WHY THE WWE’S DOMESTIC TELEVISION RATINGS AND POPULARITY HAVE TAKEN A NOSEDIVE
First, an admission. I’m a 54 year-old male who’s been watching WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) since it was the WWWF (World Wide Wrestling Federation) in the early 70s, when Bruno Sammartino and “Superstar” Billy Graham regularly sold out Madison Square Garden and arenas throughout the northeast.
Old habits die hard, and in the 80s I became a columnist for several pro wrestling newsstand publications. I’m still a subscriber to several “dirt sheets” — newsletters that expose the behind-the-scenes machinations of the industry — and yet up until a recent personal boycott of the product I could barely get through a televised show.
For nearly the last five years.
The following is a list of five major reasons as to why, in my opinion, WWE has been losing television viewers, and domestically is setting new records for their lowest ratings of all-time:
1.“Constable” Baron Corbin
The character of “Constable” Baron Corbin is a charisma vacuum. Thomas Pestock, the man who portrays the “Constable” of USA Network’s “Raw,” is not untalented. He is, in fact, quite the opposite. A solid worker both in the ring and on the mic, he certainly has a future in the business as a potential singles champion. Vince McMahon noticed his skills as well. Unfortunately, for those of us confronted with the usual “Raw” opening segment (see below), the shortcomings of this character become all too obvious, and cringeworthy. He will appear throughout the program, as its veritable centerpiece.
If one judges the character’s success solely by the ratings of his myriad segments, to a viewer he is, quite simply, boring. Sure he has his fans, as do all of the WWE entertainers (or “Superstars” as they say). But overexposure will kill you every time.
(“Baron Corbin,” above)
2. “Raw” Opening Segments
Week after week, Monday after Monday, the opening segment of “Raw” is the same damn thing. Corbin enters the ring, takes the mic and addresses an incident that happened on-air the prior week. One of the subjects of his speech joins him in the ring, followed by the other subject(s) of his speech. They all take turns offering their points of view on the mic, and then Corbin schedules an “impromptu” match among all parties.
Predictability has rarely been so painful. Writing has rarely been so lazy.
3. “Crown Jewel”
The recent WWE Saudi Arabia promotion, entitled “Crown Jewel,” was meant to be the continuance of a vast new market for the organization, and its stockholders. Though it became clear that Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi was beheaded by agents of the Saudi government, the WWE elected to go on with their show anyway.
The show itself was subpar. Hulk Hogan returned, after his own “n-word” scandal, and perennial great Shawn Michaels came out of retirement for a tag match.
Many in the wrestling world were aghast that WWE would continue the program. After all, when Chris Benoit killed his wife and child, the WWE swore to write him out of their official history. His memory has peeked in here and there, some of his matches air on the WWE Network, but generally they’ve avoided any mention of him.
Electing to continue with “Crown Jewel” effectively ended my own 45+-year habit. I’ll still check it out now and then, but nothing has changed in terms of the show’s ongoing decline in quality.
It was supposed to be historic. It was the first all-women’s pay-per-view (itself a misnomer, as all PPV-formatted programming airs on the WWE Network for the cost of a subscription), and indeed the promotion exceeded all expectations. For the upcoming “Wrestlemania,” it’s rumored that a women’s championship vs. championship match (“Raw” vs. “Smackdown,” its Tuesday night program) will main event for the first time: Becky Lynch vs Ronda Rousey.
The reason for the “fail?” How can WWE promote such female empowerment with their characters, while moving forward with a show in Saudi Arabia where women are not allowed to show skin?
Hypocrisy reigns, and many viewers have noticed.
5. The Writing
Every scripted television show has its team of writers. Many taking the time to read this article may say they miss the organization’s so-named “Attitude Era,” when “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, “The Rock,” Mick Foley and others dished up an all-or-nothing athletically-based entertainment that was hard-R-rated due to its mature content and storylines.
Thing is, writers wrote those stories too. The writing in Vince’s wonderland today is tired and predictable. Then, though some may have taken offense at some of the angles showcased, you never knew what was coming next. It was the most successful era ever in pro wrestling, and Ted Turner’s WCW fought tooth and nail for the spoils, until Vince’s WWE purchased that ill-fated league.
The present PG-rating only applies when one considers the writing. Think of all the PG or PG-13-rated films you’ve seen, which include our most globally successful franchises, that set the bar in terms of quality. WWE’s PG mandate could and should work. It does not as the writing is entirely too formulaic.
WWE will survive. Fans will continue to complain. The decline in ratings will be made up for by an increase in merchandise sales, mostly from stars who are no longer on the active roster.
Nearly all of the performers are immensely physically talented. Going out there night after night - usually in different towns and/or following multi-hour plane rides - and taking bumps is in no way an easy business. Many mistake the “entertainment” aspect of it all as being “fake.” These are two different things, however … and fodder for another article.
As long as these athletes and entertainers continue to give their all, they should also speak up for a higher quality of product to deservedly showcase them in their best light.
They owe it to themselves, and WWE owes it to their viewership.