The Little Things 01.08.03: HHH, Randy Orton, Bischoff, & More.

Happy blah blah blah. I hope everyone something something something and that everyone is sticking to this that and the other. Now let’s talk wrestling.

Since I inadvertently doubled the usual amount of reader picks last week (and since the number of reader picks for last week’s recap show was nil), I will change things up and open with double the amount of debate. I am a firm believer in karma, man.

Hart of Darkness

A small can of worms was opened last week with my comments on WWe’s handling of the Owen Hart Tribute RAW. For those of you not reading regularly (shame!), I criticized WWe for spotlighting the Owen Hart Tribute RAW on last week’s best of 2002 show in an attempt to make viewers tune into the RAW 10th Anniversary show on January 14th. Reader Bill Dearth responded and pointed out that WWe had trotted out several old segments during recent RAWs to showcase them as potential “Most Memorable RAW” candidates. This would imply that I should have been more lenient with my lashing out at Vince as Owen’s RAW is easily worthy of a showcasing, if not the award itself.

However, part of me cannot let go of the idea that the segments WWe has been showcasing could have ulterior motives. For instance, it is not a coincidence to me that several of the showcased segments involved classic Stone Cold Steve Austin bits. Not that he too is unworthy of the same consideration, but one cannot help but notice that WWe needs to prime its audience for his impending return (and ostensibly get itself back in his good graces).

The other, less ulterior motive is, of course, ratings. Everything WWe broadcasts is an attempt to grow company earnings, be it by making the viewers watch longer, buy merchandise or plan to attend live shows. Obviously, there is nothing wrong with this as this is what companies do to survive. The only constraints that a company faces in accomplishing this mission are competition, government regulations (laws, accounting standards, environmental regulations, etc.) and something less defined called ethics. No governing body, except in extreme cases, will intervene when ethics are called into question. Instead, it is ultimately up to the company to set its own policy and the consumer to take a company to task for what it views as unacceptable conduct and practices.

Was it acceptable for Vince to use Stone Cold’s moments as a ploy to boost ratings? Definitely. I doubt anyone would object to Vince using a star he created and stories in which he participated to create interest in the RAW Anniversary show. Owen’s RAW is a bit trickier. On one hand, Vince may geniuinely want people to relive Owen’s memory through a show that for all intents and purposes was carried out very effectively. On the other hand, using a wrestler’s memory to create a possibly large ratings pop as the original airing did is at least questionable conduct.

Ultimately, the ball is in the viewers’ court on this issue. If we the viewers were incensed enough over Vince’s handling of this issue, we would have responded with outrage through various channels, including contacting media outlets (WWe included) and our ultimate weapon, the channel changer. While I had my doubts initially and I still do to some extent, I cannot argue with the masses who have voiced very few, if any, major objections. And honestly, I was going to watch the Anniversary show, regardless.

So to make a long story short, I can admit when I was too harsh in my criticism. Vince’s actions could be perceived as rational and, gasp, even genuine. Thanks to Bill and all of the other readers who responded to this issue.

Tag Teams, Cont’d

Reader Jon Carruthers threw his hat into the ring on tag teams, bringing up a very good point that often a “thrown together” team will ultimately form its own identity (best example, The New Age Outlaws). This serves as a sort of hybrid between teams that are randomly paired and those given a solid identity at the outset and brings out the advantages of both: easy to formulate, easy to recognize, distinctive characters and personality, and staying power.

The ultimate point to draw from this long discussion is that there are several means to an end. WWe has a very deep and talented roster that is not very well developed from a personality standpoint. I and most of my readers feel that the tag team is an underutilized tool in developing interesting stories and characters. To top it all off, it seems that WWe has a wide variety of methods it could use to formulate these teams, but is stuck in a mindset of random matching with a limited window for development (best current example, Nowinski and D’Lo). It seems to me if the fed stepped back, analyzed what it is doing and looked at little things it could do to improve their roster, better business would be just around the corner.

Again, keep sending in your thoughts and what you pick up from RAW each week. I have been very pleased with the interactive nature of this column and want to keep that going in 2003. Now, on to the first Little Five of 2003, spotlighting RAW 1.06.2003:

1. Trampled

I will start off with a minor grievance. I do not believe Charles Robinson ever recovered to disqualify Regal, but I do not like it when the basic tenets of wrestling are ignored. If one blatantly kicks or attacks a referee in some fashion, one should earn a disqualification. I can understand referees using discretion to allow chairshots, other wrestlers and international objects in the ring (referees in professional sports do it all the time, don’t they back judge in the Fiesta Bowl?). The all-important disbelief becomes less suspended, however, when they tolerate a kick to their own throat. And no, kicks to the throat should not floor a referee for an eternity, either.

2. Storm the Gates

Let me be the first guy on this website to give credit to Lance Storm for something other than getting fired. While admittedly I disagree with the call to take the belts off Booker and Goldust, I could at least salvage Lance’s reaction after winning the tag team title. Presumably knocked out cold from the axe kick, the glazed look on his face as Regal raised his arm seemed to come straight out of a Warner Bros. cartoon. Arn Anderson was the master of this reaction, by the way, and it always got a laugh out of me back then as well. Speaking of Arn and things that I miss, why don’t heels call timeouts anymore?

3. Breaking News

Randy Orton is coming along quite nicely, I’d say. I wanted to write about him a couple of weeks ago when RNN featured him at the New York Stock Exchange. I found the bit where he shook a kid’s hand and grimaced over the pain it caused his shoulder to be utterly hilarious. Eric S. astutely points out that where Jericho has largely failed, (and it pains me to say that) perhaps Orton can succeed as an over-the-top vainglorious prima donna. The small things like the RNN Breaking News concept, checking himself out in the mirror and suggesting that even men dig his appearance are great starts. All he is missing is a bottle of Arrogance

4. Who’s the Boss

This is yet another detail where I can wax nostalgic, but wasn’t Bischoff’s fiery commands for the referee to “do his job and make the count” reminiscent of the WCW Bischoff who always pushed his underlings around? You know, like when he fired Randy “Pee Wee” Anderson during the Steiners/Outsiders feud? I really got a kick out of that character because I truly believed that Bischoff could be that type of guy, somehow (this is not unlike the successful realism embodied in the Mr. MacMahon character during the Austin/MacMahon feud). This side of Bischoff has always complemented his smiling, smarmy side well and helped make Monday’s beatdown of the Dudleys more convincing.

5. HHHeel Antics

I wanted to save this for last because it will provide me a chance to get on my soapbox for a moment and talk about some little AND big things in wrestling.

First, as always, the little things are why I am enjoying this Steiner/HHH feud and most of it is a result of the work of the much-reviled HHH. I almost wrote about his hemorrhaging during the arm wrestling match with Steiner two weeks ago, but I would be remiss not to mention his over-posing, cutting in front of Steiner to appease the planted judges and push up contest/ambush last night. Those were classic heel antics that effectively turned the crowd against him and towards Big Poppa Pump. I believe the audience really gets the sense of a character stricken with jealousy over the attributes of another and whatever the ratings show or whatever your opinion is of HHH’s backstage persona, one cannot argue that the crowd was juiced over the act and that it built heat towards the pay-per-view match. In sum, it did its job. Plus, considering that actual wrestling is not presently a wise option (one of the participants is coming off of an injury and is a key figure in the big stretch from the Royal Rumble to WrestleMania), WWe is getting a lot of bang out of very few bucks here.

Of course, I could tell ahead of time that a great deal of the IWC would not like much of what went down between HHH and Steiner last night. No wrestling, two massive egos infamous for backstage turmoil, lots of meandering dialogue, low ratings the classic criticisms. For whatever reasons, this tends to obscure a reasonable analysis of any one particular feud involving the object of criticism. For example, the HHH/HBK matchup at SummerSlam was a great match for all intents and purposes but since it was between HHH and HBK, it had to be viewed as a rubfest by the IWC. Or a one-time shot that was stealing the spotlight from up and coming talent. Or something else besides a great match between two fierce competitors. When this ends is beyond me, since I honestly feel that if HHH came out and put over Randy Orton or Batista in a 20 minute brawl, some other accusations would come out of the woodwork somehow.

I certainly don’t want to inhibit anyone’s right to complain, but it’s like a finance professor of mine said to me: skepticism cuts, cynicism bleeds. Meaning that to be skeptical of the products you consume/view is a precise practice that allows one to make efficient and reasonable purchasing/viewing choices. Cynicism serves to bias your choices and leads to repeated inaccurate, slanted decisions and this is my major criticism of the IWC in general – too much cynicism has left too many in the IWC unable to reasonably judge what they are watching.

Just my two cents there. I normally will not look at overarching topics like the IWC, backstage personas, etc. unless I feel it relates to something I’m trying to discuss in the column and here I felt the column and such subjects were inseparable. Besides, it should set up some nice debate for next week