The Voice Of Reason News Hour 02.06.04


Happy February from the News Hour. I’m Widro, I’m running late as usual. I should just call this the Friday Afternoon News Hour. Oh well let’s get going

News and Notes
Chyna aka Joanie Lauer is signed and debuting with NWA:TNA next week in some kind of storyline with Johnny Fairplay. Oh good, another WWE has been to grace the airwaves of TNA and take away time from the up and coming stars.

TNA seems dying to get mainstream attention, but at the same time is slowly alienating many hardcore fans. The ECW model might not have worked out businesswise for a variety of reasons, but the core audience was loyal and bought tickets, merch and PPVs. Now thing about TNA: In nearly 2 years, has TNA developed anything close to the fanbase ECW had? Or even ROH?

I love the idea behind TNA, and I’m really rooting for the promotion to catch on and become a viable #2 in this country. But who is making decisions there? Do they think grade D level people are going to get a ton of people on board with this product?

The Goldberg rumors continue, as all insider reports have him exiting WWE once his contract expires in March. At this point, it doesn’t really surprise me, although I think his run was pretty decent despite all the booking and backstage headaches. WWE is clearly planning as if he wont be on board, and for the bulk of 2004 that might turn out to be better for everyone involved.

If 2004 really is the year that WWE creates a few new main eventers, Goldberg could conceivably return in 2005 with a whole slate of fresh matchups. Or even if not, he had a run and now we’ll move on. As a huge Goldberg mark in WCW, I wont be that sad to see him go, because he hasn’t shown any change in his character, and the matches I’d want to see (Goldberg vs. Austin, Goldberg vs. Hogan, Goldberg vs. Bret) are basically all impossible.

WWE finally announced that Sable and Torrie Wilson would be appearing in Playboy, ending that ridiculous speculation. It also did a disservice to the Raw Woman’s Division, because fans were reminded that although those Raw gals sure can wrestle, at the end of the day, we only want them around because they are hot.

Chris Benoit’s Push: DOA?
So Chris Benoit is getting a huge push towards the main event in WMXX, so the net fans are all happy. But something is definitely wrong, as fans are barely reacting to Benoit and actually have chanted boring during his promos. Plus the Raw ratings haven’t blown anyone away and Benoit is likely to be blamed. I know that the pops Chris Benoit has been getting in arenas haven’t been so great, but it’s hard to really get behind him if you’re a casual fan at this point.

Outside of his Rumble win, he has been booked, even recently, to be totally inept. First he was on Smackdown, and could never win the title. Then when he won the Rumble, the expected storyline to fans would be that he would take on Brock because there is nothing Heyman could do to stop the match.

However, he was then booked to basically run out of Smackdown without even facing Heyman or Brock again after the Rumble. In essence, he looked like he was running scared, and never really said why he wanted HHH over Brock. So the assumed reason would be that he didn’t think he could beat Brock.

Then, on day 1 of his supposed huge push, he was entered into a three way feud with one of the more popular wrestlers ever, in his quest to win the World title. By keeping the HBK/HHH issue open past the Rumble, it left fans confused – would they rather see HBK finally win after 2 virtual ties, or would they like to see Benoit win. With the babyface side split into two, that leaves Benoit with only half the focus.

I’m not even a huge Benoit fan, but to book him like they have, constantly calling him a loser and muddying the reason and drive towards him overcoming, they are setting him up to fail. I hope it works out better in the next few weeks.

Wrestling Marketing 101
I don’t have a cute name for this sub-segment just yet, but I will introduce my thinking. I was actually thinking of doing a full, normal Voice of Reason based around this idea, but I have a good amount of space to fill each week, so I’m adding to this News Hour gig.

Years ago, WWE would create a “profile” or sorts for each wrestler, kind of like a brand document or style guide. It would have a logo, some basic colors associated with the wrestler, then a finishing move or 2 or 3, a catchphrase and possibly a hand gesture. Maybe a backstory that was fleshed out in vignettes or interviews. It’s kind of like what they do with the superstar bios on, but more of an internal process to keep the presentation of all the wrestlers consistent across all media.

I’m not sure when it happened, but in WWE’s attempts to take out the cartoonish “gimmicky” nature of wrestling, they also forgot to make sure each wrestler had not only an identity, but also a regular catchphrase or hand gesture, or any other item to interact with the crowd. They probably still do the whole style guide concept, but now seem to omit major parts of the character, including backstory and catchphrases.

Before I get to my main point, the idea of having a backstory and character is something that might work well in the current booking pattern. Many times we don’t know the motivation of a wrestler, especially in non-title feuds. It was touched upon in some recent Smackdown feuds, most notably the Guerreros (family honor) and Kurt Angle (his association with the troops), but it would frame all storylines and feuds into a believeable world if the characters themselves had a story and motivation.

But I think the omission of signature catchphrases, hand gestures or rallying cries is a major problem in the current wrestling landscape. In the height of the Monday Night Wars, fans of both WCW and WWF had opportunities in every show to talk/chant/sing along with the wrestlers doing fun crowd interactions (Hall, Konnan, NWO in WCW; Rock, Austin, DX in WWE), and had hand signs to do as well.

Now, it seems as if WWE has cut those elements entirely out of the events, leaving fans only with matches and promos to feel like part of the show.

Catchphrases and gimmicks like Bret Hart’s glasses or the Hurricane’s mask serve a bunch of purposes in wrestling, and are a cheap and easy way to get wrestlers more over with the crowd. In addition, keeping the crowd hot for non-match segments makes for a better show all throughout. If a wrestler has a catchphrase that is over with the crowd, he is more likely to sell more merchandise with that catchphrase on it.

A few months ago when the Rock came back, he had apparently come up with a new catchphrase “slap your lips” and already had a shirt ready to go. While this was pretty transparent and ended up a failed catchphrase, it raised a red flag in my head – why aren’t more wrestlers doing this?

At a time in WWE history where the in-ring product is being toned down, it is more important than ever to find ways for wrestlers to connect with fans. Besides John Cena, are any of the current crop of mid and top level guys using catchphrases, hand gestures or special crowd interactions?

Let’s take a quick survey:

HHH – known as the game, has some overall catchphrases, but uses them less than before.

HBK – doesn’t really have a catchphrase right now, and his merch is all weird religion-inspired stuff that doesn’t really fit with his wrestling.

Brock – Clearly the promotion’s top young star, he is not really the “next big thing” anymore and doesn’t really have

Kurt Angle – “you suck” is associated with him, and the crowd is still eating it up. It’s good that the crowd chants here, but is it really what you want? Can you sell a ton of tshirts of you suck?

Goldberg – “believe the hype” is lame and “you’re next” is like 6 years old

Randy Orton – has a legend killing gimmick, but nothing to get the crowd hot or on his side each week

Eddie Guerrero – no real catchphrases

Chris Benoit – I actually heard him bring back “prove me wrong” which was a failed catchphrase from 3 or so years ago

Notable exceptions are Austin (from a different era), Rock (same), Chris Jericho (has too many and none are over) and of course Cena.

Next week I’ll talk about some possible ideas, and also discuss how NWA:TNA could use this idea to set themselves apart, but if you have opinions on this, please email me and I’ll throw it in next week’s column

The HOT Seat
In this week’s edition of the Hot Seat, we have multi-zone superstar Jacob Zeigler! The Z fills in for PK on Monday Night Raw, as well as reviewing both movies and CDs in those zones! But does he have what it takes to rack up a high score on the Hot Seat? Let’s find out:

1. We always start with geometry: A pentagon is a 5 sided polygon and a hexagon is an 6 sided What is a 7 sided polyon called?

Z: I believe a 7-sided polygon is called a heptagon.

Hot Seat Judges:
You lucked out because this was an easy one.
1 out of 1

2. Out of 100%, what would you say the percent chance of Bret Hart appearing at Wrestlemania XX in some form is?

Z: If you count the supposed “Hall of Fame” inductions, I’ll give Bret a 50% chance of showing up. If they do the HOF, he’ll be inducted for sure, but as far as showing up the jury is still out. I’ll be surprised if he’s there no doubt.

Hot Seat Judges:
50 seems about right, although the Hitman mark in me really is hoping to hear that guitar riff one more time in MSG
2 out of 2

3. You gave the Lord of the Rings: Return of the King a whopping 9.0 in your review but then went on to rip the movie a bit more than you would expect for a 9.0. Can you give me 3 reasons why it deserves to be a big picture nominee? Keep in mind I don’t buy this theory that the movie should be judged as a trilogy or feel that I should need to have “read the book” to understand major plotlines:

Z: Well considering that I don’t think it deserves to be up for best picture (and I overrated it at 9.0), I will do my best to give you three reasons. 1 – Despite what you and I think, it is one of the most beloved films of all time, and many people around the world think it is great. Also, it is one of the few films equally loved by critics and regular people alike. 2 – Most feel it is necessary to judge all 3 movies as one lump film. While I find that to be preposterous (in terms of Oscars at least), you and I are in the overwhelming minority there. 3 – Supposedly it has “something for everyone”: action, drama, “humor,” love, homoeroticism, etc. But believe me Widro, I am on your side, and don’t think this should be up for best picture. For my money it should be “American Splendor,” “Big Fish,” “Lost In Translation,” “Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World,” and “Mystic River.”

Hot Seat Judges:
I appreciate your agreement with me that it shouldn’t be a Best Picture nominee, but your #2 reason was one I didn’t want to hear. Sorry.
2 out of 3

4. While I’d prefer WWE go with a Foley/Orton singles match at WMXX, the rumor is that the Rock will come and make it a tag match. In 50 words or less, book the angle that includes the Rock in the Mick Foley/Randy Orton feud in a way as to not make me upset they aren’t doing a singles match.

Z: Batista and Orton challenge Foley to a tag team match, knowing he won’t find a partner. Rocky comes back, offers to be Mick’s partner, Mick refuses. Rocky says “Mick, I read your damn books, okay?” Mick takes on Rocky as a partner.

Hot Seat Judges:
This was a trick question. There is no storyline that would not make me upset that the Rock was also in the match.
2 out of 4

5. Janet Jackson revealed herself for all of America to see on the Super Bowl last week, causing mass hysteria. Rank these divas from 1-5, where 1 is the diva you’d most like to see naked and 5 is least: Trish Stratus, Stacy Keibler, Victoria, Dawn Marie, Lita

1 – Trish Stratus
2 – Victoria
3 – Stacy Keibler
4 – Lita
5 – Dawn Marie

Hot Seat Judges:
The correct order is:
1 – Lita
2 – Victoria
3 – Stacy Keibler
4 – Trish
5 – Dawn Marie

You got 3 out of 5 so that’s more than half, we’ll give it to you
3 out of 5

Overall a solid performance in the Hot Seat by the NEW Z-man. Catch Zeigler’s reviews all week in movies and occasionally in music.

Wrestlemania Countdown
It’s getting pretty close now, as its only a little over a month away. Most of the matches are taking shape now, but there are a few issues still outstanding.

The Mick Foley/Randy Orton feud is still on track as a singles feud, but all internet rumors have the Rock interjected into the storyline sometime soon. But why? I realize they want to get the Rock on the card, but this feud is clearly positioned as a personal issue between two guys right now. Why add the Rock to whats already WWE’s hottest feud?

The rumors continue that the Raw world title match at WMXX will be a three way match, although some reports say that its not in the works.

I’d like to see them do something similar to how they did WMX, where Bret and Luger tied for the Rumble victory. They did a coin flip to see who would face Yokozuna first, with each guy having an “alternate match” to be at the same fatigue level as the champ.

They could reuse this idea, as a nice nod to longtime fans and because WMX was also at MSG (I was too!). Another idea would be to have Benoit and Michaels face each other one on one in the night’s first match, have Benoit win, and then have him beat HHH in the main event. Not sure they would give Benoit such a large push, but two huge wins on one night to end the night as champ sure is a good way to make it known that this guy is the top guy for 2004.

Cream of the Crop
I’m running out of time, so here are some links:

Zone of the Week: 411 Comics – I don’t give them enough props, but they are kicking ass every week. I checked yesterday, and there were like 15 new reviews.

Also check out Marvel News & Views where Paul talks about the cancellation of X-Men Evolution. I’m also sad to see it go, although I haven’t seen them all yet and I just watch it when I catch it at night on the Cartoon Network, Heck, we should get that cartoon on the FoxBox! By “we” I mean those that run that network, not their Director Of Internet Operations or anything.

Writer of the Week: Lucard
I might hate the guy, but I cant deny how much he posted this week!

Elsewhere on the 411:
I’m always happy when Blake Norton drops me an email with a new Norton’s Notes, and as usual it’s a good read.

Mike Campbell has an interesting new column concept, where he goes through some puro and indie videos with a running commentary instead of the more typical ‘review’ format. He is up to the third edition so far of The Tiger’s Take

I have never actually been linked by Eric S for this column, and I guess its because we are so far apart in the week. So here is a link to his latest Black column in the hopes of scoring a link! Then we can talk Hot Seat. Maybe

Matthew Michaels celebrates his new position as head music editor with a nudity-laden column! Till My Head Falls Off 02.05.04: All Apologies

Headin’ Home
We have a huge weekend in 411 figures planned, as PK, myself and some of the boys will be headed to the 2004 Toy Fair. I will have my laptop and digital camera with me, so the hope is to get live coverage with pictures and video of all upcoming action figures for the year. Coverage starts Sunday and runs through Tuesday or Wednesday, so be sure to check it out. We’re talking breaking news from the show floor, which should provide some net-exclusives for us. Be there!

Jonathan Widro is the owner and founder of Inside Pulse. Over a decade ago he burst onto the scene with a pro-WCW reporting style that earned him the nickname WCWidro. Check him out on Twitter for mostly inane non sequiturs