How WWE Can Captivate Me by Matt Corton

There have been over 150 predictions of apocalyptic events over the very many years humanity has been walking this earth. Nostradamus famously said the King of Terror would come from the sky in 1999. Didn’t. Pope Sylvester II predicted the apocalypse in 1000. Didn’t happen. Columbus said the world would end some time during 1656. Didn’t.

There are 14 scheduled apocalyptic events in the future too, although not another one until 2020 at least, so we’re safe from the ridiculous nonsense for a while. Of course, in the year 5 billion the sun will actually swallow the earth, that one’s pretty much nailed on, but to be honest, if WWE, which lest we forget is what this column is about, is still going in the year 5 billion that good luck to it. They’ll probably have resurrected Vince to be zombie President by then so no doubt it’ll be compulsory viewing.

I’m making a point here, trust me – and that point is that it’s really unwise to predict the downfall of anything let alone the end of the world. Whatever happens to the WWE over the next few months, it won’t be the end of it.

But I think it does need to change and not in the rather crude way a brand split changes it by splitting up the roster.

It needs to change by being captivating in more ways.

I say more ways, because actually extending the brand, having an extra 2 hours of content of what’s hopefully must-see TV and making a show live rather than recorded (goodbye canned SmackDown cheers) is just more of the same, even if it is in a different format.

Why not be a leader? Why not be an innovator? Why not take advantage of the way people watch TV these days and really do something different?

It’s such a strange time to be a fan of TV these days. Over here in the UK, Chris Evans (not the actor), one of the new hosts of the hugely popular ‘car show’ (it’s an entertainment show, not a car show) Top Gear, has sparked a bit of a debate by saying ratings don’t matter any more. This isn’t a new thing to say of course, we’ve heard it all many times by now. What Chris is saying is that catch-up ratings should be taken into account as well as live views. Well, sure. Top Gear almost drew another 2m viewers on catch-up TV online, of course he wants that take into account, he wants another run as host. What he didn’t say but I’m about to is that if you add recorded viewings to that (something I still don’t think people measure – do correct me if I’m wrong) then it’s probably way higher still. I haven’t watched anything live for months, I watch things I’ve recorded, when I’m ready to watch them, on my schedule not a TV schedule.

This trend is only going to become more common as providers like Netflix, Amazon Prime and others take over the market, bit by bit, from the traditional satellite and cable providers. They’re far, far cheaper for one thing. They commission their own exclusive content you just can’t find on any other medium unless you buy their DVDs. This is the way of the future, not regularly scheduled programming. We binge now, we’re not episodic.

What puzzles me is WWE is already on board with this. More than that – they’re at the forefront along with Netflix of it, with the WWE Network. Nobody really misses PPVs that are actual PPVs any more, I’m sure. I’m also sure more people watch NXT now it’s on the Network than before, when you had to have access to an obscure network. We don’t really bother with Hulu much here in the UK, but I know a lot of people watch Raw, for instance, on Hulu because it cuts out the…well, let’s just say it cuts some of the show out.

So given that the WWE already gets this, is already on board with it – why give us more of the same content just on a Tuesday night rather than a Monday? Why give us more PPVs or Specials on the Network for no more money? Why leap straight to that solution rather than think a little bit harder about it first?

Because it’s clear they haven’t thought about it enough. If they had, they’d have mentioned the brand extension, draft and live SmackDowns WAY more than they have done on Raw in recent weeks. They’ve mentioned who is going to run SmackDown a lot, to try and disguise the fact that no real facts have been released at all, but that doesn’t fly with me. I don’t care who runs it, I want to know what there is going to be to run.

So either it really is going to be more of the same, which is why they’ve leapt straight to the next GM in the storylines, because really there isn’t going to be any difference, or they have something really great up their sleeve and are trying to deflect us from that with the nonsense about the GM. Or they actually just don’t know what the structure is going to be yet, less than a month away from the draft.

I really hope it’s not the latter. I really do, because if it is, then it’ll be a train wreck. They need to get behind an idea and go with it now, start sowing the seeds of it in our minds, so we want to tune in for episodes beyond the draft and for reasons beyond which of our favourite guys we want to see.

Matty J Douglas said something very interesting on John and Rey’s podcast this week, which really resonated with me as a fiction writer. He said that he’s more interested in the slower build storylines. I completely agree with that. Now, if a newly-rostered, live SmackDown were likely to be the herald of each show taking its time with their storylines, character development, long-term planning and, above all else, plotting, something every story arc needs and WWE far too often lacks, then I’d be on board faster than a hobo stuck in the rain.

WWE needs to captivate me and you captivate me by having a plot. It doesn’t need to be complex. Cena vs. Styles has a great plot, a match 15 years in the making that The Club are getting in the way of, annoying the hell out of Cena. It’s basic but it works because it’s being executed well.

More of the short attention span theatre though, and SmackDown and Raw will just end up splitting the viewers they currently have between themselves based on who likes which set of headliners more, because why do we binge? Because it adds depth. You watch an entire season in a weekend and you can appreciate the depth of the storylines and characters way more than you can if you watch one episode a week. You notice the little things more.

Like Matty J, I can see one of the biggest things they could do is add some depth. Titus vs. Rusev could have ended up being the most amazing match in the history of time, but I wouldn’t have cared because I don’t really know why they’re feuding and now, this late in the day, I don’t care, I just want it to be over. This is a feud it would have taken about thirty seconds for any writer worth his salt to add some depth to, to set it up. Fine to have Titus come out and make saves on the behalf of other wrestlers, that’s not actually a bad start. He wants his shot and he wants Rusev’s attention. So, have the segment we got this week with Titus’s family then – before the first match. That adds some (admittedly fairly basic) spice to the feud in its infancy rather than later on when everyone already doesn’t give a damn.

The Shield feud has depth. It’s years in the making. Nothing feels rushed about it – they’ve built towards it, built all three guys up as champions and now we’re getting the big payoff we’ve been looking forward to for years. Credit where it’s due – they got this right. Whatever’s going on with the fans’ opinions of face Reigns and heel Rollins and which way around they want that, the Shield triple threat is money in any currency and it’s money because it has history, depth and meaning.

Not every feud can have this level of build, obviously, but they’ve also managed it with Zayn and Owens. Whilst I think that this will have reached a natural end with their next match, as I want to see them both do other things, they will continue the long feud for years to come, much as Rock and Stone Cold did without having to face each other every five minutes and because they didn’t face each other every five minutes it meant something when they did face off. It was money.

Corbin vs. Ziggler every week, every PPV, isn’t money and nor is it putting money aside in the savings of their futures.

Innovative or not, new or not, however the product is delivered, WWE needs depth and it needs to captivate me way more than it currently is doing to make me watch another 2 hours of product every week.

But whatever happens it ain’t going to be WWE’s apocalypse.

What do you guys think? Do you want more in-depth storylines, or just more matches repeated like we’re getting now? Are you, like me, going to say they’re not going to watch 2 more hours of programming every week knowing full well that when it happens you probably will?