I became a World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) fan in the summer of 1998.
I remember tuning in to my first live WWE pay-per-view broadcast and watching two wrestlers, Undertaker and Mankind, battle on top of a 20-foot-tall caged structure. What happened next turned me into a fan for life as the Undertaker threw Mankind off the 20-foot-high cage and through the commentary table below.
As a 14-year-old boy, I’d just witnessed the most shocking moment of my life, and I loved every second of it.
Sixteen years later, I am still a super geek for all things WWE. I watch all of the live shows, I buy the cheesy merchandise and I’m even a subscriber to the recently-launched WWE network. I’m the type of fan who found out pro-wrestling was staged when I was a kid and I kept watching. It’s a television show, and I watch it for what it is.
But for the last few years all I seem to do is complain about what’s wrong with it and I’m not alone. The ratings for WWE’s flagship show, “Raw,” have dropped by 4 million viewers since peaking at 8 million in 1999. It seems nearly every current WWE fan I meet has something negative to say about WWE programing. If I love it so much, what do I complain about?
In 2008 WWE announced plans to switch from a TV-14 television rating to the more family-friendly TV-PG rating. This meant no more blood, sexual references or obscenities were showcased on WWE programming. This took away the very fabric used to create some of the most appealing aspects of the WWE during its height in the late ’90s.
But simply blaming the parental rating is not good enough. This show can still be edgy with a TV-PG rating, but the preschool comedy has got to go. A television show is only as good as its writers. The WWE creative team has presented brilliant story lines over the years but the product today feels stale and recycled.
WWE also seems to have issues creating new superstars. With the exception of a few new faces, the WWE has continued to rely on the same old characters for nearly a decade. Since the birth of the WWE Network earlier this year, we’ve gotten a glimpse into the WWE developmental system (NXT) training new and upcoming stars. Some of these wrestlers have better characters, style and overall ability than others who are showcased on the main programming. Still, WWE seems gun-shy to pull the trigger and give the new guys a shot on the main program.
There’s a laundry list of reasons why loyal WWE fans are so frustrated with the new programming. In order to gain a bit more insight, I asked respected podcast host Jason Solomon of the “Solomonster Sounds Off” to provide his own take.
“It’s primarily the hardcore, long-time wrestling fans who shout the loudest,” Solomon said. “Reason being, I like to think, is that they have a certain vision of how things used to be and feel the current product could be improved by adopting some of those features, whatever they may be.”
Solomon also thinks social media has played a part in rallying the fans together.
“Part of it is the ease with which people can communicate with one another now as opposed to, say, 20 years ago. Had Facebook and Twitter existed back then, you would still have plenty of people complaining,” said Solomon.