Cheap Heat 5.26.02: Stagnation

Due to Memorial Day Weekend, I’m not around right now… Widro’s phat auto-posting system is taking care of this for me while I’m very likely up in Lake George, NY, at a campsite, trying desperately to kick the last keg so we don’t have to bring it back with beer still in it. We also may very possibly be trying to figure out how to play Beirut (or Beer Pong) outside. In any event, I’m writing this before I leave. No TWIW because I may or may not watch Smackdown, and I certainly won’t be writing anything on Sunday. This is a column I’ve been wanting to do for a while, and the Raw’s 3.7 finally made me do it. Made it that much more relevant.

I’ll be back with a regular old “Week In Wrestling” next Sunday… but we’re going to flick into serious mode (rather than aggrivated, sarcastic mode) for a week and see if I can still do a serious thing. Please, more than ever, feel free to give me some feedback on this one. Let me know which you like better.

Hope everyone is having a great Memorial Day Weekend, and hope even more that everyone is being smart out there. Back to normal form next week… all this serious shit can go out the window

Have you ever walked through the woods in late August? Summer is winding down, but it’s still damn hot. The dead leaves and plants under your feet crackle and snap from dryness. As you walk, you come across a pond. Not a pond so much as a large puddle. Nothing feeds it, nothing drains it… it’s just an accumulation of rainwater.

As you look at the top, you see animals, lilly pads, bugs… and any other disgusting things that accumulate on top. The water is stagnant and dirty. Nothing filters it, nothing jiggles the surface… it just sits there. Given time and apathy, it will sit there forever. Growing a little bit with the rain, and then shrinking a bit with the heat. At some point, though, there must have been a huge stretch of perfect conditions… to fill the puddle this much.

Much like our beloved wrestling industry today.

Thanks to Eric Bischoff, the wrestling industry boomed in the late 1990s. The sport for rednecks and freaks was suddenly mainstream. All the teenages who cut their teeth on Hulk Hogan, and then had them rotted out by the sugary sweetness, came back to see him again. He’d always been there, but he’d been doing nothing new. That is, until he turned heel and watched the business skyrocket. There’s no reason to go over this, because it’s been gone over time and again, and even I’ve covered it in the past.

There’s been three major revolutions in the wrestling industry in my life time. Two of them involved Hulk Hogan. One involved Steve Austin. All of them share one thing in common.

The seed of something new.

When Vince introduced Hogan in the 80s, he marketed wrestling to a new audience. Gone was the gritty arenas of the NWA and the WWWF. Gone was the Bingo Hall and the small, territory arenas. In came the big arenas. In came young boys by the thousands, who wanted to see their superhero, Hulk Hogan, defeat the bad guys. Not much of a formula needed to exist, since there wasn’t much show to fill. Saturday Night’s Main event is where the upper card stuff happened, not on the dirty syndicated programs that appeared on regular TV… the All-American Wrestling and Superstars of Wrestling on Saturday and Sunday morning, nestled conveniently inside a block of cartoons on USA and Fox networks.

As it tends to do, times changed. Hogan did not. The formula remained the same. Team with Hogan, turn on Hogan, beat on Hogan, Hogan wins at Wrestlemania. The kids that watched Hogan grew up, became teenagers, and the cartoons they watched on Saturday morning lost their lustre. They didn’t beg mom and dad to buy them Wrestlemania anymore… they didn’t care. The formula was the same.

Later on, when they were young men… Eric Bischoff found them again. He got a hold of the “coolest” that the WWF had to offer. Kevin Nash and Scott Hall. The men who would usher in WCW’s biggest run in history. Scott Hall appeared on Nitro and promised a War. Then the Hulkster turned into a bad guy.

And they came flocking back.

Any person could find an nWo shirt everywhere they went. Touristy places ripped off the logo… sold the shirts. They didn’t stay on racks. This time, though, it wasn’t a matter of the audience growing old and growing up, it was a matter of WCW not knowing what to do to keep the audience entertained. Everyone, it seemed, knew the formula, except for Eric Bischoff. He tried to milk things for longer than they should have been milked. At Starrcade, when the Hogan/Sting match ended cheesily, it began a downslide that wouldn’t end until the company was sold, lock, stock, and smoking barrel, to Vince McMahon.

Bischoff had a hot storyline, and it carried his company for 18 months… from the Hogan turn at Bash at the Beach in July of 1996, all the way through to Starrcade of 1997, he had us hooked. But he just didn’t know when to quit. When Sting and Hogan met at Starrcade 1997, that was the logical pinnacle of the storyline. The year long, matchless feud, finally getting blown off to huge hype. It was Eric’s chance to deliver huge in a match hyped from the NY Times to TV Guide. Bret Hart would be making his debut… and Sting would FINALLY get a chance to maul Hogan for everythign he’d done. Everyone was ready to see Hogan get his come-uppance… and Sting was going to give it to him. It was the logical end to the storyline.

Panicked… Eric tried to make it the beginning.

The match had a shoddy ending, which led to rematch after rematch. Sting had the title stripped. It became a mess. No one ever got to finish the nWo, and it went through different incarnations. They tried to split it… they tried to do everything but have someone bury it… and attempt to move on from it. They couldn’t move on from it… they had such a good idea, and it WAS a good idea, they were afraid they couldn’t come up with another one. And the storylines moved over the same ground… the shows became similar… and the storyline stagnated.

While their storylines stagnated… Steve Austin was busy doing something new over on Raw. And the WWF prospered.

Which leads us to now.

The WWF is competitionless. It feels like it can do anything and people will still watch. They don’t have the spectre of Eric Bischoff and WCW leaning over their shoulder. Toward the end, WCW wasn’t offering much competition, but enough to keep the WWF on their toes. As such, the WWF was handed storyline after storyline, and whoever they had in the back making these things work before, just wasn’t there anymore. I don’t know whether to credit it to Russo or what, but whatever mind booked the Austin/Vince feud is obviously gone now. Gone is the “anything can happen in the WWF” and it’s been replaced by “we damn well know what’s going to happen in the WWF.”

The WWF has had so much dropped into their lap in the last year. There has been no reason for things to be like they are now… but they are.

You have the same people, doing the same thing, to the same other people as we did three years ago. The Owner is feuding with the top face. That was a great idea… when they first did it. It’s run its course… there’s no reason to do it again… at least not every damn year in a new version. We’re not idiots… we remember from week to week. When you do something one week, then ignore it the next week… we notice. Not all of us may say anything, but we notice.

And, historically, when storylines start to stagnate, people start to leave. When Hogan wrestled in the same formula for 10 years, the kids who grew up with him left. They found something else to do. Later, they found WCW. WCW tried to cover the same ground 6 different times and tried with the new blood. They had chances and no one cared. The audience decided to watch that Austin guy. Now, we’re tired of that Austin guy unfortunately, there is no second major promotion to go to, but there are other options. The Osbournes for instance, which has something the WWF hasn’t had in about two years… a new original idea.

The nWo getting owned by Austin at every turn isn’t the answer.

Vince McMahon feuding with HHH on Smackdown while Flair feuds with Austin on RAW isn’t the answer.

Vince and Flair suddenly deciding they don’t hate each other after such extreme lengths were taken to separate them isn’t the answer.

Brock Lesnar, who was on track to become a monster, jobbing out because he lost his temper isn’t the answer.

Firing one of the guys who’s key to a storyline because you’ve had it in for him since the moment he signed, and needed a convenient scapegoat, isn’t the answer.

Making another legit monster, Leviathan, into a silly gimmick isn’t the answer.

Burying Jericho and RVD at every turn by the established guard isn’t the answer.

Burying Eddy Guerrero with Austin won’t be the answer.

All of these things I’ve mentioned have the simple stigma of being “something new.” Arguably, the nWo isn’t new, but it’s new to a lot of the WWF’s audience. The WWF tripled WCW toward the end all these new people weren’t watching when Hall and Nash tore into Nitro. The nWo is new to them not us but them. Something new. That’s all the audience asks something new.

RVD winning the RAW main event match against Undertaker, even if it was a non-title match, would have been a good first step. Hell, RVD winning the title then Flair reversing the decision would have been a fine step… just don’t stick him back in the ring to lose five seconds later. Jericho actually getting to beat HHH for once would have been another decent step. Austin not having to beat the entire nWo at once would have been an OK step.

Malign Kevin Nash all you want for the “rewrites” on Raw, but I will say it was probably the best thing that involved the nWo in weeks. It made them, at least, look like they had a focus again.

I’m not saying the WWF is ever going to go under, but they’re on the same path right now they were in the early 90s. No one cares. I fall asleep during PPVs. The WWF really needs some new minds in their creative departments and they need them now. I’m not saying the answer is me or anyone else in the Internet Wrestling Community… but they need fresh ideas. Back in the 90s, Vince fired most of his writers and brought in a new staff. It may be about time to do that again. Someone who can actually connect to the pulse of the people. Sure, there are folks who will never be happy… but there are plenty who will be… and those folks represent more than a 3.7 rating. Vince and Co were up to high 6s and 7s REGULARLY when their stories didn’t suck… and they may be able to get there again. They’ve already proved they can artificially spike ratings when something good is about to happen… so the audience is still there… they’re just waiting for something good to happen.

But it isn’t happening right now.

Right now, the WWF is the stagnant pond. It’s just sitting there, growing and ebbing with time. Sometimes a little bigger, sometimes a little smaller. Nothing is feeding it, or draining it… and the surface has become scummy. People are looking at it and turning their noses up.

And when you come upon that scummy puddle in the forest, what do you do? You plug your nose and walk away.

Just like a third of the WWF’s viewing audience.

End Transmission

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