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ONLINE ONSLAUGHT
Learned Resignation, Part Two...
Plus a Little Weekend News
April 30, 2004

by Rick Scaia
Exclusive to OnlineOnslaught.com

 

A column in two parts today, kids...  first, an OOpinion-y editorial, then, some very quick newsbites to make sure you don't fall behind on current events just because I felt lazy and wanted to pre-fab today's column.

Enjoy....

PART ONE: Learned Resignation 2, Electric Boogaloo

About 18 months ago, Jeb Lund penned a column titled "Learned Disappointment."  The next day, I came back with a seemingly spontaneous retort titled "Learned Resignation."  Well, truth is, that little exchange of ideas was planned ahead of time.  I'd had something like a week's notice, as Jeb thought it would be fun to open a dialogue on the issue of the many ways pro wrestling disappoints its fans.

The end result (and I think I can safely speak for Jeb on this, as well as for myself) was quite engrossing.  Go back and check 'em out, if you're bored.

But yesterday, when Jeb's "Learned Disappointment 2" (required reading if you want the rest of this column to make any sense) arrived in my mail box, I was caught completely unaware.  And yet, even on my first pass through, I was struck by a few potential rebuttals and a general sense that I didn't entirely agree with Mr. Lund.  With no planning ahead this time, I immediately sensed that Jeb's sequel would inspire another retort.

A closer read-through and then a moment or two to think, and I realized why I so quickly wanted to rebut: twice in the last month, I've praised editions of RAW for being good "maintenance" shows.  Earlier this week, I extemporized at length about the tantalizing "Free-Per-View" RAW we've got coming up next week.  And simply put: if you can do shows like this, if you can build to Happenings like HBK vs. Benoit during your "off-month," then I simply cannot endorse the idea that it is impossible to execute consistently-entertaining episodic TV for 52 weeks a year.

Do I deny that the Fed sometimes has trouble doing this?  Nope.  Do I deny that Wrestling Burnout for writers and for fans is a real phenomenon?  Nope.  But I do think that we have evidence to suggest that extended, sustainable periods of quality programming (even during fallow months) is possible... and when it doesn't happen, well, frankly, I'm kind of resigned to wrestling's cyclical nature (up for a PPV, then down for the reset, then build it back up again) more than I'm disappointed by it.

And thus, Learned Resignation 2.  Get it?

A main concept that occurred to me is that "burnout" seems to be more of an issue when "ups" aren't what they should be, than a case where the "downs" alienate loyal viewers.  Like I said, I'm conditioned or resigned to this idea that you build up for a PPV, then you reset.  There's bound to be a couple shows in that reset phase that just aren't as thrilling: they're more about laying foundations.  I'm used to that, and I appreciate those kinds of shows in their own way.

The threat of burnout only begins to exist, however, when those quieter shows are building a foundation to nowhere.  Case in point: SmackDown the last month.  The Judgment Day PPV is about 3 weeks away, and who among us expects it to be a massive "up"?  No one.  And that's why I know Jeb and Erin and probably others have mentioned they've passed on SD! a few times in the last month.  I've even taken to watching recorded versions of the show so I can FF if I want.  And we're the people who ostensibly care enough about wrestling that we put our names on columns and attempt to enlighten and inform the huddled masses.  We should be willing to sit through a show or two even if it's a little light on the excitement...

But if you're bringing the crap, and it's clear you're on a road to Bradshaw: PPV Main Eventer?  THAT is when we get antsy, no matter how loyal or hardcore in our fandom.  I'm not one to look at Spoilers and say "Well, this looks weak, I'll skip it."  I think that's kind of cheap, just because of the difference between a cobbled-together, 90-percent-accurate written-word report and the as-aired version.  But when I know where the brand is headed, when I know that recent shows have featured trophy stomping and badly-conceived Hollywood skits as main events... well, that's when you can glance at some Spoilers, realize that even if the reports aren't totally spot on, the brand isn't doing anything massive to turn things around, and you can take yet another week off.

Has SmackDown! been better the past few weeks?  Yeah, actually it has.  But guess what?  We're still heading to a PPV where, if you combine all the planned matches, you might have a total of one-and-a-quarter compelling storylines playing out.  

I'm not so sure that disinterest in the SD! product is "burnout," exactly...  no number of off-weeks or anything during April would have helped the creative team come up with a better plan, and no number of reruns would have made fans' hearts grow fonder of the idea of Bradshaw's ridiculous push.  The problem is not that there was Too Much SmackDown.  It's that even if you'd had half-as-much SmackDown!, you still wouldn't have had compelling content to fill it up.

[An aside: more than anything, I realize that SD!'s problem is a depleted roster.  I could do an entire different column on how simply letting Triple H stay on SD! after he was Lotteried there would have helped immensely (think about it: RAW could have just done HBK/Benoit a month faster, and Eddie would actually have a heel contender who seemed worthy and who thus could help boost his standing).  But that's got nothing to do with Learned Resignation or burnout or anything else.  So let's let it be for now.]

I guess if I Bottom Line this, what I'm trying to say is that when I get frustrated with wrestling, it's not because there's too much of it and the good stuff is being stretched out too much and too thin during the slow phases... it's because the supposed high points simply are not intriguing in any way.

Specifically rebutting Jeb's idea that an off-season or re-run weeks would strengthen the overall product, I would point to the last two months or so on RAW.  And I'd point to the outstanding prospects for at least the next 6 weeks or so, too.  They have mastered the science of the maintenance shows and the Free-Per-View concept.
 
How many times since the beginning of March has RAW announced a Huge Match/Happening for next week?  Probably 5 or 6 times out of those 8 or 9 weeks.  We've had Benoit/HBK once (and are getting it again next week), we had the Benoit/HBK/Foley/Benjamin vs. Evolution match, we had the Brand Lottery show (hyped heavily over the final half of the preceding week's show), and we even had "This is Your Life, Mick" (which was hyped for a week after being set up by the Rock's "surprise" return).  I'm probably forgetting some more.  But the point is, RAW's been really good at putting together matches/events that seem big, and hyping them a week ahead of time... makes them seem more special.  And during those "hype" weeks, even if nothing really outstanding happens, they've been working the routine maintenance vibe quite expertly, teasing us along for two hours at a time.
 
It's a formula that guards well against burnout, if you ask me.  Whether it's one week up and one week down, or two weeks up with one week down, or whatever, you've always got something to look forward to.  And the way RAW has planned it out so that one of the highest possible ups is coming next week, smack-dab in the middle of what is supposed to be an "off-month," they aren't just playing on the week-to-week fluctuations... they are preventing against stagnation by using the "Free-Per-View" concept that was first used so effectively late last summer and into the fall by SD! (achieving perfection, if you ask me, with the show that featured the awesome Iron Man Match as well as a tag title change, a free SD! that easily eclipsed the RAW-only PPV that happened the same week).  Fans won't get burnt out on the water-treading and time-marking until RAW has another PPV in June because of this concept.

So you look at how strong RAW has been, and can you REALLY say that you would have liked to have seen them take 2 (or more) of the last few weeks off to do re-runs, or something?  Hell, no.  Or at least, you better not.  With the shows hitting on all cylinders, I'd actually get pissed if WWE told me "Well, you've had about enough of this, so we're gonna take a week off and whet your appetite a bit more."  If it's good, pile it on, says I.

Another reason why re-runs or off-weeks won't work is simply business-related: say the Fed went to a 40-week "season" (with either a 12-week break, or with 12 off-weeks peppered in).  The only way that makes sense for them is if they can get as many eyeballs on the screen and as many asses in the seats in 40 weeks as they used to in 52.  Would the product really be fresher?  Maybe.  Would it be better?  Maybe.  But even if they hit the jackpot on both those fronts, would it result in the necessary 25% increase in business during the "on" weeks?  No guarantees of that at all (and in fact, I'd say the odds are very much against it).

Wrestling's audience fluctuates week to week and month to month as fringe fans make decisions based on show quality.  But the core audience is pretty loyal.  I don't think that there are significant gains to be had by lopping off a quarter of the year and hoping to improve the quality of the remaining 40 weeks.  At best, you'd max out with the fringe fans: and I don't think that's enough to make the dollar figures work out.  The solution is not to create Ultra WWE Concentrate: it's to utilize the off-week, on-week, and free-per-view concepts to make every show as good as it can be.  If you use those tools, and if you make sure you're always building to something sufficiently interesting and big, fans won't want you take weeks off.  Keep that carrot out there at the end of the stick, and fans will want more, more, more.

But see, you turn that around, and if you DON'T follow the formula and things go bad: well, I will gladly take a pass.  And it won't necessarily be because it's "too much wrestling," it's just because I don't feel the product is worth my time.  Look, to address Jeb's discussion of the relentlessness of wrestling and our sense of "duty," let me just say that I kind of think of myself as a pretty addictive personality.  Not in the sense of developing unhealthy fixations, necessarily, but more like it's hard for me to find stuff I like, so when I do, I'm really loyal to it.
 
I don't care if it's music (where I decided way back when that I liked Nirvana, and before I knew it, I had hundreds of hours of rare and bootlegged material), or TV (I know there's other good, new shows that I might enjoy, but I prefer the "sure thing" of watching episodes of "Seinfeld" or "The Simpsons" for the 20th time), or even people (I loathe most of 'em, so I have a TON of acquaintances with whom I'm sociable, but only really value the small-ish circle of friends for whom I'd walk through hell in a gasoline suit)...  the point is: I find something I like, I stick with it.

So I think it's instructive that I'm pretty open about FF'ing SmackDown!...  I'm about as addicted to wrestling as anyone should be, but I've got no problem ditching out on it if it's not top shelf.  I see in myself some of the kind of behavior that spurred Jeb's column, but I find it hard to attribute it to burnout.  I see it as simply exercising good judgment.  Kind of like how if I see it's a Lisa Episode of "the Simpsons," I usually have no problem passing, no matter how much I usually like that show....

Actually, maybe my "good judgment" is actually a form of Preventative Burnout or something.  Cuz I think about it, and what Jeb was really saying is that there's all this wrestling on TV -- six hours a week that a "true fan" would be obligated to watch, and that's just WWE -- and we don't watch it because it's too much.   
 
Well, I guess my whole point here has been that I don't watch it because it's not good.  But I realize that if I DID watch it, I WOULD get burnt out, and much of Jeb's thesis would stand.  Instead of casually, companionably being able to skip "Heat" and "Velocity" or being able to watch SD! in about 40 minutes flat when I'm not in the mood, I would do as he said: turn viciously on the product and take an intense pleasure in walking away from it, basically thumbing my nose at it and outright rejecting it.

And don't even get me started if I was required to check out the C-shows or TNA or whatever indie crap-a-thons I know are on my local cable access channel.  I'd go crazy, and while that might be fun for you, the Home Viewer, to watch, it's something I'm gonna go ahead and guard against.

This sort of brings me to the last point I should touch on: burnout from the writers' side.  I know if I had to watch and cover all these other shows besides the ones I actually do watch, I'd get sick of it really quick, and you'd see it impact my work. I can and do feel for the creative team at WWE, and I think if there's one thing I unequivocally agree with Jeb on, it's that coming up with good ideas is hard, and filling up six hours a week has gotta be tougher than most of us know.

Of course, I'd deviate with Jeb on one point: I'm just cocky enough to think I WOULD welcome a chance to match up against them. I envy them more than their salaries.  I envy them the chance to actually be moving the pieces around the WWE Chess Board while I sit around like a jack-ass thrice a week only talking about what the next move might be.  But that's neither here nor there...

What I was getting at is that, sure, there are times when I wish I had a second The Rick stashed away somewhere, so he could come in for a week and spell me when my heart wasn't in it.  And I assume WWE's writers get the same way.  Difference is, there's no reason why they CAN'T do something about it: they've got the resources that I don't.  Whoever's on top, co-ordinating both brands, probably can't rotate out (sorry Steph), but each of the brand-specific writers should have a break during the year.  Divide the year into quarters (maybe use the four joint-PPVs as dividers?), and every writer gets one of those quarters off.  The remaining team, then, would ALWAYS have one Very Fresh Person on staff, which should more than off-set the Very Burnt Out Person who can't wait till the next rotation to get his/her break.  What's so tough about that?  The "off-duty" writers would still earn their keep doing other work around the office, maybe, and if they have a good idea, you're still gonna listen to 'em... but I see no reason why you'd insist on riding your horses that hard when it seems like it'd be so easy to rest them at minimal expense/inconvenience.

So there you have it:  I agree with Jeb on writer burnout, but I think of all the problems, that's the one most-easily solved.  

On the issue of the sheer volume of wrestling: there's a money issue there, and the simple fact is that if the wrestling's good, we'll take all of it that we can.  Off-weeks and re-runs are not a solution, as they dilute the bottom line and would actually be an annoyance during times when shows are consistently and sustainably good.  

On the issue of the Good:Bad Ratio, I propose that wrestling's cyclical nature is something we all should be used to by now, that there is always gonna be bad going with the good (or downs with the ups, to use my phraseology): it's not necessarily a matter of hammering us with good, good, good all the time, it's in pacing things.  Make sure your highs are actually engrossing, for one.  Then you use Maintenance Weeks and Free-Per-View concepts to hide your slow phases and keep dangling a tasty morsel for fans to come back to the next time.  Sure, I'd always want the Good:Bad Ratio to lean towards the smiling side of the scoreboard, but mostly, I'm convinced that if your placement of the good is done well, you can get away with more bad than you would otherwise.

And finally, on the issue of the relentlessness of wrestling, our "duty" to watch it, and our getting burnt out: I'm not sure I'd ever get burnt out on wrestling.  If it's good, I'll take all that I can.  If it's bad, I'll gloss over it or skip it entirely, and it won't be because it's "too much."  I can comfortably and without malice do this, although I grant that if I WAS duty-bound to watch wrestling that I thought was bad or superfluous, I would savagely reject wrestling as a whole, probably.  No offense to those who do absorb every hour of WWE TV, and pile on the TNA and indie videos and all that, either: if you're doing that, it's not "duty," it's because you enjoy it, and I fully trust that if you didn't enjoy it, you'd just stop, instead of force-feeding yourself till you hated all thing wrestling.  I guess it comes down to me exercising my judgment and maybe not watching all this stuff, which might look like burnout/too-much-wrestling on the surface, but it's really more a preventative thing.

To bring it all back around: I don't watch these shows and let myself get disappointed that "Heat" isn't the must-see show it used to be in 1998, or that TNA hasn't captured my fancy in the last 3 or 4 months...  I just resign myself to the fact that even in the genre of pro wrestling, to which I'm unhealthily addicted, not everything is gonna be good.  And if it's not good, I'm not obligated to shove it down my gullet.

Learned Disappointment?  Nah:  Learned Resignation.
 

PART TWO: Weekend News

  • Apologies to anyone who was inconvenienced by the OOutage last night.  In trying to piece together the timetable from evidence in the Forums and timestamps on my e-mail, it looks like the site was down from about 12:30am till around 5 or 6am.
     
    I guess if I had to be down for 5 hours, that's when you want to do it, but still...  probably sucked for some of you, and I'm sorry.
     
  • The end result is that I wound up playing phone tag with tech support people for a few hours starting around 1am, when I checked in and found the site down...  during the interminable delays, I also decided to put my time to use by checking out my recording of SmackDown!.
     
    Needless to say, I was in a pretty pissy mood, but I tried, I tried real hard, Ringo, to divorce those feelings and enjoy the show for what it was... and what it was was largely a second consecutive well-constructed episode of SD!.
     
    Two things did grate on me a bit, but they are pretty much necessary evils.  One, the opening bit with Kurt (and then with Torrie) was clearly not as impactful as it could have been, simply because I don't think fans really bought into the angle between Kurt and Big Show.  You could tell they WANTED to take the fans on a little roller coaster ride, where Kurt spilled his guts for a minute or two then turned on the fans.  But the fans were never on his side, not for a second.  The lack of buy-in on the Show/Kurt/Torrie angle was underscored when Angle, now fully heel and upset, called Torrie to the ring, and the fans just gave her the requisite T&A pop, instead of thinking back to the angle and how she was probably in trouble if she was getting called to the ring.  No "ooohs" or "aahhhhs" or "asshole" chants.  Just the usual hooting and whistles.  Because, I'm telling you, people would rather just forget about the unpleasantness of two weeks ago.  But like I said: the opening bit was probably a necessary evil, simply because they did do the angle two weeks ago, and Kurt HAD to address it upon his return... but now that it's done, can we please sweep it under the rug?
     
    The other thing that was just mildly annoying: Paul Heyman, VIP.  One week of lazily letting Heyman appear on SD! with Vince's sanction was OK.  But now, c'mon, I'd like to see at least SOME effort put into explaining what RAW thinks of its property appearing on Thursdays.  Otherwise, this will rate right up with Sheriff Austin on the Lack of Effort Continuum.  But again, a necessary evil: SD! with Heyman is better than without, so I guess I'll just have to endure the lack of explication.
     
    But other than that, stuff pretty much clicked across the board.  Dupree/Cena is starting to seem (to me, anyway) the best reason to watch Judgment Day.  A part of me that should know better was really digging it when Old School Taker made his entrance and made the whole show of losing the hat and rolling back the eyeballs and everything; I expect nothing too spectacular out of the Booker/Taker match (it'll be one of two things: Taker squashes Booker, or Mordecai makes his debut to attack Taker and give Booker the cheap win as his promos are increasingly pointing to a Judgment Day appearance), but that's only the second time we've gotten the old school Taker entrance, and sometimes you gotten enjoy the little things.  Rico/Haas were good for some quality comedy/entertainment.  And of course, a very high quality main event, and the post-match stuff (climaxing with the sweet Stereo Frog Splashes) ended the show on a high note.  The announcement of Duds vs. RVD/Eddie for next week was also an appreciated element: finally, a reason to look forward to SD!  
     
    And Bradshaw?  Limited to a little 3 minute vignette, which I am not ashamed to tell you I FF'ed right past.  And that decision had NOTHING to do with burnout...
     
    All in all, a solid effort.  I'm still having a hard time thinking back to the last PPV that had as little to recommend it as Judgment Day is shaping up to have...  the brand, as a whole, is still lacking the same spark and sizzle of RAW.  But last night's SD! was a show that was as well put together as it could be given the roster and which came tantalizingly close to making me forget about my mega-pissy mood for two hours.  
     
    You can get all the details and results that I've only glossed over here in Big Danny T's SmackDown! Recap.
     
  • The prelim rating for last night's show: a 3.2.  Hey, signs of life!
     
    That's up a third of a point from last week's prelim number, and should mean a final rating in the 3.2-3.5 range.  Depending on how the chips fall, SD! could end up brushing up against it's pre-WM20 average... and that'd be a Good Thing.
     
  • Oh yeah, before I forget: Kurt Angle's attendant/body guard/whatever they're going to call him "Luther" is the developmental talent previously known as Horshu.  At least, he is unless I'm radically mis-remembering things.
     
    So you can bank on him getting more and more physically involved as time goes on.  You might want to NOT expect him to blow your ass away in terms of ringwork, but hey, he's big, and you know Vince's fetish there....  of SD!'s incoming big men, I think you'll be more impressed by Kevin "Mordecai" Fertig.
     
  • And on the topic of Kurt Angle...  
     
    One of the main reasons I was motivated to tack on this section of newsbites today is pass along word that Angle has decided on another "clean-up" surgery with Dr. Jho.  The procedure will be along the same lines as the one Angle underwent after Survivor Series last fall, which means you can put him on the shelf for at least 2 months.
     
    Angle's status HAD been "suffering lingering pain/numbness, but cleared to wrestle sporadically."  The surgery means mandated time on the DL; however, the hope is that the surgery will alleviate his problems and allow him a return to 100%.  I think it should be pretty clear that they are keeping a gentle simmer on the Angle/Eddie hostilities, and depending on a bunch of factors (Angle's recovery time, Big Show's availability) a resumption of their feud either at or after SummerSlam seems very likely.  I mean, I don't see anyone on the heel side of SD! besides Show or Angle really having the chops to be a top contender to Eddie.  Bradshaw's not taking the belt...  the only other alternative is going to be to protect Booker in his feud with Taker (again the possible "out" with Mordecai interfering and taking over the feud against Taker), and then having Booker headline with Eddie till either Show or Angle is ready....
     
    But now I'm getting off track.  The point is not the bleak outlook of the SD! Title picture... it's that Angle is gonna go under the knife and pretty much ensure he's OUT of that picture till July or August.  Here's hoping the repair/clean-up work "sticks" better than Angle's last surgery did, and that he gets back to 100%, or as close to it as his chronic condition allows...
     
  • A few people passed along an item that Brock Lesnar has reportedly turned down an offer to try-out for the Arizona Cardinals...  apparently, the Lesnar camp is very confident that already-scheduled try-outs (including for Lesnar's hometown Minnesota Vikings) will go well and will yield a contract offer.  No need to try-out for other teams...
     
    Interesting.  If they're right, it'll be a surprise to the cynics who said Lesnar had no shot at his age and experience level of actually making it in the NFL...
     
    Those try-outs are in a couple weeks, here, so we oughta know more by the end of the month.
     
  • There's probably a couple other things I could touch on, but nothing that can't wait till Monday, folks...  try to enjoy your weekend as best you can: I know it'll be a chore for me.  Graduation Weekend here in the UD region means either driving farther than usual to find a hang-out that's not insanely crowded or just haunting my own basement.
     
    Stupid kids: why can't they just do what we did on graduation weekend?  Namely, rent a tent, get kegs in your backyard, and tell campus cops to stick it cuz they're not gonna bust you if your parents are there, man!  And leave the bars to those of us who have nothing better to do with our lives!
     
    Although... it is Derby Weekend.  That means Julep Season!  And this is my first May being a (sort of) Kentucky Colonel.  I mean, I DO have the certificate hanging in my basement.  It just doesn't, if you want to get technical, have MY name on it.  Anyway, maybe spending one of these next two nights in the basement or on the porch sipping on one of my patented Mint Juleps don't sound so bad, afterall.  The Rick's Recipe?  Screw you!  Wait till "You Are What You Drink 2."  With all this sequel-izing going on, who's to say it won't happen....  though I wouldn't hold my breath.
     
    Anyway, I'm sure I'll make do.  And I'll see you Monday.
     

E-MAIL RICK SCAIA
BROWSE THE OO ARCHIVES

Rick Scaia is a wrestling fan from Dayton, OH.  He's been doing this since 1995, but enjoyed it best when the suckers from SportsLine were actually PAYING him to be a fan.


  
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