The Netcop Rant: “That’s [Sports] Entertainment!”
You know, not to rain on anyone’s WCW happiness parade, but I think the
Russo / Ferrera signing is going to blow up in WCW’s face, sooner rather
The fundamental problem is this: WCW isn’t very popular right now.
Sure, but that’s why they brought in the Dynamic Duo, right? To fix it,
It doesn’t work that way.
See, in 1997, when the oh-so-talented Mr. Russo took over the writing
duties for the WWF, things were really bad. Much like today in WCW.
Buyrates were dying, ratings were nowhere near Nitro (although RAW was
MUCH closer to Nitro during that era than Nitro is to RAW today) and
there didn’t seem to be any fresh ideas. So what turned them around?
Well, if you’ve read the Lazarus Rant where I explained the WWF’s
miracle comeback in 1998 (and shame on you if you haven’t), you’d know
that three things triggered the ratings resurgance for the WWF:
1) Steve Austin’s rise to prominence
2) Curiosity following Bret Hart’s little incident in Montreal
3) Hatred from the fans towards Vince McMahon following that
When #1 and #3 came together, it was ratings gold and WCW had nothing to
counter with except hot-shotted title switches and giving away PPV main
events. It wasn’t enough, and now WCW is back to where they were in
1996: Hulk Hogan running around like an idiot in his red-and-yellow
underwear while the announcers decry that he’s once again in the prime
of his career and everything is wonderful.
Newsflash: Fall Brawl, featuring Hogan defending the World title
against Sting, did less than 0.35 as a buyrate, which makes it the
second-largest bomb in WCW history. To wit, everything is most
definitely not wonderful, and the golden boy is no longer a draw, and
now the numbers are finally there in black-and-white for someone to
confront him with once and for all.
But no one will. And that’s the problem.
But I digress. Back to Russo.
See, no one cares about WCW right now, and there’s nothing on the
horizon to make them care. They’re catering to a very limited audience
right now, and the plan seems to be letting Russo add elements from the
WWF. . . elements which most WCW fans despised when the WWF was doing
them on a regular basis.
You can’t just tease some Nitro Girl lesbian jello wrestling matches and
“I married a transvesite!” trash TV-type stuff and expect the casual
audience to magically appear out of thin air. When the WWF tried it, it
was the ice cream on the cake. The cake was Austin-McMahon, which
people cared about, and the ice cream was the gratituitous sex and
violence, which people didn’t care about so much as they preferred to
watch it over whatever Nitro was doing on the other channel. The
fluctuations in the ratings tell that story quite clearly. RAW would do
a 5.x for a wrestling segment (the core audience), shoot up to 6.x for
the “sports entertainment” quarter, then suddenly drop back down in the
5s again. In WCW’s case, it’s putting a nice big scoop of ice cream on
a steaming pile of cow dung, and lord knows no matter how much ice cream
you put on there, you’re still gonna get a spoonful of cow dung.
The major problem WCW has at this point is that the core audience is
only 2.x, and even the trash spikes the ratings, it’s only spiking it up
to 3.x. Is that worth changing the dynamic of the federation and
pissing off your core audience? The WWF thinks so, but then they pull
in 6 million viewers every Monday, so they have that sort of luxury. WCW
has no such comfort zone.
So what DO they need? Well, history has shown that the big turnarounds
in the ratings wars occurred when something earthshattering occurred —
in WCW’s case, the invasion of the Outsiders in 1996. In the WWF’s
case, Bret Hart gets screwed. So of course, in classic WCW fashion, the
Outsiders “invade” again, because if it worked in 1996, it’ll work again
in 1999, right? Someone should tell them the statute of limitations for
angle theft in wrestling (even from yourself) is seven years. This
time, it won’t work, because Hall and Nash are WCW 4 Life and everyone
knows it by now. The thrill is gone, and you can’t just recreate the
magic moments on demand. About the only thing that would turn the tide
at this point is if a MAJOR star from the WWF (we’re talking Rock and
Austin territory here) suddenly defected to WCW.
Now if *I* was in charge, and god knows I should be, I’d go the WWF’s
route by putting the World title back on Hogan at Halloween Havoc, then
screwing him out of it (in the literal, Bret Hart sense of the word)
against (who else) Bret Hart at
whatever-the-November-PPV-is-being-called-this-week. Mark Madden has
suggested that there’s a place for Hogan in WCW putting the younger guys
over, but since that sort of fantasy exists in the same wonderful
Shangri-La where Hendrix never died and Benoit is treated with respect,
I think we can safely show the Huckster the door and let him fend for
himself in the big bad world of wrestling from now on without WCW’s teat
to attach himself onto like a giant orange parasite.
See, that’s why Russo isn’t the miracle cure that WCW Live’s propaganda
crew would have you believe it is. Russo is, at best, talent
enhancement. He is not talent in it’s own right. The fans have to care
about something — Russo just makes them care a little more, and gives
them some T&A to look at in between doses of what they care about. That
formula is no big secret, which is why I’m sure Vince McMahon is upset
about Russo’s leaving, but hardly sweating bullets over it. One
Austin-McMahon or Austin-Rock feud later and the problem is solved
Even if you want to look at it strictly from the perspective of Russo’s
dubious writing abilities . . . I mean, let’s face it, the guy is a
hack. For the past year now, the WWF has been doing the same stuff WCW
did in 1997 . . . the stuff that led to WCW’s demise. People turn and
turn back with nary an explanation, plotlines are set up and never paid
off . . . the parallels are pretty striking.
I mean, the Magic Briefcase argument was used by WCW fans after King of
the Ring, not to mention the huge plot-holes pointed out by Mark Madden
in regards to “who owns the WWF, anyway?” as a result of that match.
Plus you have X- Pac and Kane seemingly breaking up and making up at
will, with no one ever bothering to explain WHY they’re back together or
why one was pissed off at the other in the first place. Plus the New
Age Outlaws, plus Mark Henry’s 18 heel / face turns in this year alone
(I mean, A SEX ADDICT??? C’mon!), the whole “The Ministry and the
Corporation hate each other until it’s not profitable anymore, and then
they become the Corporate Ministry” thing, the numerous Shawn Michaels
turns THIS YEAR ALONE with no explanation (turned face around WM15,
fired as commisioner, mysteriouly returns, still as commisioner, never
explained. Turns on Rocky, never seen afterwards, never explained).
HHH’s heel turn was never adequately explained, even though there was a
perfectly good reason even a 4-year old could think of (Hmm, Shane
McMahon is from Conneticutt, and so is HHH. You do the math). Chyna
can’t decide from one SEGMENT to the other if she’s a heel or a face,
let alone one month to the other. Shane McMahon’s change of heart
regarding Test was never explained, and probably never will be. The
whole concept of the Union was dropped without further mention. The Big
Show never explained why he teamed up with the Undertaker. Hell, we
still don’t know why the Brood ever formed in the first place, and that
was more than a year ago!
The problem is that Vince Russo has the attention span of an 8-year old,
as he sets up interesting angles with “Mystery Theater” payoffs that are
supposed to come “down the road” but never do. The most glaring example
of that is the now- infamous Rock N Sock skit from two weeks ago, where
he couldn’t even focus his attention enough to write an ENDING for the
bit. Simply put, he’s got some creative ideas, but as a writer he’s no
great shakes. The WWF wanted to use him to move onto “legitimate”
sitcoms on network TV and the like, but you could probably pick almost
any sitcom on any network (even on UPN) and get writing that’s at least
as good, or in many cases, better than Russo’s. Why? Because they’re
trained professionals, and Russo is at best an enthusiastic amateur who
was in the right place at the right time. McMahon’s bluster about
“sports entertainment” aside, given a choice between watching a
half-hour sitcom featuring the Rock N Sock Connection and a random
repeat of Friends, I’ll take Friends every time. And so do 20 million
other viewers every week.
Anyway, the point of this thing is that while signing Russo was a smart
move on WCW’s part, and probably their smartest move in so many years,
it’s not the solution, and in fact putting him in a position of overall
power without really knowing what the WCW fanbase wants to see in the
first place (Here’s a hint: It starts with “Gold” and ends with “Berg”)
and trying to attract a new audience to cover up the disenchanted one is
a foolhardy move at best. WCW is part of the Time- Warner
mega-corporation — I’d be willing to bet that there’s at least 40
writers on the payroll of Warner Bros. Studios alone who are
1) Looking for work
2) 10x more talented than Russo and;
3) Experienced in writing serial drama and/or soap operas.
Why not hire them? Or at very least, make Russo and Ferrera prove that
their brands of “sports entertainment” will actually sell south of the
Mason-Dixon line before you put them in Eric Bischoff’s old job. I
mean, my god, it literally took MONTHS for these people to decide that
Jimmy Hart MIGHT be a good choice to book WCW Saturday Night, but Vince
Russo, unproven as a head booker, calls them on a Friday night and has
the second-highest post in the company Monday morning? What drug-induced
haze are the Turner suits operating under?
Anyway, I personally give Russo and his compadre a good three or four
months to try to work their magic before management realizes that
they’re still treading water and still pushing the same old goofs (who
of course have full creative control in their contracts) before Russo
gets a nasty taste of corporate reality and ends up on the unemployment
line, or crawling back to McMahon for a job, whichever pays better.
I have a feeling it’ll be the former, considering how long McMahon has
been know to hold a grudge.
Oh well, that’s entertainment.