This week's episode of RAW was emanating from Japan. "Emanating" is JR-fabe for "not coming live from", though a debate over the value of "live" pro wrestling in a WWE monopoly (with apologies to the dirtsheets, TNA isn't competition) is long overdue.
Last week I suggested that Vince McMahon needed to look at his competition, that being all television shows rather than simply other pro wrestling shows, and steal ideas from them the way he used to steal ideas from other wrestling shows.
A good place to start would be Bravo's new reality series "Project Runway."
"Project Runway" features a number of aspiring fashion designers competing against each other to avoid elimination in weekly episodes. The final three designers will get to present their own creations in a full fashion show.
The strengths of "Project Runway" are a solid mix of flamboyant characters, glamorous locations, actual models, challenges, structure, meaningful jeopardy, drama, and critics.
With that in mind, let's get back to RAW, still emanating from Japan...
The finish of Benoit vs Jericho was nice with Benoit using axe kicks to fight off the "Lion Tamer" crab and then turning it into a "modified" somethingorother for the tap out.
I have nothing against Chris Jericho, but obviously someone else does. How many matches has he won on TV in the last six months? Yet somehow, despite his frequent losses, Jericho is still treated like a major star on the show.
This is where Vince needs to apply the concept of meaningful jeopardy. A guy who loses week after week shouldn't get to have his own interview segment. I don't recall "In this corner with Frankie Williams" from my childhood.
If the WWE is going to book Jericho down loser's lane, they ought to make the trip meaningful for his character and for their fans. He ought to lose more than what Gorilla Monsoon used to refer to as "the winner's share of the purse." He ought to lose his place.
Imagine Edge beating Jericho and then jamming with Fozzy the following week. Imagine Chris Benoit's Highlight Reel. This concept isn't new to pro wrestling. The Freebirds ran a great series with Robert Fuller where they not only took his tag titles but also took his car and then cut a promo dangling his keys.
One of the problems with RAW is that nothing has any consequences, short term or long term. One of the WWE's best ideas was giving the winner of the Royal Rumble a title shot a Mania, but in previous years they shit all over their creation by then passing that right around in subsequent matches. Even now it makes little sense as Edge got a title shot sooner for doing nothing.
Everything on WWE programs should have the appearance of being earned. Only then will consequences attached to results create the desired drama.
The WWE aired a nice studio edited piece with shots of Japan and comments from the wrestlers about their trip.
These production pieces have long been a bragging point for the WWE, an area where they could compete with any show, not just by pro wrestling standards.
Contrast this tight, attractive segment with the segment involving Christian and Stacy that followed later from some anonymous location in the bowels of the Saitama Super Arena.
Why does the WWE still insist on these poorly acted, deadly dull "backstage" vignettes? If they shot Christian and Stacy picking their fight in a bar in Rappongi the night before, with lots of glamour shots of the bar and quick cuts of the banter (allowing for plenty of retakes instead of settling for lines that are flubbed or ad-libbed), they wouldn't need "zoom-in-and-out cam" to try to dress up high school playhouse.
"Seasick cam" is dead. I don't see it on any popular television shows. This new "zoom in-and-out cam" is no better and again, no one with an ounce of taste or self-respect would dare to use it.
But getting back to the emanating...
The WWE aired another horrible location shot of Ric Flair and Triple H yakking in the Evolution Locker Room. I still don't see any girls, though Flair does look like an old madam with those pencil thin, looks like he drew them, eyebrows.
Flair was wearing a t-shirt. I guess he got tired of those "suit guy" jibes. Oh never mind, he's "wrestling" later.
Flair mentions the "subservient" women in Japan. Maybe the people who thought Flair was gunning for heat against Butch Reed were missing the obvious. Flair certainly missed the obvious if he wasn't trying to make himself look bad here.
Triple H looks like he borrowed some of Kevin Nash's "Breck Girl" formula. This dull crap would have been edited out of "Project Runway", or at least it would have been shot at a sushi bar with lots of subservient eye candy.
It's almost as if Triple H is afraid to share the screen with women because he knows the audience will watch them rather than him. Either that or he's afraid his wife will get suspicious. Regardless, this segment failed the "tightness" test. If RAW can't come up with two hours of quality content, perhaps they should go back to doing a one hour program like the old days.
Speaking of wasted time, the segment with Christian, Stacy, and others that I mentioned earlier occurred here. "Project Runway" uses Heidi Klum as brand name eye candy hostess. Her delivery is unremarkable and her accent isn't a positive, so clearly she's there for name value and looks.
Along those lines, wouldn't I rather look at Stacy Keibler before and after matches than at some dork trying to act hip or some dork trying to look dorky on the WWE weekend shows? What this parade of pathetic studio hosts has in common, aside from not being attractive enough to get work in shaving commercials, is that they evince the same level of love and respect for pro wrestling as Lee Marshall did in the AWA and WCW.
From Pettingill to the casually slobby guy hosting the weekend show now, the WWE has never understood how to cast a host that ads value to their product.
Unfortunately Stacy couldn't save this wretched segment because the action was all keyed off Christian's comments. All she could do was respond. Vince should ask his writers why weak, uncharismatic characters are allowed to drive the action in scenes with stronger characters, like why Maven got to take the initiative leading into his match with Batista.
Trip and Flair shot a stooging heel commercial for Mania. I'm all in favor of stooging, though Flair looked like Al Hays getting stuck with the donkey, an appropriate role for him now though not one his fanboys will enjoy, but the overall feeling was way too dumb, like something only bush league pro wrestling would think was effective.
Maven came out and cut a heel promo. He's wrestling against a heel, or against a face who hasn't declared himself, or something. The alliances on "Project Runway" do shift from week to week, so this isn't necessarily a weakness, though it is a departure from the usual way of doing business.
The key is that characters have to maintain some internal logic. Too often pro wrestling writes "tweener" characters as enigmatic characters with no discernable logic rather than as characters caught in a dilemma.
Batista's actions throughout the show seemed to fall short of discernable logic toward that lower pro wrestling standard. Vince needs to aim higher, especially if he's going to get away from the safety of black and white face vs heel booking. Fans need a reason to invest their emotions in a character and they can't do that if the character has no internal logic.
Batista squashed Maven in two moves. Perhaps no one noticed that Batista got over by working long segments in tag team matches where he took plenty of bumps for his opponents. Suddenly he's the new Nikita Koloff. Or maybe someone noticed and wants to kill him off by making his matches unwatchable?
Speaking of Triple H, he gets to beat one of the top heels to prove his worth to the fans of Japan. No Maven for him. And again Trip vs Edge is a departure from the safety of heel vs face and again it's not an interesting trip.
Triple H is so focused on Batista and Mania that it is clear Edge's challenge is meaningless. Why should we care if their is no sense of jeopardy? Jim Ross screaming about the possibility of a new champion is a poor substitute for well written dialog everywhere else.
After Batista's match, a promo from the Big Show aired on the big screen. Jim Ross feigned confusion. The logic is that a show totally out of control is somehow more compelling. The reality is that Ross' reaction was embarrassing and made no sense.
Ross should have surmised that Teddy Long bribed a member of the production crew to air that clip rather than suggesting that the events of the show were inexplicable, but then Ross apparently isn't a quick thinker since he knew this was coming for days.
Summing up further emanations...
Lawler exclaimed "Look at how many people we have in this arena!" which probably reminded viewers of how dim and sparse the arenas look at tapings here in the US, much less house shows.
Regal and Tajiri winning the tag titles was an example of a challenge with meaningful jeopardy that created some drama, though those titles don't mean much in the current scheme of RAW.
Flair vs Shawn was funny on several levels. Japanese fans popped when Flair grabbed a single leg, let out a "Whoo!", got caught by an enzuigiri, and did the faceplant, but then comedy matches have always worked in Japan.
Shawn Michaels proved this critic wrong by whipping out his new "five moves of doom", taking Flair home with a "flying" forearm, a back body drop, and body slam, a flying elbow drop, and a superkick. There was a nip up in there as well, though it wasn't done for dramatic effect but rather in cursory fashion. "Five moves of doom" indeed.
The main event was Triple H vs Edge in a wannabe cheered vs heel match. One could try arguing the point, but when Trip was struggling for the rope break and the crowd starting cheering for him, it was clear that he was playing face to people who actually understand the work of pro wrestling rather than focusing on the promos.
Of course Triple H doesn't appreciate match analysis and critics because he is extremely insecure. One of the highpoints in any episode of "Project Runway" is the segment where contestants have to face their critics. Indeed, this is such a popular concept that the identifiable face of "American Idol" and one of the most identifiable faces in all reality TV is a critic.
Of course pro wrestling couldn't have critics breaking kayfabe on the art of dramatic fakery, that's asking a bit too much, but perhaps they could have Ross and Lawler spend a minute or two to analyze what went wrong with the game plan during a match rather than just screaming numbing, empty hype.
The biggest weakness on RAW is the complete absence of format. They do not have signature music that quickly identifies the show as viewers flip. They return from commercial to the ring, a backstage vignette, a video feature, or a shot of the announcers with no rhyme or reason or consistency.
One can blame this bush league level of organization on the show being live, though other live shows manage to do a much better job of all of the above, but that begs the question of whether RAW is better off being a sloppy live show than a tighter pre-recorded show.
The weekend shows are poorly cast and produced, as mentioned earlier, plus they are a rehash of the two major shows, so it isn't fair to use their current quality or ratings to measure the potential of a pre-recorded show.
I'll have to watch SmackDown to see if the WWE is gaining any advantage beyond the opportunity to shamelessly sweeten the audience reactions. Unfortunately SmackDown! has always seemed like an attempt to "be like RAW" with the same ugly, stumbling backstage vignettes.
Vince McMahon really needs to watch his competition to recalibrate his standards for entertaining television, assuming that he hasn't gone Gagne and stopped watching his own shows.
The finish of the main event? Well the referee took a bump, removing any sense of drama and jeopardy from the action for several minutes. Batista then came down and did some things which only seem to make sense to pro wrestling fans.
In the end Triple H won, which was obvious since he was so unconcerned about Edge earlier in the evening that he could look ahead several weeks to a possible meeting with Batista, who only he and Ric Flair still seem to think is on their side.
"Batista squashed Maven in two moves. Perhaps no one noticed that Batista got over by working long segments in tag team matches where he took plenty of bumps for his opponents. Suddenly he's the new Nikita Koloff. Or maybe someone noticed and wants to kill him off by making his matches unwatchable?"
This is really smart point that I'm kind of pissed I hadn't made yet myself.
I'd also point out that the othert thing that has really kept Batista over is that he hasn't been put into a series of matches against Helmsley yet.
I pretty much don't agree with good chunk of your piece here as I like the weekend shows more than pretty much anything they do during the week.
The Demott/Mathews commentary team was really good one. Its fallen apart since Demott left as Mathews has moved from being the play by play guy to the color role where he isn't much good and the new play by play guy is nothing but cliches and weird voice inflections.
That said Heat and Velocity are the only shows were any of the workers get to show off their movesets. Seeing what Venis can do with Benjamin is really the one match from this weeks tapings that I'm most interested in.
But the one other point I'd want to make is:
" After Batista's match, a promo from the Big Show aired on the big screen. Jim Ross feigned confusion. The logic is that a show totally out of control is somehow more compelling. The reality is that Ross' reaction was embarrassing and made no sense.
Ross should have surmised that Teddy Long bribed a member of the production crew to air that clip rather than suggesting that the events of the show were inexplicable, but then Ross apparently isn't a quick thinker since he knew this was coming for days."
Actually this isn't just one of those this "show is out of control spots" that Ross should have covered as you state.
The videos being shown are being treated as a "WHO IS THE HIGHER POWER? WHO RAN OVER AUSTIN? " MYSTERY ANGLE. With no one knowing how the video footage got there and long segments built on people being angry by the presence of the footage...Teddy Long denying it, etc.
This mystery angle involves long Helmsley as B'rear Rabbit "cerebral gameplaying" segments. Acting upset that Bradshaw would want Batista to challenge for the Smackdown belt segments...acting upset that Batista might leave.
Its a stupid stupid Mystery angle... and there was alot to criticize Ross for tonight but selling a mystery angle by acting confused is what he was supposed to do.
: Actually this isn't just one of those this "show is : out of control spots" that Ross should have covered : as you state.
: The videos being shown are being treated as a "WHO IS : THE HIGHER POWER? WHO RAN OVER AUSTIN? " MYSTERY ANGLE.
Not by Ross, at least not when it happened. His reaction prior to the commericial was "what the fuck" as opposed to "who the fuck." I don't believe he mentioned that it had happened before or asked who could be behind it. He sold it more like a mistake than a "Phantom of the RAWpera."
: Actually, those are just the sort of thing the E : does all the time, with questionably entertaining : results.
Could it be dumber than Trip's new Mania commercial?
I'm not asking for thirty minutes of Edge singing. All they need to do is put together thirty seconds of clips with Edge sucking and Fozzy fans getting pissed off to show that Jericho's loss had some consequences. As it is, Jericho loses week after week and none of the losses mean anything in terms of his placement within the company. That makes the losses themselves appear totally meaningless, which robs the matches themselves of any drama.
Put it this way, if no one was ever eliminated from Survivor or American Idol or Project Runway, how much drama would the voting or judging sequences have?
I'm pretty sure this was an Antonio Pena idea (which possibly doesn't rule out either choice.) He's credited with coming up with the modren mini concept and part of that was creating mini versions of existing wrestlers.