To Be Determined – The NXT Experiment

With two and a half seasons if NXT behind us, it’s clear by now that it’s no longer, or perhaps never was, just a show intended to showcase young talent and introduce them to the audience. Rather, it became WWE testing lab for new ideas.

On the simple booking front, WWE made a couple of radical decisions in the first two seasons that at first infuriated the “smart” fans. On season one they teamed The Miz with the IWC favorite child, Daniel Bryan Danielson. I still remember all the agree comments about what a humiliation it was for Bryan, after everything that he accomplished on the indi front, to be portrayed as a rookie next to the “reality TV star” The Miz. People were quick to bury the concept and the booking based on the first promo alone, before the show even aired. On season two they went even further, pairing Kaval (The former Lo-Ki) with LayCool. Again, everyone cried about this oddball pairing before the show started.

But both of these risks paid off. WWE did not create those pairings simply by pulling names out of a hat. They had a plan and they executed it perfectly. It was all about the classic “opposites attract” chemistry. They built a perfect feud between Bryan and The Miz. They got the IWC involved, knowing exactly which buttons to push in order to generate the desired response. They gave Bryan the perfect spotlight against the right opponents; they gave him a chance to shine and also proved that a wrestler can get extremely over despite losing matches every week. With Kaval it was all about the personality. The ditsy LayCool with the ever so serious Kaval. But again, it worked. Kaval put on great matches in the ring and showed an awkward personality outside of it. And just like Bryan, he got over thanks to the smart booking he received. In both of these cases, WWE took a dangerous and radical approach, and it worked.

An even bigger experiment is everything that relates to Michael Cole, the announcer that everyone loves to hate. Suddenly Cole developed a persona, a character. The vanilla broadcaster became a major heel. It was obvious that Cole was preaching the Gospel according to Vince McMahon – any wrestler is worthless unless he’s in WWE, accomplishments in other promotions do not matter and wrestling ability is secondary to character and charisma – but it worked. Cole started playing this role perfectly on NXT, Raw and PPV events, and especially memorable is a promo he cut against Daniel Bryan after Bryan was eliminated from NXT and attacked him. It seemed like Cole was channeling the great managers of the past. Sure, Cole is terrible announcer and Will explained quite well why heel Cole shouldn’t be an announcer but this is another well played risk on WWE’s side. The question is can they use this to improve their programming, and that still remains to be seen. .
And as the ratings declined for the third season, WWE shook things up again on the announcing side by adding CM Punk to the mix. CM Punk is no stranger to the announce table, as he used to be a commentator on ROH, and on NXT he brought a great fresh vibe, and Punk combined with Cole were pure gold.

Granted, NXT has its mistakes – too many unprepared rookies (and divas that can barely wrestle), silly competitions and challenges and not enough in-ring action. But it’s something that I’ve learned to accept once I took NXT for what it is – WWE testing area rather than a regular show. It’s not easy to compliment Vince McMahon, but he deserves a lot of credit here. We all know how hard it is for him to make changes to the product. When it happens, the changes can be radical but they don’t happen often. And here we see Vince experiment with things that were taboo, like acknowledging the IWC and the indi scene, changing the classic announcing format, allowing commentators to use shoot comments (or pseudo shoot), they even used some new camera angles that WWE didn’t usually use.

In that context, of a testing area, NXT is doing a great job. It allows WWE to take chances and try new ideas without risking their main brands. Perhaps now, that NXT is available only on WWE’s website, we will see them pushing the envelope even more and try even more radical ideas, that will later find their place on the regular WWE programs.

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