How To Improve Raw & WWE Programming In General (One Year On)

A year ago when I first started this website I wrote an article on ‘8 Ways To Improve Raw (& WWE In General)’. It focused on the 8 ways I thought WWE could change to fix their plummeting ratings. Since then, ratings have dropped even lower so I’m back again to show them the light.

Actually, a few of my ideas were implemented by WWE (not that I’m really taking credit), the Brand Split itself has helped with some of these, but they’re some issues that still remain and even newer problems have arisen. Here we go, my two cents on How To Improve Raw (& WWE In General).

The Third Hour

Let’s once again get the big one out of the way first. In my opinion it’s Raw’s biggest problem, but it’s also the one that won’t be fixed. Why? Because it makes too much money dummy! Advertising revenue drives this decision but unfortunately it leads to quantity over quality.

0raw3hours642x361Raw and WWE programming continue to suffer from far too much filler and not enough killer product. Back before the Brand Split it was even worse with 3 hours of Raw, 2 for Smackdown and another 2 for Main Event and Superstars all under the same umbrella. Since the split they’ve been able to focus slightly, but Smackdown is appreciating this far more than Raw. The ‘A’ show still struggles to produce quality entertainment for all of that time.

If you cut the third hour you turn the problem on its head. Instead of being desperate to fill time WWE should be struggling to get everything they need into the show. This will up the tempo of the whole show and wont leave time for any down time. At the end of Raw WWE should want their fans to be desperate to see what happens next not desperate for the show to end! Less is more!

Which actually takes me to the even bigger problem. There’s simply too much product to watch in general. Raw, Smackdown (Main Event & Superstars) and NXT is 8 hours a week already. Don’t forget about the brand new Cruiserweight show on the WWE Network. Never mind the fact that there’s more PPVs than ever before, roughly 2 a month, and that PPV length is growing too! Wrestlemania, excluding the pre-show was 5 hours. SummerSlam and Survivor Series are 4. I’m assuming the Royal Rumble will follow this pattern.

It’s all too much. I do not have time, or rather simply refuse to make the time to watch all of these shows. However, the point remains the same. Quantity over quality is not the way to go. If you can’t fill all of your time with great content, trim it down!


Too Formulaic

Last year I said that Raw (and WWE in general) had become too predictable. There was a formula that every Raw followed. The same formula was then seen on Smackdown too. It went something like:

  • Opening promo
  • Add break to end the promo
  • First match that gets cut in half by an advert.
  • Authority segment, followed by a recap
  • Rematch from last week
  • Some 50/50 booking
  • Authority segment
  • rematch, with a recap of earlier.
  • 3v3 main event
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The Authority maybe off television, but Stephanie remains as does the formula for all Raw’s.

Every week it was the same thing, it became predictable and fans felt that they could miss an hour or the entire show and not miss anything. It’s one of the reasons NXT became so popular as it was offering something that looked and felt totally different from the main shows. WWE still needs to get the fans believing that ‘Anything can happen in World Wrestling Federation’ again but it has improved slightly. This is in part due to the fact that The Authority has taken a back seat again instead of being the thing the show revolved around.

It’s not perfect and definitely still needs more of a shake up, but there have been some slight improvements. However, this has mostly been due to the fact that Smackdown has its own identity rather than Raw itself improving. A lot of the things I wanted Raw to change are the same, bu they have been changed on Smackdown. The problems Raw suffers from are still there but they aren’t as obvious or frustrating as the other show isn’t just a mini Raw.

The use of different camera angles for example makes a huge difference. New stage designs have been brought in, new theme music too. Title changes have even started to happen as well. Which makes watching the TV show worth it and keeps fans guessing. In the past year the US Title, World Title and Raw Women’s Title have all changed hands on TV and its been great. Don’t over do it though as it will lose it’s novelty.


The Cruiserweight Problem

20180919_coc_perkinsbrian-dedc244ee870f1c61a079cac146b2a9aI think it’s fair to say that the cruiserweight division has not got off to the best of starts on Raw. Multi-man matches, no characters and whats worse is that WWE seem to be limiting the style that they work.

If I’m honest this is everything I thought the new cruiserweight division would be. Personally I would never have brought it back full-time. What worked for the cruiserweight classic was always going to struggle on the main show, but it hasn’t been helped with how it was introduced. Mick Foley reading names from a piece of paper? Really?! That’s what we’re going with here? Useless.

So what’s wrong with the cruiserweight division? The lack of characters is a huge part. Why would fans cheer for people they don’t know? Former champion TJ Perkins was as bland a babyface as you could get. His entire gimmick is ‘I used to be homeless and now like video games, also I do that stupid dab dance move’. Not exactly inspiring. Luckily Brian Kendrick, the veteran, has taken over the lead as champion. He’s also the divisions only heel so at least there’s a focal point to look at.

Meanwhile, multi-man matches are dull. They have no stakes and no meaning. Especially when they are repeated most shows and PPVs (I’ll get back to 50/50 booking and re-matches later). They need to give people a chance to show off their characters and then give them a reason to be wrestling. A number one contenders tournament so soon since the classic would look odd, so maybe just two triple threat matches with the winners moving to a one on one match. Winner challenges at the next PPV. It’s not perfect but its something!

The real issue the division has is that the style is no longer special. Especially if WWE are (as rumoured) restricting what they can do. For example, Seth Rollins is a heavyweight who wrestles like a cruiserweight and everyone on the roster does a suicide dive, including the likes of Luke Harper and Big E. Who are massive dudes. Truth is, with modern wrestlers becoming more athletic all the time they are no longer unique. If WWE really want to make this division special, you have to let them shine. There’s no point in holding them back, other than making sure they don’t do the incredibly indie thing of kicking out of every finisher under the sun.

Focusing On The Whole Card

20160926_hiac_match_romanrusev-7238b685bd5a4b2882196aa1622b51abPreviously I complained that after a decade of terrible booking the importance of the midcard titles had fallen drastically. It got to the point where basically the only title that mattered was the World Title. It bred a fan mentality that unless their favourite superstar is involved in the main event then “It doesn’t matter, it’s not the World Title is it? He’s being buried!”. As if there’s only two places on the card at all 1. World Champion or 2. Doesn’t matter.

It’s relatively easy to fix though, treat everyone as if they matter. Give everyone interesting storylines and time on the shows. Book the Intercontinental, US and Tag Team Titles as if they all mean something and that the people holding them matter. It won’t happen over night, but give it a few years and people will be able to appreciate everyone on the card.

Luckily since the Brand Split this has been happening. The Intercontinental Title just had the hottest rivalry on Smackdown and the US Title is being held by Roman Reigns. Whether or not you like Reigns doesn’t matter. He’s a big name holding that title and that will bring legitimacy as WWE focus on it more. Just like when Cena held it a year or so ago.

Not only this but the women are finally being booked onto a similar level as the men. They just headlined a PPV for the first time ever and inside a Hell In A Cell match too. Wrestling shows always have been a total package. You need everyone from curtain jerkers to main eventers and everyone in between to matter to create a great show. It’s that simple. WCW didn’t understand this when they let all of their cruiserweights leave to join WWE thinking that the only reason people watched was the NWO.


The Announce Team

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Corey Graves has been an excellent addition to the Raw announce team. While Michael Cole and Byron Saxton remain restricted in what they can do.

Thanks to the Brand Split we all got the announce team shake up that we were so desperate for. JBL has been moved to Smackdown, Jeryy ‘The King’ Lawler has been moved to the PPV pre-show panels. We’ve still got Michael Cole as the anchor of the team and Bryon Saxton remains, but Corey Graves has been added to the trio. It’s so much better than it used to be.

The problem remains that Vince still doesn’t trust his team. He’s forever in their ears telling them what to do and how to say it. Too much is scripted (we’ll return to this later) and Cole or Saxton says feels natural. Corey might be in a similar position, but his character and charisma allows him to pull it off.

With everything so scripted and lines fed to them nothing feels in the moment or truly connected to what they are witnessing. At Wrestlemania foe example you could clearly see Michael Cole reading from his script as Shane McMahon jumped off the top of Hell In A Cell saying the line ‘For the love of Mankind” an obvious nod to Mick Foley. It’s a decent line, don’t get me wrong. It just didn’t feel real or have any once of legitimate concern in it. And why would it, a man only fell 20 or so feet onto a table. It would be a good idea to take away the scripts and let them commentate with a free rein.

If you watched the Beast In The East network special from a while back, then you would have heard some fantastic commentary from Cole and Saxton. They talked about the matches, gave history lessons, called moves correctly and generally helped improved the viewing experience. No, it wasn’t perfect but it was a hell of a lot better than what you used to hear on Raw or PPV! This is an example of what they could do if they were given slightly more freedom.

WWE have taken one huge step in the right direction, they just need to take another.


Blood Is Good!

This one is a slightly odd one now. For year WWE completely banned all blood, blading is a thing of the past. Even accidental bleeding led to doctors stopping matches to patch people up before it could continue.

brock-lesnar-hell-in-a-cell-645x370

Brock Lesnar has a monopoly all bleeding in WWE, but more often than not it’s done in a none safe way.

Yet, more recently blood has been appearing more and more. Mostly it seems when Brock Lesnar is involved. He seems to be above everyone else’s rules and just do what he wants. Yet again, it always seems to be from ‘the hard way’. Most recently the ending to the Lesnar/Orton SummerSlam match ended with Brock legitimately elbowing Randy in the head until he was busted wide open. Considering how against blading Vince is and how careful WWE are about concussions, this is a little odd.

 

Now I don’t want to see blood everyday, the opposite in fact. Use it sparingly, use it for impact. Think back to the Hell in a Cell match between Undertaker and Brock Lesnar last year, they both bled and it made the match look brutal. As Hell in a Cell matches should! It added to the spectacle and made it look so much more intense and personal. This years event didn’t see blood in any of the 3 matches and in honesty, it felt lacking. We don’t need it every week, but if used wisely it can have a huge impact on the story you are trying to tell.


50/50 Booking and The Rematch Epidemic

This is a problem that all of WWE is currently suffering from. 50/50 booking and endless rematches. 50/50 booking is the equivalent of stop/start booking. No one really gets over and everyone suffers. Not only is it used in repetitive matches that we’ve seen far too many times. It’s also incredibly boring to watch. Wrestle A lost to Wrestle B on PPV? Well guess what, Wrestler B will be winning the rematch on Raw!

When The Club debuted, they’d beaten and lost to The Usos more times in a month than I’d care to see in a year. As a result, The Club never built any real momentum while The Usos just remained stagnant.

50/50 booking has improved slightly recently. I’m specifically thinking about AJ Styles beating John Cena twice in a row. No one really saw it coming, but we all wanted it! Since then Styles has moved onto become WWE World Champion and is having a great run on Smackdown.

The rematch problem is still prevalent however. At the recent Hell In A Cell PPV the majority of the matches were rematches. Nothing felt fresh, nothing felt new. Because it wasn’t. Sasha and Charlotte or Owens and Rollins clashing multiple times makes sense, they’re right at the top of their respective groups. However, The New Day verses Cesaro and Sheamus was a rematch from the week before! Why would you book a match that you’re trying to sell for a PPV the week before! That’s madness.

The problem also occurs the other way around. Why pay for the PPV or the network when most matches will have a rematch the very next night on Raw? It’s a really simple idea; someone has to lose a feud. That much is obvious. But things don’t have to be even the whole way through. Once in a while it would be really fresh to see someone just win.


Scripted Promos

6afa2a23ead4ff20c1b30a45030f1647Scripted promos are the bane of wrestling. Wrestlers have never really been known as the greatest actors, so forcing them to remember line after line is a disaster. Some talent can’t talk very well on a microphone. Take Ryback for example, rubbish on the mic but good at shouting “Feed me more!” and slapping himself in the head. It works for him. Others such as The Rock or Stone Cold had a way with words.

The issue is most wrestlers just sound like they are reading from a script. They lose the passion and the intensity. Roman Reigns suffers a lot from this, he’s too busy remembering his lines (which granted are often awful as well) to deliver them in convincing manner.

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Overly scripted promos make even the most entertaining people on the microphone sound generic.

The problem even affects talented talkers too. Take Seth Rollins recent face turn for example. Granted the crowd are still firmly behind him, but one of the reasons he is struggling is his promos. The awful jokes that babyfaces are fed making everyone a mini John Cena are just terrible. Repeatedly calling Chris Jericho ‘sparkle crotch’ give me a break!

Even Paul Heyman struggled the other week. Paul Heyman! He was told to go out there and react a certain way when the crowd chanted for Goldberg. But the crowd didn’t chant for Goldberg, they chanted for Brock Lesnar. Firstly, that should have been expected it was in Minnesota. Secondly for whatever reason, Heyman had to stick to this story even though the opposite was happening.

Let the people who can talk, talk. Give them the bullet points sure, but show them a little faith. Let them react to the situation. It will feel more real because it in part will be and it will be far more entertaining. Hell, one of the reasons why The Rock and Steve Austin were so great to listen to was because they would improvise on the fly and bounce off one another. There was always an intensity as they tried to out do each other all the while keeping the story line on track and building to the next level.


So there are some of my ideas to help improve Raw, do you disagree with any of my points or do you have any ideas of your own?

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