
(Especially given one of the PPVs this happened the most at was the 2015 Royal Rumble…)
In itself, there’s something to be said about heel authority figures on-screen. Since Austin vs McMahon this babyface-vs-big-nasty-boss saga has been Vince’s template for getting a star over; see The Rock, Bobby Lashley, Roman Reigns, Daniel Bryan, and indeed now Bayley in her feud with Stephanie McMahon. And in recent years, The Authority trying to manifest and weave in legitimate fan disgruntlement towards the company (D-Bry being a ‘vanilla midget’ and too small to be a star in WWE, for e.g.) has worked to a degree but also opened an entirely new Pandora’s box to another degree. But Cornette’s point stands; if you’re trying to attracts fans to buy tickets, subscriptions and merchandise, surely a neutral or babyface position of authority works far better and presents less conflicts of tone (such as when heel meanie-heads Triple H and Stephanie turn up on NXT or at charity functions as smiling, benevolent babyfaces)?
Going back to Bring It To The Table (which in itself sounds like code for ‘Put Up Or Shut Up’), what sort of message does it send fans when JBL basically tells fans to stop whining about three-hour RAWs because a) it won’t change because b) WWE are so rich and profitable IT DOESN’T MATTER WHAT YOU THINK (Rock voice optional).
There was not even an attempt by a more sympathetic character to say ‘well maybe RAW being three hours gives more time for storylines to develop and screen time to parts of the roster that may suffer on 2-hour shows, like the women and Cruiserweights (gnashes teeth internally)’. As it was, it just came across as two middle-aged men shouting at fans and using that tired old adage, ‘don’t like it? Don’t watch it!’ – and with RAW ratings tanking since about July last year, a lot of people already are tuning out.
I guess the idea is to foster a siege mentality amongst viewers, a ‘you’re with us or you’re against us’ kinda deal? Which, given it got Vince’s mate Captain Orange Scrotum the FUCKING PRESIDENCY (sorry I’m not gonna be cool with that anytime soon) means it…works I guess? But when we live in an era where non-WWE wrestling is more freely available than ever – NJPW World, FloSlam, iPPV, Total Access TNA Wrestling, WhatCulture Extra etc – it’s probably not great business sense to convert one fan into a loyal foot soldier via Stockholm Syndrome and two others to take their $9.99 a month elsewhere each month.