For Your Consideration The Goodwill of the Fans


Welcome to week 21.

Anyone else notice that my column seems to be drifting more and more towards talking about non-wrestling stuff at the top? Well, who am I to break tradition?

I am a fan of the television show “Big Brother”. I’ve watched every episode since day one and witnessed the program morph from some lame call-in-vote-out reality show to one of the greatest social experiments in history. For those of you that don’t remember, “Big Brother” started as a fan participation show, where America kicked out one houseguest at a time until the last man was standing (well leaning). The problem with the call-in format was that America kept voting out all the assholes and kept the duller players in (except Chicken George, because there’s nothing better then watching a middle-aged man slowly lose his sanity on national television). With season 2 came the Head of Household and the rise of Dr. Will, the “evil doctor” who lied, cheated and schemed to win. He was great. If only someone in Creative would have watched this show, they would have realized that this is how to build a heel. He was smarmy and arrogant and in the end was the champ. He’s what Edge should have been.

This year is the first new Big Brother in 2 years (since last year was an All-Star edition, there wasn’t that fun learning curve where you get to slowly find out who the true scumbags are) and the cast at first didn’t seem like they were going to be as entertaining as they turned out to be. The twist they threw at the houseguests was that some of them (cue dramatic music) knew each other! Oh shit! Katie bar the door! In the end, it was kind of a bust. You had two vapid college girls who got in a fight in MIDDLE SCHOOL. Then you had two exes who were wait for it gay. That’s right America, they can’t get married but they can debase themselves on CBS! Lastly, you had an estranged father/daughter, which was kind of icky. (I say kind of because a few years ago they had found a brother/sister duo who didn’t know the other one existed. If Nakomis and Cowboy had hooked up, that might have been the greatest moment in television history. CBS, home of shows for old people and folks that like incest.)

Oh yeah, and there was one more twist. They created something called “America’s Player”, where YOU can vote (99 cents per call, of course) for him to do stuff. “America’s Player” is Eric, a Jewish guy from New York. Since he and I share the same background (“You weren’t chosen for a reason”), I was inclined to root for him. In fact, the America’s Player stip protected him for the most part because he has to vote the way America wants him to. He was coasting like a champion until that f*cking banner. A few years ago, some rocket scientist got the idea to fly over the house with a banner message. It kinda goes against the point of the game, since the who show is based on secrets and manipulation. When someone from the outside world interferes in the show, it screws with the game. More importantly, it f*cked over my boy Eric. He was under the radar, and then the next thing you know, he’s on the fast track to eviction. Anyone else find it odd that Big Brother finally gets a Jew from New York on there and he has to be the weasel? But he’ll be fine because he’s a Jew and he’s got the mind of a champion.

I will admit that “Big Brother” does tend to test my patience, but I give it the benefit of the doubt. In fact, I seem to be giving a lot of shows the benefit of the doubt. Take “John from Cincinnati”. Since I missed “Deadwood” from the start and had to be a DVD-fan (one of the reasons the show didn’t pull in the high ratings was because of people like me who missed it from the start and didn’t find out how cool it was until it was too late), I wasn’t going to make the same mistake with “JFC”. The first episode of that show was a great, weird little pilot with just enough stuff to get me hooked. Then, after two more solid outings, the show nosedived. I honestly had no idea what the f*ck was going on. Let me amend that, I knew what the f*ck was going on, but I just didn’t really care. The show kept trying to out-weird itself when it could have been much simpler and more enjoyable. I’ve got a lot of faith in the finale to tie this thing together, but I’m not excepting a miracle. Some things I know and some things I don’t.

I’ve also been extending my goodwill to some shows that seemed to lose the magic they once had. First and foremost is “The Simpsons”, a show that I have exhaustively covered for the past 3 weeks or so. It’s well documented that the show dipped right around season 9 and it has yet to rebound. Despite the fact that it is nowhere near what it used to be. I still tune in. Same goes for SNL. The show doesn’t hold up when compared to the Hartman/Carvey era or even the mid-90’s Ferrell/Hammond years. I think the show fell right around the time Tina Fey took over the show and it still hasn’t recovered (though Jason Sudeikis, Kristin Wiig and Bill Hader have a chance to become something special).

Lastly, the show that has seemed to test America’s patience is “Lost”. After a universally loved first season that was capped with a well-deserved Emmy, the show about the castaways quickly became the thing that was hip to bash. The writers swore up and down that this was going somewhere, but that wasn’t good enough for the fans. The show buried its head so far up its own mythological ass that people began to drop off this show in droves. Every answer led to a few hundred more questions. Unlike “Heroes”, which gave answers at a quicker (and thus more accessible) rate, “Lost” made fans sit and wait for months to find out even the simplest answers (What’s the deal with the cable on the beach? Where’s Russo’s kid? How is it that Hurley’s still so fat?) The frustration and anger towards the producers of the show quickly reversed with the blockbuster season 3 finale, which showed that our Jack flashback was in fact a flash-forward. Now we know this thing is going somewhere and are more then willing to stomach a little bullshit if it means we’re gonna get what we want in the end.

Why am I talking about goodwill? Because there is one program that I have extended goodwill to for almost 20 years, and that of course is World Wrestling Entertainment. Yes, no other television show in history has tried my patience more then the WWE, yet I keep coming back to them like a battered wife to a drunken husband. Anyone that has watched wrestling for the long haul knows my pain all too well. Which brings me to this week’s point:

For Your Consideration The Goodwill of the Fans

That’s right people, it’s time for me to become a WWE apologist. Shocker. Look, I’m essentially taking the position of devil’s advocate, because every f*cking mark with a computer is leaping on the (glitch-filled) RAW ratings from last week and throwing the baby out with the bathwater. It is fans like them that have constantly ruined pro wrestling.

I’ve sat through decades of bad WWE storylines. I watched the unstoppable Hogan era, the botched Warrior era, the uneventful Bret Hart era, the “controversial” Shawn Michaels era, and then the modern “Attitude” era, which encapsulated Steve Austin, The Rock, Triple H and Mick Foley. I know bad WWE when I see it, and I’m sorry to say that the current product is not bad WWE.

Not even close.

For those of you that have WWE 24/7 (and if it is available in your area, order it right now), you have a front-row seat at bad WWE. Can you imagine for an instant that the WWE could have gotten away with anything from the 80’s in the current Internet era? When you catch an episode of Superstars of Wrestling you’re lucky if your main event will feature Koko B. Ware. The WWE didn’t give fans anything for free back then. You wanna see a non-clipped Hogan match? Come to an event. Order a PPV. You tune in on a free program, you’re gonna get the Duke of Dorchester. Even with the knowledge that I was gonna have to watch Steve Lombardi (sometimes twice), I tuned in.

The early 90’s was the era of the gimmick. You name the profession and Vince could give you a character. Wrestling dentist? Sure. Garbage man? Why not. Hockey player? Sounds good to me. Right around the time they wheeled out a wrestling plumber, fans began to lose what patience they had left. Yet even with the thought of knowing that I would see Mantaur, I still tuned in.

You get my point. I’m gonna look at what they’re putting out there right now. Vince is usually pretty resilient. Nothing has gone the way that Vince had planned. When you look at the names that he’s lost in the past several months, it’s amazing that the writers can come up with any coherent semblance of a plot.

Triple H and Shawn Michaels, out. They were at the heart of RAW, with fans rebuying the same DX shirt that they bought a decade ago. DX was about to ignite a feud with Rated RKO that would have carried over the length of the summer. When Triple H got knocked out of the picture, it was on Shawn to carry the ball. He carried it all the way to the main event of Wrestlemania, a show that was significantly altered from its original plan.

Undertaker, gone. The Undertaker kept his undefeated streak alive and would have gone on to have one more run at the top as the face of Smackdown. Then, he begins to show his age and suffers yet another injury. The entire summer program for Smackdown revolved around Taker, and with him out, the writers were forced to scramble. And scramble they did. Thankfully, they found a champion that could carry the brand, probably until Wrestlemania

Edge, injured. The supposed curse of the World Heavyweight Title continues. Edge was given the belt because there was literally no one else. They couldn’t give the title to Batista because he had just gotten pinned clean by Taker. If the WWE wanted Dave to be champ, they would have had him snap the undefeated streak. With the fans pretty indifferent to Batista, Edge was the perfect guy to slip in and let Michael Hayes build around. Suddenly, the storyline was that Edge was one of the best ever. This had great potential. I kept saying that they should have used Flair to boost Edge the way he did for Hunter. If the WWE would have been able to keep the gold on Edge until Mania, they would have been able to beat the message of “Edge the Great” into the fans heads to the point where he would be a legitimate franchise superstar once and for all. When he went down, they scrambled. Again, can’t give it to Batista. Who else was there? Kane? The WWE either had to give this thing to Khali or Mark Henry, and with Henry’s injury history, they can’t afford ANOTHER injured champ.

Rey Mysterio, sidelined. Rey Mysterio pulls the kids in. Rey Mysterio pulls the Hispanic audience in. Rey Mysterio pulls in fans of “flippy moves”. When Vince put the belt on Mysterio, good, bad or indifferent he established Rey as a main eventer. Unfortunately, the entire run was tainted with the stain of exploitation over Eddie Guerrero’s death. That stain was still evident when he entered into his feud with Chavo. The feud didn’t elevate Chavo and only served to explain why Rey had to disappear. A healthy Rey versus a healthy Edge would have been a fresh match-up for Summerslam.

Bobby Lashley, hurt. I know it was recent, but it’s still impactful. Assuming Orton wins the belt at Summerslam, he was going to need an Unforgiven opponent. Lashley’s a big name to take that slot. Now, not so much. The WWE spent all this time trying to build Bobby up, and for him to fall to injury is a disaster for creative. Say what you will (and I do) about him, the writers came up with every scenario possible to get this guy over. Now that he was finally becoming someone the fans would care about, he’s knocked out of competition.

The Big Show, RVD & Kurt Angle, gone. Yeah, it’s been a while, but the loss of these three is still felt. Especially every Tuesday night at 10. ECW has gotten kicked around so much you’d swear that it was Smackdown. Show, RVD and Angle were three huge names that drew ratings. Mixing them up with the likes of Burke, Nitro and Punk would be some fresh and exciting programming. Angle in ECW would have done wonders to establish that as the wrestling brand. If RVD would have not blown his shot, a long title reign would have stabilized the rocky ratings. And Big Show can still draw, especially in the hands of

Paul Heyman, released. Paul Heyman is one of the greatest wrestling minds in the history of this business. Take away all the personal bullshit that he has with people. Take away the unnatural worship that some folks have for this guy. Stripping everything away, there is still a man that knows how to book a show. He wasn’t given that chance with ECW. How do I know? Look at how ECW started. “You need to have a Sci Fi element to it.” No you don’t. If people tune in, SciFi would be thrilled to have anything on. ECW on TNN didn’t have to have a guy in overalls blowing into a jug. TNA on FSN didn’t have to have John Salley on. The crap with the zombie and the vampire and the alien was another chance for Vince to sabotage ECW. Turns out he didn’t need any of that. He just needed to sit and wait. If anyone watches “Bronx is Burning”, you know how an overbearing boss can crush even the brightest sports mind. Heyman was going somewhere with ECW, too bad he wasn’t allowed to do what he wanted to do. “December to Dismember” was a set-up from the beginning. Before that PPV, the WWE didn’t announce the entire card. All they said was an Elimination Chamber and a Hardys match. Hell, even the booking of the Elimination Chamber was sabotaged. That match was supposed to be CM Punk’s chance to shine. Instead? He got pinned. And did nothing of any substance. And look where he is now.

Chris Benoit, deceased. Look, I know it seems trivial to discuss the Benoit situation in terms of its impact on wrestling, but it’s necessary for the purposes here. Benoit was picked to be the guy to rebuild ECW and his feud with Punk could have produced some amazing matches. Creative could never have seen this one coming, and they were caught with their pants down. John Morrison hasn’t been a complete disaster, though constantly jobbing out CM Punk will be remembered as a colossal mistake. ECW is on its last legs, and I can’t blame Vince if he just folds the damn show.

Triple H, Shawn Michaels, Rey Mysterio, The Undertaker, The Big Show, Kurt Angle, Rob Van Dam, Chris Benoit, Bobby Lashley and Edge, all out.

Take any fantasy booker and give them John Cena, Batista, Kane, Randy Orton, Mister Kennedy, King Booker, Umaga and the Great Khali and see what you can do. Even with all of the injuries and all of the misfortune, the WWE has been able to put on some good shows. I’m not saying great. I’m not saying that these shows hold up compared to the Austin era or the era of the Smackdown six. I’m just saying that they are doing what they can do.

And I hate to tell you, but they did come up with a storyline despite almost all of this. It was the Vince McMahon exploding limo. Did I like it? Not really. In fact, I covered it in a prior column. Look, it was a pretty cheesy thing, but it was serving two purposes. First, it was going to elevate Mister Kennedy Kennedy. Finally. I will not apologize for thinking that this guy has what it takes. Second, this storyline was the culmination of a long in the works tale. DX chipped away at Vince. Lashley broke him. Now this.

In the end, you can rip on the WWE all you want for the declining ratings. And yeah, Vince is gonna panic at the drop. But he can rest easy knowing that he’s getting Taker back, getting Rey back and getting Hunter back.

You wanna point a finger at someone for screwing the pooch? Turn your death stare at TNA. They haven’t had the kind of bad luck that the WWE has. Yeah, Jarrett was out, but so what? Fans didn’t want to see him. Other then the loss of Monty Brown and Scott Steiner, their roster has been pretty much the same. They have a full roster and they still can’t get it done. And the buyrate for their last PPV is an embarrassment. The WWE has an almost anemic roster and they are complaining about pulling in about 150,000 buys. TNA does 10% of that and they get a pass because “they aren’t established enough yet”. More people know Kurt Angle than know Lashley. More people know the Dudley Boys and the Steiners and the New Age Outlaws. More people know Sting. TNA has the name recognition that nostalgia fans would want to see. Even WCW in its dying days wasn’t this pathetic. Yeah, I know I took the mantle of WWE apologist this week, but that doesn’t mean I can’t still rip TNA outright. They do everything wrong all the time and any time they do anything remotely right they screw it up.

They rush Angle/Joe so many times that no one cares anymore. They catch lightning in a bottle with Jay Lethal and then job him out on Xplosion. They botch Robert Roode. They botch Austin Aries. They botch Christopher Daniels. How can one organization continue to f*ck up this much and still get all the goodwill that they get? What did TNA do to earn any of it? Every show I listed above earned their goodwill. “Lost” had the best single season of a show in a decade. “The Simpsons” and “SNL” are part of our culture. The WWE is the reason any of us are still wrestling fans.

This has been for your consideration.