Ever Since WWE went “TV-PG” in 2008, fans of the “Attitude” era have been complaining that WWE has gone soft, has become a kid’s show and has lost its ‘believability’. While this was my initial reaction as well, my perception has changed after being in the “PG Era” for about 6 years now.
Clearly, WWE is standing firm on not wavering from TV-PG, and I don’t foresee, nor recommend a change at this point. However, before we get into the details of why this change was a beneficial one for WWE, let’s identify the differences between TV-PG and TV-14 from a wrestling TV presentation style
TV-14 included the use of not just profanity and sexuality in their storylines, but the use of blood was also a common place in high profile matches. The content in general was geared to a more mature audience of the teen demographic and worked very well during the mid to late 90’s.
TV-PG utilizes some light profanity, limited to no sexually driven storylines and blood being banned from all matches.
While I do feel that going the PG route is a much better business decision for WWE, let’s take a look at why sticking with TV-14 would have stunted the growth of WWE, had they steered the course. Firstly, when the Attitude Era began, it was unique, fresh and edgy. It stood out from other programming on TV which drew an interest from a potentially large audience. Fast forward to today where there are seemingly unlimited choices for viewers when it comes to reality TV, viewers’ attention spans are very short and that most viewers have been desensitized and you have a niche audience that would more than likely not be as interested in your product as they once were.
Additionally, if WWE had maintained a TV-14 presentation, how much further could they have pushed the content of their programming? Eventually, the programming would have warranted a TV-M rating, limiting their audience and sponsors even further.
By retreating back to TV-PG, WWE has actually taken several steps forward. While the storylines and in-ring action may not be as edgy, there is still a wide range of avenues that talents (wrestlers) can take to produce a compelling in-ring story without the use of blood. Although, admittedly, blood does add great drama to a match, if it is done at the right time, not simply for shock value.
Talent, not TV ratings will always determine the success of a wrestling company. TV-PG also means a wider audience and more sponsors, leading to obviously more revenue. The real culprit in the downfall of pro-wrestling is the lack of main event talent on the roster. WWE can no longer be the New York Yankees of wrestling and sign a big free agent from another wrestling promotion. WWE is essentially the only game in town, and they have acknowledged that the only way to develop main-event level talent is to develop internally. This has been evident with the NXT brand. Unfortunately, developing main event talent isn’t exactly an exact formula. A lot of dedication on the part of the talent, creative on the part of WWE and a lot of luck are involved.
The creative piece of developing new talent is just as important to the long term success. Having at least a 6-month plan for a talent being called up to the main roster is a key success factor. A new talent can’t just be thrown into the main roster with no definitive plan or direction.
In addition, the fact that the curtain has been pulled back so much on the wrestling industry doesn’t do it any favors either. Meaning that the audience has been educated to such an extent that pro-wrestling is a work (produced) that it has hurt the ability for one to ‘suspend their disbelief’ while watching the program. In other words, the work style, physicality and promos of the ‘Attitude Era’ were by and large very believable, and therefore added an element of reality to the show.
Now admittedly, there are times when the PG rating shows through a bit too much and I feel like I’m watching a children’s show. However, if talents and management begin to work on ‘suspending the audiences’ belief’ a bit more, the more emotionally invested they will become. How can this be done? I’m glad you asked.
· Allow the talents to fill in the majority of the promos. While management and creative decide the direction that they want to pursue from a storyline perspective, it should be up to the talents to create the dialogue for the journey. They should be given bullet points of things to address, but be allowed to speak from their own minds and characters. This adds a genuine feeling for a promo and maintains the attention of the audience much better than ‘memorized’ dialogue.
· Up the physicality of the matches. I’m not suggesting here that talents should risk their health by doing a ton of high flying moves or actually try to hurt their opponent. I’m suggesting that the talents work a little stiffer so that the paying audience cannot see through their work. Make the audience FEEL what you are doing and for a moment question whether or not you actually are trying to hurt your opponent. Realism sells tickets, just ask the UFC. Now the WWE is not the UFC, but what attracts people to MMA is the realism, competition and physicality. This can be paralleled with WWE’s success by working stiffer matches. Making the audience feel an emotion, whether its happiness, sadness or pain is the key to organically connecting with them. Any successful organization must be able to connect with their audience, and wrestling is no different.
So, the next time we decide to blame the downfall of pro-wrestling (or as it’s now called sports entertainment) on the TV rating, remember that many of these perceived ‘faults’ can be resolved by creating believability in the characters, their promos and their matches. If they can make us feel a genuine emotion, then they have done their job.
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