Who Exactly Is WWE Appealing To? by Ron Pasceri

As I stated in last week’s column I was getting a little tired of being just another guy criticizing WWE every week. It’s basically what every fan does on Twitter while watching Raw. It’s basically what every writer ends up writing about whenever they write. It’s basically what every podcaster talks about whenever they podcast. We’ve all done it and will continue to. I wanted to try to do something different. I was going to write about a previously unseen NXT talent that I hope gets on TV soon. Then I listened to the most recent episode of “The Steve Austin Show” featuring Mick Foley which caused a change of plans. Maybe next week for the NXT performer I’m ready to see go “full throttle”.

I’m sure by now everyone is familiar with what Mick wrote in regards to Raw and how frustrated he is with the show. He said he was very close to becoming a former fan of WWE. As soon as he wrote it, Austin asked him to come on his show to talk about his feelings. I was excited to listen because I love hearing things from a perspective none of us fans could ever know since we are on the outside. But the more I listened to the show, the more I realized that even the insiders have the exact same criticisms of the product that we do. Despite all their years in the industry, all the time they spent training and performing and entertaining the millions and millions, even THEY are seeing things the same way we are.

They started off hoping to not come off as bitter old timers, but I think we can all agree no one loves wrestling more than Mick Foley and Steve Austin. They still consume themselves with pro wrestling and it is still ultimately what makes each man tick one way or another. For Stone Cold, he does two shows a week dedicated to the business. For Mick Foley he promotes it, he makes appearances and most importantly, he uses it as a way to bond with his family. That’s why it’s such a bold statement that he even considered not watching anymore. But he said even his 14 year old has lost interest in it. He said he felt his not wanting to watch anymore probably represented the feelings of more than just himself and he’s been proven right by the continuing decrease in viewers each Monday.

Think about this for a minute. Mick Foley is considering giving up on WWE. His 14 year old son has already given up on WWE. Each week it seems at least a few thousand others are giving up on WWE. Myself and many others have been hard on the hardcore wrestling audience that seems to think complaining about the show is just part of being a fan. I’ve stated that the WWE as a business needs to keep the causal viewer in mind with their programming. But with the audience at its lowest in almost two decades, who is left BUT the hardcore fans? Does WWE think casual viewers are tuning in at all? I never thought about it this way until 30 minutes before I started typing, but who the hell is WWE actually appealing to at this point?

Austin and Foley talked about The Authority being overdone. How the show is centered too much around Triple H and Stephanie protecting the title from someone they deem unsavory. They talked about how that story has become repetitive. They talked about how confusing it can be when Triple H and Stephanie show themselves as kind and charitable people one minute then dastardly heels the next. They discussed the idea that the talent is overly coached and how they often overact. They lamented the fact that the show is too sanitized to come off as a cutting edge live television program.

Much like those of us who are dissatisfied with the overall product they talked about how 50/50 booking is keeping the company from creating new stars. They talked about how characters aren’t being given room to grow and performers aren’t given an opportunity to thrive. They went on at great length about how matches have become nothing but high spots and stories are no longer being told inside the ropes. They even talked about their frustration with what’s going on with the women. Mick expressed how upset he was when Becky Lynch and Sasha Banks were only given four minutes. While Austin credited them with putting on as good a four minute match as you’ll ever see, he agreed with Mick. The two legends put over Sasha’s “Boss” character and how she gets heat in ways the men don’t today and how she thinks of things even they never considered. Despite all that, Mick especially, is disappointed that she is clearly desired by the fans and Vince and the crew are still not giving her to us.

If all of this sounds familiar that’s because it’s exactly what we all complain about or criticize every week. NXT also came up in the conversation as far as the talent there having a little more creative freedom which goes a long way toward making it more enjoyable. Talent in NXT is given an opportunity to try things which encourages growth as a performer. But on the main roster, growth is stunted. It made me think of the advice I was given when I had to be an interviewer at the Performance Center. Greg Hamilton and Dasha Fuentes told me to listen to the answers to my questions so I can follow up based on the wrestler’s answers. They both said that when the interview comes across as planned it comes off poorly on TV. If NXT interviewers can think on their feet, why can’t WWE talent be trusted to do the same?

One other point brought up by Mick was that WWE should go by a certain saying by Mr. Miyagi. To paraphrase, staying on one side of the road or the other is good, but being in the middle will get you squashed like a grape. In some instances that is good advice, but for WWE I see the opposite problem. Two of my favorite TV shows of all time are Lost and Heroes.

Lost was sort of the first show to cause a huge internet message board following. Fans posted their theories in the threads no matter how wild or outlandish. Over time, it seemed the Lost writers did everything they could to keep their story as far as possible from fan theories, even if it meant taking the story down a bad road. At times they seemed to try to surprise or trick the audience just for the sake of doing it. On the other side was Heroes, which did everything they could to do exactly what the fans were clamoring for. If the original plan was to kill off a certain villain, the writers opted not to if the fans wanted to see that villain survive. In the end they upended their own story by trying to please the message boards.

WWE is purposely avoiding the twists and turns hardcore fans discuss amongst ourselves. They think they have to surprise us just for the sake of doing it, even if it makes for a worse story. The point isn’t to try to do exactly what people expect or do the exact opposite of their expectations. The point is to tell the best possible story, even if some of the audience may be able to figure it out ahead of time. WWE seems to hide from the criticism of hardcore fans by using the excuse that they need to appeal to casual viewers. Well, guess what WWE, the casual fans are long gone. Nothing you’ve done in years has appealed to that demographic. The hardcore fans are the only ones still standing. Did you ever think that making the hardcore fans happier may be what’s best for business? Did you ever think that applying what you hear from your audience might make for a better product for everyone? Maybe that’s just too obvious for you to want to give it a try, but sometimes the most obvious option is the best one. It has to at least be worth a try.