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WrestleMania Cameos?, RAW, Ratings,
Another WWE Returnee, and Lots More 
March 29, 2006

by Rick Scaia
Exclusive to OnlineOnslaught.com


No time to dilly-dally...

Chances are good this'll be the last standard/news-y update to OO until after WrestleMania, and although there's nothing earth- shattering going on out there in the wrestling world, there ARE a bunch of little stories worth covering. If for no other reason than because I want to hold onto my naive hope that -- despite the total lack of

sizzle heading into the PPV -- WrestleMania will still somehow manage to step up and turn things on their ear.

So to make sure we don't lose any little stories in fall-out from what I'm going to go ahead and pretend will be a super-duper WM Weekend, let's quit wasting time and try to be extra-thorough today:

  • I think my stance on Monday's RAW has been made readily clear already. It boils down to "too little, too late."
    Monday night was a reasonably logical, well-constructed show, where each segment (except for the Spirit Squad comedy relief) directly pointed us towards Sunday's WrestleMania PPV. By accomplishing this, Monday's RAW stands out as probably one of the most effective two-hours of TV WWE has presented in 2 months. And for the most part, a more-entertaining two hours than we've gotten in 2 months.
    Then again, given what I'm comparing Monday's show to, this is damning faint praise. But it's nice to see that when the Creative Monkeys really hunker down and try to focus on getting things in gear before WM, they can turn out a show that doesn't suck. I really want to know what it would take to get WWE to have this level of focus every single week... this isn't rocket science, dammit, and what we got on Monday night was the ideal sort of "Sustainable Episodic TV" archetype that SHOULD represent the Minimum Quality Acceptable on a weekly basis.
    A show like Monday's shouldn't represent a Peak. It should represent the baseline. There was nothing fancy about the show (no guest appearances or stunt angles or free-per-view give-aways)... but everything that happened was relatively logical, it fit together, and it moved us forward in a sensible manner. Nothing seemed forced, nothing seemed out of place, nothing outright sucked or insulted our intelligence. Doing that every week should be as simple and as ingrained as brushing your teeth in the morning, but for some reason, that's not quite the case with WWE. Oh well.
    Of course, with all that said about Monday night, the fact is that it was still the final show before the biggest PPV of the year. Which is sort of late to be trying to get your house in order. And on top of that, a "baseline" show that makes sense and doesn't suck still isn't exactly the way to instill that much needed Sizzle Factor that WrestleMania is lacking this year.
    An old English professor of mine hammered the phrase "Sense of Wonder" into our skulls for an entire semester, saying it was the key to any truly compelling storytelling. Basically, you won't truly engross your audience unless they can look around the fictional world you've created for them and see nothing but characters and scenarios that captivate them. And that was still lacking on Monday. Continuity and logic are the foundation of storytelling in the "sustainable episodic" format, and I insist on their presence. But to score above that "baseline," that's when you need to ladle on the "Sense of Wonder" to grab your audience and make them CARE.
    There's a huge difference between being able to FOLLOW a story or a character and being able to CARE. What RAW did was stay focused and on-target enough that, at least for one week, we could follow along without being distracted by logic or continuity holes. 
    But I bet I'm not the only one who would admit to CARING very little about much of what happens at WrestleMania, other than in an intellectual/smart-fan way. You know, the "Aha, HHH and Vince McMahon won their respective matches. I wonder what impact this could have on upcoming storylines, and if they are getting ready to reveal HHH is Vince's son-in-law" kind of way. Not the "I'm actually going to be getting excited on Sunday and cheering for certain guys and for specific outcomes to matches" kind of way.
    I'd continue, but now I'm starting to leave the topic of what RAW did and did not accomplish, and starting to saunter back to an issue I discussed last week about the two different ways to "appreciate" a PPV. It was good stuff, but I won't repeat it here.
    So, for more details on a well-constructed edition of RAW, I point you to the OO RAW Recap, which is practically OOZING with "Sense of Wonder." Mostly, all of you Wondering how it is that such a witty and clever man wastes 2 or 3 hours per week using his copious skills to make a wrestling show fun to read about.
  • The rating on Monday was a 4.3, which is either the same as the week before or up one meager tenth of a point.
    In the grander scheme, what's important to look at is that after stumbling for a couple of weeks, WWE has been at or above 4.0 for the past three weeks' editions of RAW. They're still a bit short of January's sustained average on Mondays, but there are signs of ratings life as the Fed gears up for WrestleMania.
    That's more than you can say for SD!, which is limping towards Mania on a ratings decline (possibly assisted by pre-emptions in some markets and the success of the NCAA tourney games the past two weeks, but still on a decline).
  • In further evidence that WWE is a bit lacking in the "Planning Ahead" department (or possibly as evidence that WWE is just trying to keep fans guessing), there's a ton of information and disinformation going around about which legends will and will not be present at the actual WrestleMania PPV.
    Hulk Hogan, as recently as last week, was hinting (Broadly) that he would be a part of the show. But in a radio interview today, Hogan says that his current plans are to appear at the Saturday night Hall of Fame ceremony, and then fly out to California on Sunday morning to be with his younger daughter, Nick, on one of his wacky adventures.
    In the same interview, Hogan said that Vince made a strong play to get Hogan to appear on the PPV, and that now the two sides have given up on that, but are negotiating an appearance by Hogan on Monday night AFTER Mania. This strikes me as odd, but if the appearance on Monday would be for a quick angle with Steve Austin, I guess you could make it work by having AUSTIN (who everybody suspects will make a WM22 cameo) show up on the PPV to somehow challenge/invite Hogan to RAW.
    Problem is, you get Temporal Causality that way, but you also create a situation in which fans (live in Chicago and at home on PPV) will get the tease of Hogan/Austin, and assume that their dollars entitle them to the pay-off RIGHT NOW. Instead, Hogan's not showing up till Monday night, and now ladies and gentlemen won't you please put your hands together for P.O.D.!!!!!!!!!!! That's a recipe for sort of annoying and underwhelming your paying fans, if you ask me.
  • And while Hogan's clouding the waters regarding his status/availability at WM22, Bret Hart is making the rounds saying a variation on the same thing. Well, he's saying EXACTLY the same thing, actually ("I will not be appearing on the WrestleMania PPV"), but he's saying it for different reasons.
    Bret says he's already given fans the last in-ring memory that he wants them to have of him, and that he doesn't want to diminish that by appearing in his current capacity. The Hall of Fame is different, as it's a celebration of those in-ring memories, and not an attempt to create new ones. Or so the logic goes.
    In the same interviews, Bret expresses a sheer hatred of Shawn Michaels -- going so far as to say he'd no-show the Hall of Fame if Michaels is in the building -- while admitting to a truce with the guy who is actually responsible for the Montreal Screwjob, Vince McMahon. Huh. It'd be silly if those comments were a work, but doesn't it seem like it'd be even SILLIER if they were the honest truth?
    Bret also admits that once he agreed to the HoF, Vince has been wheedling him pretty hard about also making an appearance on the PPV. Gee, maybe if Bret read his OO, he'd have seen that coming 3 months ago.... one would have to assume that Vince's vision for any such appearance would involve Vince's match with Shawn, which only makes Bret's odd comments about Michaels all the more tantalizing to anyone trying to make sense of them.
    But there may be no sense to be made. Maybe Bret's just really not as mature as we all thought he was, and he's harboring hatred from 9 years ago, just like TV Vince McMahon pretended to. Who knows?
    Bret's story is that he's also flying out of Chicago on Sunday morning, so he'll be long gone before Vince can even get him to the building for one last wheedle. That goes against 2 years of standing policy to bring out the Hall of Famers for a quick bow on the WM PPV, but hey, Bret's a big boy and he can fly out whenever he wants to.
  • One gigantic non-surprise you can expect on Sunday is the announcement of WrestleMania 23 being held in Detroit.
    WM23 will mark the 20th anniversary of the biggest WrestleMania of the all, when an alleged 93,000 fans packed the SilverDome in Detroit to see Hogan vs. Andre. For the anniversary, WWE won't have Hogan/Andre or the SilverDome's seating capacity... they're holding the event at Ford Field. Expected capacity should be more on the order of 70,000.
    We talk extensively about the state of wrestling being in the crapper, but in all honesty, WWE will have no trouble selling out WM23 (and in rapid fashion)... "WrestleMania" still carries a certain magic, and the fact that tickets go on sale six months before a single match is announced means it's not the card people are paying to see, it's "WrestleMania."
    That said, the state of wrestling DOES mean that if WWE makes an honest attempt to turn WM23 into a "sequel" to WM3, or in anyway presents it as a worthy successor, THEN there will be huge problems. There is simply no match (or combination of matches) that I can think of from the current, full-time WWE Roster that would come even close to creating the same kind of Once In A Lifetime Atmosphere that you had for Hogan/Andre.
    The alternative is to go outside the full-time roster to see if you can create a Dream Match that way. But we're getting to a point where I honestly believe that nothing less than the return of The Rock would create the kind of atmosphere needed, here. And not just the Rock showing up for one week to face another part-time special attraction. I'm talking about actually getting the Rock in for a 2-3 month stretch of appearing on TV and telling a full-bore Wrestling Storyline that'll pay off in a match that MEANS something and isn't just an exhibition.
    And I'm not joking about this: if you can swing the deal, you start planting seeds NOW. The seeds for Hogan/Andre were planted the summer before the show, when beloved Andre was written off TV (to film "The Princess Bride," yes, but it also gave the WWF the chance to "re-invent" Andre during his absence/suspension so that 8 months later, he returned to TV ready to finalize his heel turn).
    Of course, the Rock is 99% unlikely to be coaxed into doing anything this involved. Hell, he may make it his mission to never step foot in a ring again. Leaving WWE with significantly fewer (and less-attractive) options for trying to re-create a Big Time Atmosphere.
    Hogan's done countless nostalgia matches already, and one more return match at a WM3 "anniversary show" would only serve to remind us that Hogan's a full 20 years past his prime. It doesn't help that all signs point to Vince thinking that Hogan/Austin is the money match to end all money matches, which opens up that whole can of worms about fans being able to sniff out the difference between a match that means something and is relevant to the Actual Product and a match that is just a one-off exhibition.
    I dunno what'll happen... but since I do know we have a year to worry about it, I'll shut my yapper for now.
  • Another semi-surprise coming on Sunday: Jim Ross is replacing Joey Styles as RAW's play-by-play man for the night. Huh.
    Plus 10 for getting JR out there. Minus several million for doing it in a way that sends the subconscious message that Joey is a second-stringer.
    After what we saw at Saturday Night's Main Event, I thought that WWE was in a unique position of being able to present JR as being "Above the Brands." Thus, he was PERFECT as the play-by-play straightman, between SD!'s Tazz and RAW's Jerry Lawler. The three-man booth worked well, and I thought it should be reprised at all cross-brand shows.
    The message, if you have JR/Tazz/Lawler work entire shows together, is that "This is a special event, and in order to present our two brands equally, our announce team is special tonight, too, as we dust of the Dean of Wrestling Broadcasting to work with one representative of each brand." The message, if you have Tazz/Cole work SD! matches and have JR replace Joey in RAW's 3-man booth for the other half of the show is a lot different.
    It's not been made 100% clear if this is what WWE's doing, but the stated plan is for JR to "replace" Joey for the PPV... that leads me to believe that both brands will have their full announce teams, as they always have in the past, instead of just going with one, cohesive Special Announce Team for the entire show. Bah.
    I like my idea better. And plus, it makes my brain hurt that you'd throw somebody out of the RAW booth, and have it NOT be Coach.
  • TNA last weekend bounced up a tick to score a 0.9 rating. Didn't strike me as a particularly thrilling episode. Not necessarily lacking or anything, but it was definitely more about introducing some different pairings for the next PPV (things like Sabu/Joe and Christian/Abyss are kind of out-of-left-field and not part of any on-going compelling storylines) than anything else.
    I'm interested to see how Impact does this weekend, head-to-head with the WWE Hall of Fame special on USA Network. We'll finally get a solid idea of just how much cross-over there is between WWE's audience and TNA's. And then we'll find out which product that cross-over audience picks in a head-to-head setting.
    For whatever it's worth, I think TNA might have missed an opportunity. I quickly scanned over their TV tapings results from last night, and they made absolutely no effort to do any major angle or free-per-view match that could be promoted for the next 5 days in an attempt to leech a few viewers away from WWE.
    Confidence enough to just do "business as usual" in the head-to-head setting? Or does TNA just not want to piss off WWE too badly and risk future Scheduling Retaliation?
  • About the Hall of Fame? I lied last week when I said it'd be a tape-delayed telecast on USA.
    Instead, the last hour will be presented live at 11pm (which is only 10pm in Chicago, which is reasonable, and which I didn't think of). And WWE is actually presenting the first two hours on their website if you're the type of person with the temperament to watch TV on your computer.
  • WWE got good press yesterday on the businesswire. Good for them, that is. Probably bad for us.
    First, they were mentioned specifically as the key reason that USA Network regained the crown of the Highest Rated Basic Cable Network in Primetime for the quarter. The article I saw explicitly made the connection between USA's ratings gains versus one year ago and SpikeTV's losses, and credited the return of RAW to USA for a big chunk of that.
    Good for WWE (and USA). Bad for us. Because this only reinforces the corporate belief that WWE is doing Just Fine, and might even be Better Than Ever. Because look: We saved USA Network! That's right, dum dums, keep on being too spineless to want to compete against your own legacy and past (critical and ratings) excellence; you might discover deficiencies in the product that SOME intrepid visionary might view as OPPORTUNITIES TO IMPROVE, and then somebody might actually have to do some fucking work to fix things... and that sounds like too big a hassle, doesn't it.

    So instead, just keep on measuring yourself up against VH-1's brain-meltingly-horrifying reality TV block, women's college basketball on ESPN2, and non-stop re-runs of "Cheers" on Nick at Night. You can totally CRUSH those guys, even with 95% of your writers' brains apparently amputated and sitting in jars in the basement!
    And the second good news for WWE is that they are launching a new WWE Music division. And this is bad news for us, because we'll have to listen to it. Specifically mentioned is WWE's idea that if they are going to have their talents releasing albums (ugh, Cena), they can do it in-house. Also, since music is such a big part of WWE shows, this will allow WWE the chance to find and spotlight their own artists. Which I'm betting means absolutely no change in the average quality of our monthly PPV Theme Songs. Oy.
  • And lastly, I'll mention that WWE's apparently re-signing of every available 6'5" never-was that's on the market continues...
    Sean O'Haire worked dark matches at WWE tapings this week, which is the precise path followed by Chuck Palumbo and Test as they were official signed back to WWE. It stands to reason he's jumped to the top of that list of guys we've been talking about on WWE's wish list... we'll see if any official announcement is forthcoming.
    The funny thing is, O'Haire's potential comeback has already generated more response and feedback than the other half-dozen or so guys combined (in my in-box, anyway)... one can't help but see O'Haire's potential, but I gotta say, the fanatic devotion some internet types have towards the guy baffles me. Because I don't see any kind of a finished product there, I just see the potential: a guy who DEFINITELY has the look of a pro wrestler, but who has only shown sporadic glimpses of the SKILL SET of a pro wrestler.
    In the ring, yes, the guy does a Swanton Bomb, and it looks neat. But does anybody else have any really solid memory of anything else about O'Haire's in-ring ability? I know I don't...
    Personality-wise, he was the beneficiary of some VERY slick WWE vignettes about 2 years ago, in which he perfectly captured a sort of "American Psycho" vibe that seemed cool and dangerous all at once. Almost like a Waylon Mercy for the 21st Century (yes, I mean that in a good way!). But you put him in front of an audience with a live mic, and all that went away, and he never connected with fans outside of those vignettes.
    That said, the potential is still there. The potential to expand in the ring is there if you're that big and are agile enough to fly. The potential to connect with fans is there if you can take the comfort level you have in front of a camera and have it in front of 20,000 fans. It's just that the pragmatist in me also sees that it's been over six years since O'Haire was a young, potential-laden rookie in WCW, and he still hasn't broken through. Surely, that is not insignificant?
    We'll just have to wait and see.
    And as all these comebacks by marginal ex-mid-carders pile up, I'm beginning to wonder where WWE intends to put them.... this is the company that can't find a spot for Shooter Albright on the main roster, but will apparently be working Henry O. Godwinn back into the mix? Baffling.
  • That's it for today. The WrestleMania Feature-y gOOdness starts tomorrow, and follows on through to the Team Coverage PPV Preview. So there should be more than enough to keep you occupied for many happy returns to OO over the weekend. Enjoy. 

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PPV RECAP: WWE WrestleMania 28



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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