In late 1997, Vince McMahon appeared in a now famous (or perhaps infamous) video on Raw essentially announcing the start of the “Attitude Era”. This led to the blurring of the lines between “good guys” and “bad guys” and helped elevate Steve Austin’s character to record proportions. To me McMahon’s best line in that video was, “We, in the WWF, think that you, the audience, are quite frankly, tired of having your intelligence insulted.”
Fast forward to 2011, and WWE is struggling in their PPV numbers as well as television ratings. Perhaps one of the biggest reasons for that has to do with the fact that the company has arguably insulted their fans’ intelligence more in the last three months than at any other point in their history.
Let’s look at the booking of CM Punk for example. This past July, it was revealed on television that Punk’s WWE contract was set to expire and he had no intentions of re-signing, at least not immediately. To add to that news, Punk started cutting brilliant worked shoot promos on Raw that gave just enough inside information to pique the interest of the viewing audience without going so inside as to alienate WWE’s smart fans from their broader, more casual viewers. The result was an increase in the PPV buyrate for the Money in the Bank PPV this year over last year, plus Punk’s newest T-shirt became a huge bestseller at live events as well as online. WWE fans were optimistic that the company had turned the corner, and Raw was starting to become water cooler talk all over again.
Of course it wasn’t long before the train derailed, and boy did it ever. First the company booked a WWE Title tournament post-Money in the Bank (since Punk had won the title and walked out). That part was fine. But then, the company went and gave a fresh John Cena yet another title match against a tired (having wrestled The Miz earlier in the night) Rey Mysterio to put the belt back on Cena AGAIN. And then, out walked CM Punk with his version of the title, revealing that he was back in the company just two weeks after Money in the Bank. The whole angle stifled Punk’s momentum, and bored any viewer (raise your hands) who were sick of seeing John Cena back in the title picture. Punk did the media rounds explaining that he’d come back quickly because Summerslam was coming up and it was one of WWE’s top shows of the year. But to the casual fan, Punk’s quick return made his very real walkout appear no more genuine than any of the “firings” or other scripted departures that had happened in the company and that had also resulted in prompt returns.
Side note: Triple H mentioned in a promo regarding Punk’s sudden return that Punk had simply walked up to him at the end of Raw one night, handed him a signed contract and said “hit my music”. A fair explanation… good thing for Triple H that Punk had somehow worked with the production staff on his own and arranged for new music and a new video to be prepped and ready to go huh?
Things continued to get better after Summerslam. First, an almost immobile Kevin Nash returned and was given an asinine storyline about how he’d attacked Punk at Summerslam because Triple H had texted him asking him to “stick the winner”, only to reveal that he had lied about it. But to WWE, just claiming a simple lie wasn’t enough. Nope, they had Nash claim that he had walked into Triple H’s office at Summerslam on the off chance that Triple H had left his cell phone behind (which conveniently he had) so that Nash could send a text to himself using Triple H’s phone in order to back up his lie. Not that I need to ask, but if you’re going to lie anyway, and if you’re not going to actually show the text message on television, why even bother going into the guy’s office thinking that as unlikely as it would be for Triple H to leave his phone behind, the stars would be aligned that night and it’d be sitting there waiting for you?
Of course all of this looks like Oscar-caliber writing compared to the Triple H/COO storyline, which began on the July 18, 2011 edition of Raw that actually marked Triple H’s first television appearance after several months. On that night, Triple H informed Vince McMahon that the WWE Board of Directors had relieved him of his duties due to questionable decisions and an overall inability to maintain order. Triple H was thereby appointed the COO of WWE. In the weeks that followed, typical wrestling mayhem continued to ensue until the talent roster decided to give Triple H a vote of no confidence and walked out. This of course was ridiculous given that this is pro wrestling where guys are always attacking other guys and causing chaos. Hell, the entire Austin Era was based on that. But to make the whole thing even more mind-blowing, WWE talent decided to stand up for their rights by boycotting Raw and only wrestling on Smackdown! because in their eyes, Triple H was suddenly only the COO of Raw and had no authority on another show. Boy what a great move, they sure showed him!
Another side note: When the roster and crew walked out on Triple H, thank God that the hard camera guy stayed, and the audio guy, and the guy that handles the spotlighting, and the video guy… nothing like ignoring the little details.
This whole thing culminated on last week’s edition of Raw when everyone aside from the top babyfaces (i.e. Cena, Orton and Punk) staged a sit-down strike in the parking lot. Triple H responded by burying almost the entire roster by saying he could get a better match out of a broomstick than he could that talent. Punk and Cena did their part to bury the talent as well, and Punk made sure to lose whatever edge he had left by suddenly sucking up and being buddies with Triple H (the same guy that he spent months ridiculing and humiliating to the point that Triple H challenged him to a match at Night of Champions three weeks earlier), even putting on Triple H’s suit jacket and happily attending to commentary and timekeeping and whatever else Hunter ordered him to do. Then came Vince McMahon, who despite being relieved of his duties a few months ago, still had the title of Chairman on his entrance video, and had been appointed by the Board for some reason to inform Triple H that he was now out, and John Laurinaitis (who is arguably the worst WWE actor since Steve Blackman) was in. This creative mess resulted in hundreds of thousands of television viewers deciding that it was time to watch something else. But hey, it’s a good thing that WWE doesn’t want its audience to have their intelligence insulted.
In December of 2005 I had the pleasure of interviewing one of the all time greats (and a WWE Hall of Famer), Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat. Rick was one of the kindest, most laid back people I’d ever talked to in the business, and time got away from both of us as we’d talked for two hours before we knew it, and with me only about halfway through my questions. So Rick graciously asked me to call him back the next day, and we finished the questions for a total interview time of four hours. I probably got more feedback to this interview than any other one I conducted, including messages from wrestling writers and talent alike. Below is part 1 of that interview. As time goes on I’ll post other interview clips and any other interesting stuff I come across on my old server.