The Little Things 01.15.03: Flair, HHH/Steiner, McMahon, Regal,More

I’ve got TONS of wrestling gold to mine after last week’s column, so let’s not waste another keystroke

Readers’ Pick: 4Shadowing

This week’s Readers’ Pick comes courtesy of 411 Music’s own, Matthew Michaels. You can check out his work every week in his column entitled Till My Head Falls Off. Matt alerted me to the fact that before the HHH/Steiner posedown occurred, Ric Flair mentioned in the opening hour that “the plan” was coming along nicely.

The ability to tell a story exhibited by “The Man” never ceases to amaze me. Whether it was in the ring working a 40+ min match with Ricky Steamboat, on the mic delivering some of the more well-thought-out promos in the industry (recent example, to Shawn Michaels on RAW 12.09.02) or within his new role as HHH’s manager, Ric knows how to keep an audience’s attention. Here, he demonstrates this using foreshadowing, an often-unappreciated element of wrestling storytelling. The point of this is simple: provide extra incentive beyond the intrinsic value of the feud itself for the audience to stay tuned to the program. Ric expertly conveyed to the audience that something more sinister than a simple posedown would occur and helped to keep the audience captivated throughout the show. Granted, while most of us smarts can see the beatdown/payoff coming a mile away, it is important to remember that a lot of people who don’t read the websites and dirt sheets have their belief suspended relatively higher and cannot see the inevitable. WWe must attempt to keep these fans locked in and surprised every now and then. Unfortunately, many fans may not recognize foreshadowing for what it is, since the technique is a lost art. This is hardly surprising, given that the booking committee itself rarely looks ahead to the next hour.

If you don’t trust my opinion on its importance here, scroll down to the very bottom of Flea’s Monday Edition and see what he thinks. The same applies to wrestling.

Raising HHHell

The readers had a lot to share about my thoughts on HHH/Steiner. The responses generally fell into three camps:

1) Total disagreement, with the opinion that RAW is a wrestling show, not a bodybuilding show.

2) Partial disagreement, with the opinion that the segment did do a lot to build the HHH/Steiner feud, but came at the cost of actual wrestling time.

3) Total agreement with my view that this feud is the best the fed could hope for given that one of the participants is coming off an injury.

The responses from the first camp did not attack my logic, but instead expressed a great deal of ennui or frustration over the lack of wrestling on the show. Well, since there was no argument over the reasons why I think this feud is textbook wrestling entertainment, my advice to this crowd would be to either hang in there and see how the main event plays out at the Rumble or watch SmackDown exclusively. My real hope, however, is that these responses represent the smallest possible portion of the overall audience as I’d be dismayed if a large portion could not reasonably enjoy a classic heel/face feud. Even if it is HHH and Scott Steiner.

Reader Kenneth Childs of the second camp liked the feud but did not like that the main event became abbreviated at its expense. This brought up a point about another little thing that goes overlooked too often– live television production. The main event tag match indeed had a rushed feel and this is a direct result of the promos that preceded it. WWe inadvertently sacrificed free televised wrestling in an attempt to build heat for several pay per view confrontations in the form of lengthy in-ring promotional work. In a perfect world, WWe would have had time for the main event to fully develop, but trust me on this one, pulling things off perfectly on television is not easy. From the pryo technicians to the video production personnel to the security team, it takes a full effort to produce live television (Budweiser should make a commercial for them, too). My only firsthand glimpse into their world (and all the evidence I needed as to the difficulty of their craft) came backstage at King of the Ring 2000 in Boston. While waiting for a cab, several crew members wheeled the heavy equipment out to the trucks and complained about a long night and some of the little things they have to prepare for. Everything including segments that run too long, idiot fans that set off firecrackers or jump the gates in the arena and setting up the ring takes a lot of time and effort out of these workers.

So in sum, try to forgive the fed if everything on television is not perfect every week. It’s hard, hard work and they have a very good track record in their 10 years of producing live television (anyone who has watched a couple of production clunkers of a few NWA: TNA or WWA shows should be able to vouch for this). As long as the suspect timing does not become a habit (and they did a much better job this week) and feuds are being built well, WWe can afford the occasional rushed main event in the long run.

And as for the third camp, thanks for the kind praise. It should be noted that about three quarters of the responses fell into this camp. This leads me to think that there could be an issue of misrepresentation within the IWC. That is to say, a few major voices may not represent the entirety of those fans surfing the net for wrestling coverage. Something to think about, anyway.

Speaking of those RAW feuds, lets see if they got the details down correctly again this week! Here is the Little Five for RAW 1.13.2003:

1. Party Pooper

WWe regained its once-uncanny ability to surprise its audience on Monday. The first surprise was a well-played segment where Eric Bischoff greeted lowly Gene Okerlund in the limo in the back instead of Vince. The punch line, of course, was when Gene responded to Eric’s disgust by saying that if Eric hadn’t been such a crummy manager two years ago, maybe we’d be having a Nitro reunion party. I laughed my ass off and enjoyed Eric’s disgruntled reaction as well.

2. Take the Good with the Good

The F-View segment on Monday is what this column SCREAMS for – a concise but effectively acted segment that is both entertaining and gives the audience a reason to care about the proceeding match. In about two minutes’ time, we saw Steve Regal unload his smarmy heel character on Jerry Lawler, noting that the book was tripe and that the King’s wives have taken him to the cleaners and his kids won’t even talk to him. Brilliant! Why can’t this be done all the time??

This segment carried over into the ring where Regal seemed to really stretch his accent as haughtily as it could go while reading from the book (thirteen became thurteen and Lance became Launce). And it certainly pissed off the audience, which even broke out the old U-S-A chant. Hell, WWe even got an extended plug for Lawler’s book, the referees exacting revenge on the ref-abusing team of Regal and Storm by confiscating their brass knucks, and a potential catchphrase – Proper Planning Prevents Piss-Poor Performance – out of all this.

But then

3. and the Bad with the Bad

The crowd, apparently ready to mark out like madmen after all the build-up to the King’s chain-laced knockout punch, were left crestfallen with a disqualification victory for Regal. I think anyone watching would agree that the finish came off as very improper and out of place. The refs went from heroes to spoilers in the blink of an eye, the heels were out-heeled in their tactics and a bit of good planning and retaliation from the King was wasted. Oh yeah and again, the crowd was obviously disappointed. Proper booking of a finish is a little, but all important thing.

4. Who’s the Boss?

Funny, I thought I wrote something similar to this last week. Well, I’ll retire this observation into the hall of fame this week. If you cannot enjoy Vince’s trademark facial expressions and growls and if some part of you isn’t taken back to the heyday of Austin/McMahon when he does them, part of you cannot enjoy good wrestling theater. Even as a face bossing around Eric Bischoff, the audience got caught up in his “Boss” character. Extra credit for slapping Randy Orton on his 94% shoulder as well.

5. HHHeel Antics II

I think I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention my thoughts on this item.

For starters, the promo was well done. After HHH’s soliloquy, Steiner seemed like he had been removed to the ranks of anyone else who has challenged the Game and lost. I am enjoying his ability to use past challengers as a way of elevating his status as a champion. Giving the devil his due, HHH has refined his oratory recently although sometimes he still meanders. After last week’s overrun, he was much more focused and effective this week. Learning from past mistakes is a sign of a quality production, after all.

However, from a booking standpoint, I do not think the crowd was ready for a confrontation after weeks of being primed with non-wrestling events. The proper place for a de-pantsing or any physical confrontation would have been the Royal Rumble. The crowd thus seemed unprepared in response to the strip show that occurred in the middle of the ring.

In sum, this feud and this show demonstrated some of the little things done correctly, especially some creative surprises and effective building of feuds, but left out the all important detail of properly booking the ends to long-running feuds. How this plays out in terms of ratings and buy rates remains to be seen. I can say of this feud that it has been a solid, entertaining attempt and could be a sign that the ship is slowly being righted.

Let me know what you think or drop me a line about a detail you picked up on.