Do you know who some of the most put-upon people in the world are right now? Weekly pro wrestling podcasters.
These days, Comedians of Wrestling host Dan Black seems to routinely begin every podcast by warning his guests “we’ve got way too much to cover” before trying in vain to get to it all.
David Shoemaker recently noted during “The Masked Man Show” on The Ringer’s Channel 33 that he and guest Steve Kazee were “lamenting the overabundance of wrestling content,” which is “just the norm now.”
Complaining about the plethora of WWE programming isn’t anything new, but the recent brand and PPV split, coupled with the introduction of new programs and tournaments on the WWE Network, has made being a full-time WWE fan feel like a part-time job.
If a wrestling fan is trying to manage their life and also fit in all of the relevant content WWE makes available, their weekly requirements might look something like this:
Sunday: Live PPV Event (7:00 p.m. – 11:00 p.m.)
Monday: RAW (8:00 – 11:00 p.m.)
Tuesday: SmackDown Live (8:00 – 10:00 p.m.), Total Divas (9:00 – 10:00 p.m.), Talking Smack (10:00 p.m. – 11:00 p.m.)
Wednesday: NXT (8:00 – 9:00 p.m.)
Saturday: NXT TakeOver event (7:30 p.m. – 10:00 p.m.)
This doesn’t include Main Event, Superstars, and the upcoming cruiserweight-focused show 205 Live which will begin at 10:00 p.m. Tuesdays on WWE Network, not to mention any special events such as the recent Cruiserweight Classic and TBD women’s tournament.
And then there’s all the other programming available on WWE Network, including original shows and archived footage. Oh, and don’t forget the exclusive backstage videos that show up on WWE’s YouTube page, which can often inform what happens on the shows.
Even if it’s a non-PPV week, that’s still a strong commitment if you want to experience what you need to in order to know what’s going on. Not to mention if you enjoy watching other pro wrestling promotions, in which case you have to set aside time to watch Lucha Underground, TNA (for now), Ring of Honor, and any other program you can find on TV or online.
All of this should be a boon for pro wrestling fans. Many football and basketball fans would kill for competitive games being played year-round at the highest level. Since the WWE has no offseason and no breaks, you’re guaranteed to have huge swaths of content to digest each and every week for the foreseeable future, never wanting for quantity.
As we said, that should be a good thing. But watch enough WWE programming these days and chances are it sure doesn’t feel that way most of the time. The brand split was supposed to create space for up-and-coming wrestlers to shine and for interesting storylines to develop. While that has happened in places, the truth is that it mostly feels a bit like business as usual.
Every so often, WWE wrestlers and storylines come together in a beautiful way that makes you realize why you spend countless hours in front of the TV and countless dollars on merchandise. Even if the bad guy wins, there’s a perfection to the way a story arc is completed that non-wrestling fans will just never understand. A blending of old school carnival showmanship and new school athleticism that just can’t be found anywhere else.
However, for each brief, fleeting moment of greatness, you understand that you’re going to have to put up with a lot of crap. A lot of generic storylines you’ve seen a million times before. A lot of bad ideas you can’t believe actually made it out of the writer’s room. A lot of tired bits, antiquated jokes, and shoddily-acted routines.
WWE fans know this going in. Decades of storytelling expectations and Vince McMahon whims have trained them to make this pact with themselves. It’s worth it in the end, they tell themselves.
WWE has always had multiple programs to be found across the TV dial, but they’ve never had so much “relevant” content. That means these die-hard fans (who keep getting older and older, mind you) set aside the time and give over their attention, but because the on-screen product isn’t improving, it feels as though the company is really pushing the limits of that patience.
It’s unclear exactly why WWE seems to have regressed in its storytelling (or maybe it’s been like this for a while). Gone are the days of intriguing factions, multi-layered feuds, and internal logic. Nowadays, if you want to build a feud between a champion and challenger, you just have them fight each other every week and even let the challenger pin the champion on a regular basis before their Live Event match. That does not make for compelling storytelling, especially when it’s the 25th time this year they’ve done it.
To be fair, WWE is a unique beast that is more complicated than just putting two people in a ring and letting them fight. There are so many off-screen considerations that have to be put into place on a continual basis. The publicly-traded company has to answer to investors. Merchandise and ticket sales influence who gets pushed and who doesn’t.
When crowning a champion, it’s often as important to know that person can handle an interview on The Today Show as well as they can cut an in-ring promo. And that doesn’t even account for injuries, movie productions, marketing tie-ins, and celebrity appearances, all of which need to be integrated and worked around as you’re trying to tell weekly stories.
Still, if WWE is trying to build its brand by becoming a product that viewers consume for upwards of 10-15 hours a week, dragging their feet on good storytelling is going to catch up with them sooner or later. There are only so many Stone Cold Steve Austins and John Cenas who can transcend whatever angle they’re working.
Most wrestlers need help telling stories and they need the audience to care about what happens. You want people to make noise in the crowd? You have to give them reasons. There needs to be consequences and logical reactions. Right now, that doesn’t happen. (Dean Ambrose getting handed a title shot against A.J. Styles a week after losing a match that would have given him a title shot is a great example.)
The WWE audience is only getting older, which means their knowledge bank of past storylines and angles only gets deeper. And with every poorly-told story and uninteresting match with no stakes that WWE shoves onto the TV screen, it puts yet another disappointing memory in their fans’ head. Like we said, pro wrestling fans can put up with a lot (they survived Hornswoggle and the Katie Vick angle, for chrissake). But if WWE is going to give fans more hours of programming, they need to make as much of it as possible matter. Right now, most of it just feels like inconsequential filler.