Cheap Heat 12.28.01: Re-Attitude… Got It?


The setting is familiar, but the room is different. I sit in front of the keyboard for the first time in a while to write a column about a subject, not about a recap. My fingers remember what to do, but it takes a moment for my mind to shift from objective criticism about writing, to column writing. The difference is subtle, but there.

Since I didn’t do a Week in Wrestling last week, and since I didn’t watch either show due to various holidays this week, there won’t be one next week either. I wanted to check in with my old friend, Cheap Heat. Besides, Widro has the only part-time column on the site, and I’m challenging him for fewest postings in a year. Besides, it feels nice to try something different to break up the monotony. Week in Wrestling hasn’t been fair for about a month now, just because I’ve been so disgusted with other things. I’m going to be writing about Vanilla Sky in the next paragraph. If I did it right, you shouldn’t be able to see it without highlighting it, but just in case, skip it until the next line of stars.

*************SPOILER ALERT**************

Did anyone else get the sense when watching this that Cameron Crow had half of it written, saw Matrix, and figured out his ending? And then, about halfway through writing the ending, he saw Fight Club and decided to throw them in too? I thought we were going to have a really good movie about halfway through then it got all lame. They should have called the movie Matrix Club with Tom Cruise. They took a really good chance at a conspiracy flick and tossed it out the window.

To make it more fun though, see it with your girlfriend, and then have her try and explain it to you. You may have wasted the cash on it, but you’ll get a good laugh.

**************END SPOILERS*****************

On with it.

Again the setting is familiar, but the room is different. Someone who is not Vince Russo sits in front of a keyboard, and tries to think what will shock the audience this week. Instead of writing a wrestling show, they try to write a storyline. Instead of writing storylines cohesive to 2001, they try to hearken back to the storylines that put them over WCW. They try to get back their Attitude.

On the surface, once can see why the people in charge of the WWF are scrambling to, once again, find something that will appeal to the audience at large. When Nitro was soundly beating the hell out of Raw every week, and Erich Bischoff was busy telling anyone who listened that he’d personally saw to the demise of Vince McMahon and Raw was never going to touch Nitro again, a guy named Vince Russo was posing as Vic Venom in WWF Magazine. Vinny Rue had some ideas for Vinny Mac, and the WWF’s Attitude era was born. While Nitro was busy trying to be wholesome, family entertainment with the occasional cruiserweight getting lawn-darted into the side of trucks Raw was busy trying to attract the demographic that really mattered to them, the 18-34 year old male.

Sunny and Sable went out wearing almost nothing week after week, giving people a reason to tune in to Raw for at least fifteen minutes per show. At King of the Ring, Stone Cold Steve Austin made a speech that would change his career. People started to take notice of this new guy the good guy who beat the hell out of everyone in his path. Who cursed and acted like a heel. A man with the Attitude to match the new direction the WWF was going in.

With Mike Tyson standing at ringside to make the count, Stone Cold Steve Austin pinned Shawn Michaels, and set the WWF on a new path. A path which would lead them to double, triple, and occasionally quadruple their average ratings. The show that was lucky some weeks to score a 2.0 was now averaging 6.0. Nitro was left in the dust as they struggled to keep the promotion centered around Hogan. The WWF became so set in their ratings dominance, that they let the “Attitude” portion of the show slip away unnoticed. The pimp and the pornstar disappeared, replaced with new characters who wore a shirt and a tie. Austin didn’t flip his middle finger so easily. The Undertaker stopped crucifying people on live television. The idea of making Brian Christopher and Scott Taylor a gay couple was quietly put on the shelf. Billy Gunn was still gay.

Vince Russo, satisfied he had made the WWF a new force to be reckoned with, accepted an offer from WCW to write for them. He tried similar tactics to make WCW better. What he didn’t plan for was the difference between the WWF’s core audience and WCW’s core audience. The WWF fans tuned in for a show, while WCW’s fans tuned in for wrestling. Russo emaciated the cruiserweight, which was the backbone of WCW’s PayPerViews. Even if the upper-card matches in WCW sucked, Eddy Guerrero, Juventud Guerrera, Chris Jericho, Dean Malenko, or a masked Rey Mysterio Jr could be depended on to put together five star matches on a monthly basis. Russo introduced his style of “Attitude” to WCW.

But it didn’t work.

What was edgy in the WWF came across on WCW television as a desperate company trying to feed off the successful formula of another. Russo’s formula didn’t work with WCW’s audience. He took away what WCW fans wanted. Wrestling. He managed to alienate most of WCW’s core audience and the WWF fans he was trying to attract just saw it as a cheap, bush league rip-off. Russo never presented an alternative, he presented a carbon copy.

The competition ended when Shane McMahon walked into a WCW ring in April of this year. Vince McMahon now owned WCW. It was immediately assumed that Nitro’s audience would shift over to Raw. It didn’t happen that way. The WWF barely saw a blip on the ratings-radar the next week. Even when Shane promised an Invasion, WCW’s audience didn’t care. Who would be invading? Booker T, Diamond Dallas Page, Kidman, and a bunch of undercard nobodies. What happened next? They made everyone who came from WCW into the WWF’s bitches. Page got owned in his first feud. Booker T looked like garbage. They made Shane Helms, who could have simply been teamed back with Shannon Moore to liven up the tag team division, into a lame superhero gimmick which turned out to rule AND get over in spite of itself then ignored the people who enjoyed it and made him back into a jobbin bitch.

And then they were concerned when ratings dropped away?

When Nitro started to suck, it was when they started putting jobber matches on to fill a three-hour show. People didn’t have an incentive to watch if they knew who was going to win. That happened on Raw. The WCW guys never stood a chance. Chuck Palumbo and Sean O’Haire, who are MORE than convincing as big badasses we’re told they didn’t fit with the WWF Style. F**k the WWF Style. If the big tough-guys in the WWF can’t handle being knocked around a bit by Power Plant trained guys then maybe that says something about the toughness of the guys who got trained down in Atlanta. Sean O’Haire is a scary man who looked like he could legit rip a guy’s head off if he got pissed enough. What was he? Undertaker and Kane’s jobbing bitch. We could start discussing Mark Jindrak, who’s also a 6’7” monster with a hell of a look but they kept him off television and he STILL hasn’t made a debut.

Getting back on the topic. When the WWF decided no one was watching anymore, they quietly put the Invasion to a rest at Survivor Series. The next night on Raw, it was as if the Invasion never happened. Vince became a heel, Austin became a face, and Attitude was re-born. In an effort to win back viewers, the WWF returned to the formula that won them ratings gold to begin with. They got their Attitude back.

But it’s 2001, not 1997.

What was edgy entertainment when the Attitude era began is not so edgy anymore. Seeing Austin on television flipping off the boss is commonplace. Seeing Vince get stunned has been done and done again. Chuck Palumbo and Billy Gunn being gay is lame. The things the WWF would have to do to be “edgy” now probably can’t be done on network television. They have carte blanche to do whatever on Raw, but Smackdown is covered by the same kind of Standards committee Russo had to deal with on TNT.

The WWF thinks there’s some sort of magical Reset button they can press and return them to the success of the Attitude Era. It doesn’t work that way. They didn’t lose their fans when they lost their Attitude they lost their fans when they started to suck. It’s a simple formula. When you do the same stuff over and over, and do the same things every week, with the same damn people, viewers get bored. People had been watching Austin, Rock, HHH, and Angle trade the title back and forth for the better part of three years. Of course they got bored.

The return to Attitude isn’t the answer either. At the time, Vince Russo really had his finger on the pulse of the wrestling community. He looked at the Internet he really did look at what the fans wanted. Vince McMahon has no part of that and neither does anyone else on the writing team. The wrestling community isn’t clamoring for a return to Attitude and now, it’s the WWF that’s coming across as the desperate company making a last ditch effort at regaining viewers. The viewers that left, though, didn’t leave because The Godfather’s Hos stopped showing up. They left because the WWF is boring. I’ve practically lost interest in the WWF as of late, and I’ve been watching the stuff since I was three.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. I don’t know what the next big thing in the WWF will be, but it has to start with some coherent storylines that doesn’t involve McMahons. Besides Vince, the rest of the McMahon family needs to realize the world doesn’t want to see them. People want to see Steph’s breasts. When she got the implants, she made herself less important. People don’t care to see her to see what she says people care to see her tits. That’s it. No one cares who she works for, who’s side she’s on, or who’s she’s turning on. She made herself another set of breasts for the WWF fans to gawk at. Hey, more power to her. Shane he’s debatable. He’s made himself into a passable wrestler, but no one will ever buy him as a world champion or any champion and he’ll be stuck with a stigma every time he wins a match. Linda hell no. The WWF worked just fine when Vince was the only owner we knew or cared about. Him vs Ric Flair is a money feud, but it’s one that can’t be paid off with them in the ring. It needs to be paid off like a human chess match.

The WWF needs to make a quick re-examination of itself and remember that it’s not writing shows that the boys in the back will enjoy. They need to write shows that we’ll enjoy. Maybe the next thing they need to do is create real soapy storylines. If so, it’ll start with not invalidating themselves on a weekly basis. That would be a good start.

Otherwise well some of us remember what the ratings were like in 1995.

Some of us also remember how good the shows were.

And some of us remember how easy it was to tune to something else on Monday Nights.

End Transmission.