Tuesday, August 10, 2010

From NXT to Nexus, What's NEXT?

I have watched and enjoyed professional wrestling for the bulk of my life. The only time I took a break from watching religiously is during the late 90's as WCW was going down the drain and WWE had turned itself into 'shock jock' television.

Needless to say I don't have anything particularly positive to say about the attitude era as it is referred to as. Seemed too much all the time. Seemed very little of it had anything to do with wrestling and more to do with sheer audacity. I couldn't make it through 5 minutes of the original ECW. I don't need people to do tragic things to themselves for the purpose of my entertainment. I respect what they do, but I can't actually enjoy it. I find myself nostalgic about wrestling because of the transformation that it has undertaken in recent years as the WWE has asserted itself as the big dog in this market.

While I was watching Raw last night I saw some of the flashes of old school storytelling and plot building that I used to find so interesting about professional wrestling as I was growing up. So much can be said without the use of a mic and it was nice that someone somewhere remembered that so those moments can happen in a seemingly spontaneous fashion.

The WWE versus Nexus angle and the build to SummerSlam seems to have the writers focused on something else besides fast revolutions of the title. So they had to actually take into account the personalities of the performers' characters and not on who would be what kind of champion. It's always been my opinion that good story telling in wrestling is about the characters not about the title. It isn't for the fan to be focused on the title, that's what the characters do; it's for the fan to be mystified at the lengths the characters will go to for the title. And respectful of what the characters are not willing to do.

I felt for a while that WWE was too title centered making the idea of who had the title the focal point. The title was more of a place setting for who they wanted pushed to the top instead of being an object that is pursued by all. When you view the title as a performer builder, you lose the validity of the title due to having what can be considered "weak' champions here and there. "If this clown can get it, why is it so cool?" ideologies. It limits the believable lengths someone would go to for it making personal grudges and feuds based on religion, family and all else necessary.

When the title is something that has to be plotted for and carefully stalked, it becomes an item of worth and extreme value. This would open up the doorway for intense rivalries again as personalities clash because everyone is reaching for the same spot and enemies are made. It broadens the believable lengths someone would go to for the title. The dynamic of the Nexus sweeping in to gain attention by any means necessary causing the forming, self annihilation and then begrudging kinship of Team WWE is the formula. Broadly state what needs to happen, why and what you are willing to do to get it.

I must admit I was hoping that the story was going in a more deceptive vein but for good. I wanted the old bait and switch route, having it only 'appear' that Edge and Jericho were splitting from the team to make Nexus feel as if they would go into SummerSlam with the advantage and then. . SURPRISE!! It was a trap they never quit, they are just trixy enough to make you believe it and the rest of the team let their more devious members show them how to properly ambush an opponent. Instead it looks like it may be going in the opposite direction. The resolution of this should be interesting.

I do believe it was smart to try and disconnect the Nexus from their original NXT rookie designation. This first group was a very charismatic captivating one. The original format was trying, but basically this group could've made anything work. As they are currently showing the world right now. With the exception of a couple of standouts, season two of NXT feels a little lacking. But I think that has more to do with the show’s sink or swim set-up.

It’s the disconnect between being a professional wrestling fan and a WWE fan. A person can be both like myself but I think a lot of people are just one or the other. I don't really think professional wrestling fans in general like to watch potential wrestlers flounder as they do on NXT. If they're like me they just feel for them. But I also don't really think most WWE fans understand the reason and meaning behind the challenges and what they have to do with someone being a superstar one day. Mostly because some of the challenges come off to me as industry jokes that I think most WWE fans don't get because the majority don't know enough of the history of professional wrestling to get them. Frankly I think it makes people feel stupid and in turn they question the intelligence of the show.

I think back to 'Tough Enough' and how utterly fascinating it was for someone like me. I have a varied performance background, mostly stage and I find the nuts and bolts of production very appealing. I preferred the 'Tough Enough' format because it appealed to my sensibilities of production, stage and training, I was already emotionally involved. People in general only want to know how something works if they get to see it in action so they can understand the connections. I think that is where 'Tough Enough' lost people, not enough of what was being learned was 'in action', in front of an audience. No connection between the work and the payoff.

Taking that queue, enter NXT where all you see is 'in action' in front of an audience. I think in this concept the WWE is trying too hard to focus on one frame instead of letting the reel roll. They insist on proposing that the secrets of professional wrestling are still mostly secret. I suppose for younger generations that is true. But it seems a little disrespectful to older fans and it forces that disconnect when younger fans get old enough that they have to prove they 'know better' than to believe what they are being fed. I realize that I'm still a fan because I've always known. There was no 'There is no Santa Claus' moment for me and professional wrestling. Thus I found the charm in it always pretending to be real. Mostly because as I child I still questioned it. "Mommie how could that not be real!”

Some of the aspects of NXT seem reality based. But with everything else being constantly staged, it’s impossible to believe that any of it is reality based. Something as simple as making things black and white when they are 'not being staged' and color when they are is a quick and dirty fix to that. People have to be able to trust what they see to some degree to become emotionally compelled so there has to be some separation between the 'show' and the 'SHOW'. The whole backstage thing is dead. Gotta find new tricks. Give the illusion of truth. That's what professional wrestling is all about right?

I appreciate the beginnings of wrestling still being honored, the carnival aspect, where they propagated the myths of wrestling instead of showing people the guts that goes along with the glory. It is its history, its magic, and I'm sure many people feel that this idea is part of what makes wrestling. It would be a shame to lose that all together when so much of it has already been lost.

I'm not talking about changing the format to any of the other shows. Just NXT. The WWE has an amazing opportunity with this show that I think they are not fully capitalizing on. I can only assume it’s out of fear, like not letting the competitors find out what the formula for Coke is. No one says you have to Gatorade yourself and tell your competitors exactly why your product is better so that they can mirror it. There has to be somewhere in the middle where just enough so called truth can be given to make it feel real.

A few months ago I watched "Love" which is the documentary that Cirque de Soliel produced to catalogue the show that was being developed using the music of The Beatles. What this did was show rehearsals, training, spoke to performers, producers and then gave glimpses of the finished product. At no point in time did I not believe that what I was watching was absolutely true. It was partially how it was shot but a lot more because of the people putting themselves into it. It focused on the strengths of production, not the weaknesses. I haven't been to a Cirque performance for years. What this did was make me absolutely want to go to the next Cirque performance I saw whether it was this show or not.

NXT should run a format virtually similar. If you don't have these truly larger than life personalities, make them personal interests until they develop the personalities they need to succeed. I would even go so far as to suggest they write who they are when its 'personal'. That's what all the other reality shows do.

What this current batch of rookies have is a lot of potential. They are rough around the edges and really should be given a little more leeway between who they are and who they are developing as a character. I don't think it should go as far as having a house and forcing them to be constantly together as it was in 'Tough Enough'. But it should integrate more behind the scenes information so that the fans learn to respect or dislike the person and then they can appreciate or criticize the development of character instead of just looking at someone and thinking 'they suck! ‘without any knowledge as to why that is. The panel of 'pros' helps but there needs to be more.

Right now NXT is 'Ultimate Fighter' that just shows the cage matches. That show is worth its weight in gold because you get to know a lot of people in a very short period of time. Coaches, potential fighters and the ins and outs of MMA. After watching a season of Ultimate Fighter the average person can speak knowledgeably and confidently about MMA. And they KNOW Dana White, the overseer of the UFC. This is emotional investment. People want to feel good about what they watch and be able to communicate well with other people about it or otherwise share it.

At wrestling events you still hear conversations about the reality of the story being told as fans now make other fans feel stupid because no one has truly come in to end the argument. It’s left all to speculation. People start to resent and judge each other for how they view the same thing. I've said it before I'll say it again. Wrestling needs to settle the argument, write its own truth and set itself free.