I wouldn’t consider myself a big fan of wrestling – more of a casual fan of their particular form of entertainment. I used to watch it with friends during the Monday Night Wars between WCW and WWE but then went a decade or so without watching at all.
Recently, I have been watching more – but in a different way that previously. I am now much more interested in the pacing and storytelling. I have some thoughts… understanding that Vince McMahon has built a $1.5 billion enterprise and I have not – so take it for what it is worth. You know what they say about opinions…
I have been paying attention to how the show is designed to direct the crowd and imply to the television audience something sometimes completely different than reality is happening in front of them. The face/heel position of the wrestler is important so that the fans can understand when to boo or cheer. The heel (bad guy) will come out and insult the host city (this hackneyed routine works as well now as it ever did) to get barraged with boos and jeers. The face (good guy) will mention how much he loves their city to be lavished with cheers.
Those interactions are real and they work. Yes, there are some piped in cheers and boos just in case the fans aren’t convinced or paying attention. The issue with this comes often during boring matches.
I recently saw one that had the face going up against a heel (with an extra bad guy just to make sure you knew our hero was up against impossible odds.) The show was getting boring because they did the typical dance (covered below) and it was just not that exciting. The broadcast audio had the fans cheers, exclaiming or chanting at all the right times – the problem was… the visuals didn’t match. If you pay attention to the fans in the background of the action, they are chatting casually with each other, sitting on their hands – just generally not that excited. The audio doesn’t match.
Why do I think it happens? The typical dance. The wrestlers show up. They talked smack to each other. The good guy gets blindsided to kick things off. One wrestler gets the upper hand early on – but it turns about halfway through. After that, unwilling to show either is actually capable of just being beaten, they each have their moments – drop their supposed “finishing move” and then a surprise twist happens at the end. Depending on the script, fans are either disgusted by the outcome or overjoyed.
While this works if you do it once in a while, it is weak when you do it for every match in the lineup. Someone needs to come out and just whup someone’s butt every once in a while – that will raise the stakes. That will stop insulting the intelligence of the audience and make them think that when someone is getting beaten, it actually could be the end for them. Now, it just signals them to open up their cell phone because “it’s too early in the match for anything real” or “we haven’t even seen the comeback yet – much less the twist at the end.”
The recently launched All Elite Wrestling (AEW) put on a pay-per-view that did something rare. It had a series of matches that all kept the fan interest because it brought uncertainty as to the results.
Yes, the McMahon fortune is worth $1.5 billion – but the UFC is worth $4 billion – because the fans are unsure of the outcome of the matches. I am not saying that WWE should start fighting for real – I am fine with the matches being staged. I am just saying that if they hired better writers the show would be so much better and the value of the company would go through the roof.
Vince, if you need some fresh ideas – look me up. I can fix it all. 🙂
by Chris Doelle
P.S. My favorite wrestler is Ricochet (stupid name, I liked him better as Prince Puma (above) while at Lucha Underground.) Talent like him will ensure “sports entertainment” continues to grow.