Sunday, March 20, 2011

So Who Was That Guy Again?

As a rule I prefer house shows to televised events. I think in many situations you will find the ‘truth’ of wrestling fans at these shows. Without the devilish lure of being on TV, and being ‘seen’, fans have this opportunity to just be fans instead of painful attempts at being their own version of the entertainment they enjoy. There are not many human beings that can resist becoming a spectacle when the opportunity presents itself. I cringe weekly when watching Raw, Smackdown! and TNA. Please note that I did not mention Superstars. I’ll get to that, but back to the subject. So when a sign is put up, or a chant is started, it bares the purity of the action. I as a fan would like to show you my appreciation of you as a wrestler.

The energy is completely different because it reminds me of my first experiences watching World Class Championship Wrestling at the Sportatorium in Dallas Texas, and how that spurned a lifelong love for professional wrestling. It is that sense of burgeoning wonder and spontaneity that is usually lost in the televised events as everyone has to be so mindful of the glaring eye of the camera lens. So if you have not attended a house show, I highly recommend them because of this energy. It feels like life; real and upstaged. Even though we all know that everything is, it doesn’t feel like it because of the nature of the show. Everyone is free to respond as they see fit without much penalty. No one has any evidence other than what they thought they saw or heard. The difference is telling in how the fans respond, and how the wrestlers themselves are able to respond back. Then wrestling becomes more of the community that I’ve always felt like it should be. When I go to a wrestling event, I fondly refer to other wrestling fans as my people, and I see them as that. This feeling is even more so at house shows than any other.

During these shows you do meet a different kind of fan than you run across in an average televised event. I’ve had more conversations about wrestling, and why it is enjoyed within these audiences than I do at televised events. The air is calmer, more casual, and people know that they are speaking to someone else that actually loves wrestling, and isn’t there just to be on TV. This creates a bond that cannot be surpassed. So when one of these conversations reveal something about the way wrestling is perceived, I listen because there is an undeniable level of truth here that should be considered.

My best friend and I usually attend wrestling events together, and last night in Roanoke Virginia for a Smackdown! house show was no different. We sat next to a family that we ended up having a conversation with throughout the night, which is our way. We talked shop. Who we like, who we don’t like, and what is going on with this story. You know wrestling fan shop talk. The moment of revelation happened during the Curt Hawkins – Percy Watson match as the family told us that they had no idea who either of these men were, and furthermore why should they care. So my best friend took the hit, and explained the story with a brief history of each performer. Then after a few details they were able to admit that some of this sounded familiar. This is not an uncommon story when you go to wrestling events. Performers are often either well known, or floundering in obscurity before being handed their future endeavors packet. However I’m not entirely sure if this is fair.

Case in point. Normally I would just assume that these people are just not avid fans like my best friend and myself. But this was not the case. After speaking to the husband/father half of this family we learned that he had actually trained to be a wrestler in the feeder federation that was based in the area for WCW before it was bought out. He was being trained to go in as a Piper relative before WCW completely imploded. So this was not a casual fan by any means. He understood the nature of the performance, had some pretty successful matches, and knew the sometimes hidden ins and outs of the business. So this revelation makes me rethink this assumption. If this person who is an avid watcher of most WWE programming has no idea who either participant is in one match of a house show event when this person is not prescreened talent, how does the average fan fair?

Now we talk about Superstars. While Percy Watson is explained by the NXT debacle, Superstars is the show that had been doing Curt Hawkins a grave injustice. This has been the show that has featured performers like Curt Hawkins, Tyler Reks, Chavo Guerrero, the previous tag team champions of Santino and Koslov for months now as the A-listers only made brief appearances during the first month or so of production. So this spurred a logistics conversation between my best friend and I. Does the WWE creative staff consider featuring this level of talent on Superstars ‘pertinent’ TV time? Because if it is, or was as the case may be since it has been cancelled, the fan base may be virtually unaware that they were to use Superstars to discover new talent. While pre-established characters like Guerrero, Santino, and Koslov can survive the Superstars burying, a new and growing character like Hawkins cannot.

I stopped watching Superstars about 2 months ago when it became apparent that all I would be watching was the same series of matches without any additional information. Keep in mind that I have rescheduled dates and events to make sure I catch wrestling. Storylines were not created on Superstars. They weren’t even fleshed out. These were all mostly stand-alone matches that offered the appeal of preteen tennis when none of the kids participating are yours. It’s cute enough, but not able to sustain a wide audience.

Near the end, Superstars was more of a recap show for Raw, which I think was the final nail in its coffin. If the WWE is not careful, Smackdown! will have to deal with the same disturbing distinction as more Raw programming is being featured on Smackdown! because of the ratings it is generating on SyFy. I wonder why the WWE elite have assumed that people who are tuning in to Smackdown! would like more Raw? Why would people watching Superstars really want more Raw? But this seems to be a reoccurring theme that is not doing lower tier performers or other shows any favors.

Performers like Curt Hawkins can no more be repacked as a new range Triple H no more than Superstars can be used solely to advertise for Raw. You see you already have viewers for Raw, and it will grow, or recede based on its own merit. The idea is to create viewers for that show through that show’s programming that may one day decide to watch other WWE programming as well. Superstars never had a chance because the name of the show implied something that the show could not deliver, and the fan base was never really told what to expect.

As a romance novelist I have been accused of designing covers that don’t let the reader know that this is a romance novel. I maintain this is for a reason. I have a niche audience. I am looking for readers who don’t want your average formulaic romance novel so that I can avoid the customary ‘romance’ stigma.

Unfortunately the WWE has not endeavored to do the same for some of their burgeoning talent. The packaging after all is very important. I understand that wrestling is a form of entertainment, and like any other form, there are levels of self-making that have to be created by the performer themselves. That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about sheer exposure so that the performer can ‘make’ themselves. Being featured weekly on Superstars turned into a death keel for many of the burgeoning talents. So I’m not sorry to see it go. I’m just afraid that it will not send the proper message to WWE higher ups in regards to handling programming, and how it effects talent development in the future.

I suppose I’m thinking that maybe with different goals that are more based on individual shows, and what they would like to achieve, something else can happen besides shows that all seem to try to lead the viewer back to the same show that just happened. With these shows not being used as baldy wielded marketing tools, things may feel a lot less like production. If it feels a lot less like production, maybe it will feel more like community. Then the truth that fans experience at house shows will be broadened, and perhaps that will increase the fan base as fans feel included instead of exploited. Then maybe every show can feel like a house show.

Curt Hawkins and Percy Watson had a good match last night, and people will be looking for them when they tune in. It’s a shame that they won’t find them.