There’s a path of wrath raging through WWE events this week. I’m not talking about Mark Henry’s storyline resurgence from 15-year mediocrity to born-again bad-ass – I’m talking about Vince McMahon. And not just because some of us recall Henry’s debut flop as Olympian strongman against then-heel Jerry “The King” Lawler and subsequent waste of space (and staggering $10million ten-year contract).
Apparently, McMahon’s been more agitated than usual as of late. Two examples from just last week come to mind.
The first is Alberto Del Rio’s promo where he referenced Vince himself, reportedly causing McMahon to fly into fury backstage because the name-drop refreshed people’s memories and thus essentially spoiled the inevitable Vinnie Mac comeback conclusion to the Triple H COO angle.
The second is Mark Henry bullying Jim Ross, then attacking Jerry “The King” Lawler, slamming him into their commentary desk at ringside. The boss was apparently upset because the table wasn’t appropriately gimmicked to give way on impact, instead collapsing due to the full brunt of the blow, legitimately injuring Lawler’s back.
But Vince McMahon himself – and the culture he has created in his company – is where the blame truly belongs for both of these incidents that raised the ire of the chairman.
Both of these incidents occurred due to Vince’s failure to properly review and approve the scripts for Raw’s episode. Thus, he was apparently unaware that Alberto was going to mention him, and the table wasn’t rigged to collapse properly because of confusion over the Henry angle. And so both of these instants were due to miscommunication due to re-write after re-write.
There is no excuse for this.
Apart from major injuries and characters needing to be written off television at short notice, there is absolutely no reason why WWE storylines cannot be planned and written in detail weeks, even months, in advance – the corporate resources are in place, the creative writers are there, and the pro wrestlers are ready to learn lines and run through the occasional intricate sequence.
The reasoning, of course, is that when ratings results arrive, a change of direction is often needed. But even this doesn’t wash. The very reason the likes of Kofi Kingston are given start-stop pushes is what causes ratings inconsistency in the first place, not the other way around. Writing for wrestling is relatively simple: write for the talent identified as having the tools to deliver, and persist. If shows were written well in advance, there would be more time to adjust direction for a pushed wrestler if it is becoming apparent that the push isn’t working and the audience just aren’t taking to him or her. The opportunity to then create a realistic and subtle change of course for a character would be less damaging to that individual wrestler, and the company, in the long-term. What worked so well for the “Attitude” era, for example, is that almost all characters, from the top to the bottom of a card, seemed strong, credible, and relevant, with a sense of purpose.
The start-stop runs and gut-wrench, knee-jerk de-pushes have to end, and WWE needs to adopt a much more long-term approach to writing for TV in order to put appropriate levels and quality of resources behind talents spotted as potential “next big things.” Creative would then also have far less pressure and therefore more breathing space to execute re-writes when a talent has to be written out at short notice.
But this isn’t happening. With inconsistent creative direction, star-building is becoming difficult and re-writes are occurring on the day of TV, sometimes even during the live episode. Both of these were evident in WCW’s dying days. While WWE is nowhere near in that kind of trouble, it’s worth not becoming complacent, and instead, learning from the past.
Vince McMahon claims he thinks long-term, but he doesn’t. He will have to learn to. If not, he can expect only more unapproved promos and botched moves. Instead of being mad at his daughter, son-in-law, and creative writers, he’d do well to start with himself.