Saturday, February 21, 2009

New format for WWE TV-More Sizzle, Less Steak.

Have you noticed it? Well, have you? Watching and recapping Monday Night RAW and ECW (Yours truly provides real-time recaps of both shows over at World Wrestling Insanity for my good friend Sir James Guttman), I've been noticing that the WWE seems to be providing a little bit more sizzle and a lot less steak over on its flagship show (RAW) as well as its showcase for new talent show (ECW.

As longtime wrestling fans know, TV shows used to be home to squash matches which featured star talent showcasing their skills against enhancement talent which never stood a prayer of winning a match. These shows served the purpose of luring fans to the house shows (and later on, pay-per-view with the underlying assumption that why would fans pay to go see a house show if the big matches were shown for free on TV.

Eventually, Eric Bischoff began giving away big name matches every week on Monday Night Nitro in order to beat his WWF competitors over on RAW. Bischoff proved that fans were still willing to pay to see their favorite stars at house shows and on PPV despite the fact that they could see them wrestle the same matches on weekly TV

While Bischoff was by no means the first to feature true main events on weekly shows (Bill Watts' often aired matches between his top stars on his Mid South Wrestling show as well as some other promotions), Bischoff was the first to do so on a regular basis. Later on, the WWF would do the same in order to help RAW compete against Nitro.

Unfortunately, the success of shows like Nitro and RAW led to an abundance of free wrestling on TV. Fans who were once thrilled to get two or three hours of regular wrestling were now beseiged by hours of wrestling throughout the week. Even after the demise of WCW and the original ECW, fans are still able to watch over seven hours of wrestling on prime-time television (just counting WWE and TNA).

In order to fill these hours, the WWE has unwisely given away a lot of big matches to the point where there's a lot less incentive to order a PPV. Barring the Elimination Chamber and Hell in a Cell, there are very few match-ups shown on PPV that haven't been available on free TV (I'm still shocked that the WWE has put ladder matches on free TV). Even worse, the WWE has made the ill-advised decision to feature top stars wrestling each other ad naseaum on TV, let alone PPV. No matter how good (or bad) the matches are, there are only so many times a fan wants to see Shawn Michaels wrestle Chris Jericho or the Undertaker battle Batista.

At the risk of sounding like Grandpa Old School, I can remember the days when big matches often took months to happen and main events like Hogan vs. Andre were repeated nearly a year after they happened. Nowadays, the WWE routinely airs matches on PPV and rematches the following night on RAW (Shane McMahon vs. Randy Orton being the most recent example). No matter what your rationale for doing this, it's hard to imagine people being compelled to order a PPV when the matches happen again on free TV.

Recently, the WWE has really trimmed back not only the number of matches on its shows but the star power of its matches. Recent editions of RAW have featured five, maybe six matches over a two hour show with many of the matches running short. Instead of matches, RAW has focused more on angles and interviews (to get the angles over).

While conventional wisdom might say that the fans won't put up with this (of course, conventional wisdom also held that fans would never pay for matches they could see for free on TV), the ratings have shown otherwise. RAW has been enjoying some of its highest ratings in years despite it scaling back its matches. One might argue that this is due to the WWE focusing on quality rather than quantity. Every match, angle, and interview means a lot more now so while there aren't as many matches, the fans are so entertained that they really don't mind.

All of this comes back to the argument of whether or not there is some advantage to making PPV's a special attraction where you see stuff you can't see on free TV. The real pay-off (besides better ratings) will be whether or not more fans tune in to PPV. If PPV's become something special again (with the idea being that you order them so you can see the big money matches), the WWE may see an increase in buys as more viewers feel inclined to order the show. At the very least, the people who do order PPV's will feel like they're getting more bang for their buck, a sentiment that you always want the customer to feel.

Your thoughts?

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Von Erich Family in WWE Hall of Fame

This year's WWE Hall of Fame class looks to be one of the biggest of all time with "Stone Cold" Steve Austin headlining the 2009 Hall of Fame class. In addition to "The Texas Rattlensake", Ricky Steamboat, "Cowboy" Bill Watts, Terry Funk, and Dory Funk Jr. are going in. Those are some huge names so you might think the WWE is done. Think again! My friends over at are reporting that the legendary Von Erich family will be inducted with many believing Michael "P.S." Hayes will induct them. Congratulations to all the inductees and believe it or not, there's still at least one more person going in! Who do you think it will be?

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Chris Jericho/Fan incident

As most of us have learned over the last decade, there is no such thing as privacy in a public forum. With the proliferation of cel phone cameras and video recorders coupled with easy broadcast on sites like YouTube, no one who leaves their home seems to have any expectation of privacy. Even when you're working, it's hard to expect any privacy as Christian Bale recently found out after someone uploaded audio of him having a meltdown against someone on the set of Terminator: Salvation.

The latest instance is the alleged assault by Chris Jericho on a female fan after a house show in Victoria, British Columbia (that's Canada for those of you scrambling for an atlas). The incident was apparently captured by someone with a camera phone and quickly uploaded to YouTube. There's also a story from Victoria news channel CHEK-News and a blurb over at gossip site

Naturally, the incident has everyone asking themselves Wha' Happened?

Since there's video of the incident and at least one independent new story, it makes better sense for people to watch and decide for themselves what happened. Rather than speculating like some of the newzboys, my audience is bright enough to watch and come to their own conclusions. You don't need me telling you what happened when you can get a good idea all on your own.

There are two questions that are going through my mind right now. First, is this real or a work? It could well be coincidence that this happened two days before the WWE was set to begin a big angle between Chris Jericho and Ric Flair (and possibly Mickey Rourke after the Academy Awards are doled out). However the WWE LOVES to play the media and naturally, a staged incident like this could be a great way to get people to tune in to RAW tomorrow. I'm not saying this incident was a work nor do I have any inside evidence (or claim to have any). It's just that my ample gut says you have to take everything involved with the WWE with a grain of salt.

The second question is (assuming the incident was real)whether Jericho's found his exit blocked while he was in the truck he was driving from the arena. A lot of people have wondered why Jericho exited his vehicle when there was a mob outside of it. Unfortunately, the video footage doesn't show if the fans were swarming in front of Jericho's truck or if there was some other obstacle preventing him from getting away. If Jericho had a clear path to drive away, any raising of self-defense is going to be difficult (in my unsolicited legal opinion) to sustain if it's shown he could have just driven off and left the mob behind. Generally speaking, a person has what is called a duty to retreat when faced with imminent harm. It's difficult to raise a defense of self-defense if a prosecutor can show that you could easily have escaped a potentially harmful situation. However if it's shown that Jericho's vehicle was surrounded and he couldn't drive off, I think he'll have a much easier time arguing that he tried to defuse the situation and that he was justified in defending himself.

One can't help but wonder what the hell the security people were doing when this happened. Looking at the video footage, they seem as helpful as a screen door on a submarine. In the event this incident is real and there's any lawsuit filed against Jericho, you'd have to imagine Jericho's attorney(s) adding the security people on as a defendant due to what looks like incompetence. If I was Jericho's attorney (and NidiaFan Legal Services stands by to assist Mr. Jericho with all of his legal needs), I'd argue that he was forced into that situation due to inadequate and negligent security.

In the meantime, expect this story to be all over the papers, TV, and the Internet over the next couple of days. If it's a staged incident, Vince McMahon is going to be cackling himself silly at Titan Tower. If it really happened, you know he'll make the most of it in a storyline.

As reported by the good folks over at PWInsider, the WWE issued a statement to explaining Chris Jericho's side of the story.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Review: The History of the Intercontinental Championship DVD

Avis Rent-a-Car once had a slogan "We're number two-we try harder". The same slogan could apply to the WWE's Intercontinental Championship. The belt was often seen as a spotlight on good workers who could carry an undercard or even main event a "B" show when called upon. Looking at the WWE's new DVD, there's nothing second place about this belt nor the DVD showcasing it.

The I-C strap always seemed like more than just a secondary title. Unlike other regional promotions' secondary titles, this belt seemed special. It was far bigger than belts like the Georgia Championship, the United States championship, or even the North American championship. No, this was a merger of the North American Championship (supposedly brought into the WWWF by Ted DiBiase but actually created for his WWWF debut) and the fictitious South American Championship. In case you haven't heard the story, the I-C belt was created after a phantom tournament supposedly held in Rio De Janeiro. Pat Patterson (then North American champion) unified the belt, creating the belt we all know and love as the Intercontinental Championship.

While the I-C strap fell on hard times during the new millennium (and fortunately it looks like the WWE is working hard to restore some luster to this title), it was once an impressive title, second to only the WWE Championship. It was seen by fans as a stepping stone to the World Championship with the holder being ranked as the number one contender. You could bet that anyone holding the belt would be competing for the world championship (as long as the two champs weren't babyfaces and even this would change when the Intercontinental Champion Ultimate Warrior challenged Hulk Hogan for the World Championship).

Back in the 1980's the WWF did a VHS release of the Intercontinental Champions. Given that the belt didn't change hands that often, it wasn't difficult to squeeze the belt's history into a two hour cassette. Not so easy now but WWE Home Video has done an impressive job here. The three disc set is broken down into the championship's three decades with one disc devoted to the 1980's, another the 1990's, and the third with this decade. Host Todd Grisham does an excellent job bookending each match and discussing the champions and their role in the WWE.

Although the three disc set doesn't include every title change for the I-C belt, it's a remarkably good survey of the last three decades. As with any collection, there will be debate about the inclusion of one match over another but looking at this list, you can't help but feel you're getting a very good feel for the best of the best. The only gripe I had was that they didn't show clips of every title change as was done in The History of the WWE Championship. Other than that, this one's a keeper.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Joey Styles and the One Man Announce Booth

Much has been said about the announce skills of ECW's Joey Styles (and with good reason) and how he has one of the few men who was able to pull off calling a match without a broadcast partner. The conventional wisdom has always been that the man who made OMG his catchphrase really showed his skills behind the microphone because he didn't have a color commentator to rely on. That conventional wisdom couldn't be more wrong.

That's not to say that Styles was a bad announcer. As I said in an earlier column, he's one of the very best. What I am saying is that I don't think calling a match by yourself is as hard as calling a match with another commentator.

Anyone who's watched any sports broadcast for long knows that color commentators can be a pain in the ass. People are so used to legendary teams like Bobby "The Brain" Heenan and Gorilla Monsoon and Jim Ross & Jerry Lawler that they often forget how bad things can be (fortunately there's Michael Cole and Jerry Lawler on RAW to remind them). For every team like Ross & Lawler, there are many other teams that talk over each other and compete with each other to see who can say the best line. Like any good relationship, it takes a lot of work to form an effective announce team (don't even get me started on what a train wreck three man announce booths are).

To me, the proof of the pudding is in the taste. Surprisingly, some of the worst announcers in wrestling are actually pretty good by themselves. The biggest example is Vince McMahon. Vince McMahon is usually not held very high in fans' opinions when it comes to his play-by-play work with Bruno Sammartino and various other color commentators. However if you listen to Vince's early work in the WWF, he actually did a good job calling matches by himself.

Your thoughts?