First, let me state that I agree completely with Retro Rob's post re: pro wrestling never truly jumping the shark. In fact, I agree with it so much that I'll quote it in full:
Originally posted by Retro RobI don't think the WWE will ever really jump the shark because of the wrestling cycle. TV series jump the shark because when they lose their audience, they usually don't get them back. The WWE loses it's audience, but it is able to sign and fire wrestlers in order to regain fan interest.
- Rob http://www.thesmartmarks.com
However, in the spirit of this thread, I will weigh in with my opinion, because I do believe that there is a definite sign of when WWF/E programming began its current downward spiral. Not necessarily a cause, mind you, but IMHO a very definite sign that the programming had begun its present descent. IMHO that sign is when Chyna disappeared. If WWE programming was like other TV shows and went into syndicated re-runs, and if you wanted to know if the rerun you were about to watch was pre- or post-peak, the sign would be whether or not Chyna was still a part of the show.
Why do I see Chyna leaving as the visable sign of WWF/E beginning its decline? Well, IMHO, a major reason could just be co-incidental; that is, she got out at just the right time. But I also think that there's more to it than her just leaving at the precise perfect moment. IMHO Chyna's departure also served as the signal that something was amiss in WWF land and that bad days for the show were coming.
Why do I feel this way? Consider the following: If you were simply a viewer of WWF programming during the time Chyna left (a non-smark, if you will) then you saw right before your eyes a major character on the show disappear from your television screen overnight without any explanation what-so-ever. Someone who had been a major part of the show for years was suddenly gone, and no reason was ever given as to why. When television writers do this to their viewers, they don't just alienate the fans of that one character. What happens is that the entire viewship as a whole will be affected by such a developement, to the point that in the future they will find it extremely difficult (if not impossible) to develop a close attachment to any of the show's other characters, old or new, for fear of being burned in such a way again.
Conversely, if you were a smark during this time, hip to the behind-the-scenes happenings, then when Chyna left WWF programming you saw a major performer forced off the show not because of her wrestling skill, or acting ability, or even because of a contract sqabble; no, you saw a performer forced to leave the show because of backstage politics. Chyna was forced out of WWF programming because she discovered that her boyfriend (also a performer on WWF programming) was cheating on her with another woman who was both the show's head writer and the boss' daughter. No matter how you slice it, if you're Chyna in that situation you have only one option, and that is to leave. For the viewers who know this story, their perception of how WWF/E decides what to put on their television screens and which performers WWF/E decides to prominately feature will be forever jaded.
So, if you want my opinion of when WWF/E programming began its current descent, the visable sign was when Chyna was no more, never to be seen or spoken of again.
When Booker put Austin out and injured him, they should've kept Austin off of TV all together for a couple weeks and had Shane, Booker and the WCW guys come out to Stone Cold's music. The fans would HATE them after that. Then, have them interfere in every match they felt like. And then, have them attack Austin again and steal the title belt...and destroy it. Instant heel heat. Then, Austin returns, angry and focused and tries to take out the WCW on his own. And fails. Over and over. Until he decides to get help...and slowly but surely, the WWF picks away at the WCW.
WCW should've been a monster heel. The company's been around in some form since the legitimizing of professional wrestling back at the turn of the century. The NWA gave birth to the WCW and WWF, so it would be wrestling's kids fighting for our love...instead it was a colossal embarassment. A month of building up WCW could've made the InVasion great. That's when WWF jumped the shark..and the shark ate 'em.
"That's what the Internet is for, slandering others anonymously" Banky Edwards (Jason Lee), Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back
Jumping on Downtown Bookie's point, I think a lot of the programming lately has been too dependent on smarky knowledge. Basically, WWF has acted like all of its viewers are intimately familiar with WCW and ECW talent. They put someone on TV, have the announcers go "Oh my God! It's Kronik, from WCW!", and expect people to care about them based on that. Remember how the Invasion was supposed to originally work? Vince was supposed to be a heel because he was preventing the merger from happening... "I'm putting WCW on the shelf, I can't wait to tell them all they're fired", etc. The assumption was that WWF fans were also WCW fans who would resent Vince for not bringing the WCW people into his organization. But, unlike most smart fans, who are fans of wrestling in general, the casual fans basically only cared about WWF. If the audience was all smart fans, WWF wouldn't have even had to TRY to make people care about the Invasion. But as it turned out, they did have to try to make people care, and as it turned out, they failed.
This continues right on to the current day, when they bring in Bischoff and expect the crowd to understand what he represents, but in fact most of the crowd is clueless and/or doesn't care. Sure, you can have Bisch do a speech to try to CONVINCE people to care, but then he might as well just be a guy playing the part, right? The extra resonance that the smark gets from it being "Bischoff for real" is lost on the casual fan.
IMO, Flair, Goldberg, and Hogan were the only WCW figures who wouldn't have required any buildup or explanation to make WWF fans care about them.
I think this has been a very underrated reason why they have done such a piss-poor job of folding WCW and ECW into the tent. Underrated because, well, the people who write about this type of thing are smarks themselves and have difficulty seeing the world from someone else's eyes. (As witnessed by the large number of "OMG BISCHOFF HUGGED VINCE OMG THAT WAS SO WEIRD OMG OMG OMG I BET THIS REALLY GOT PEOPLE TALKING FOR SURE" articles we saw.)
gonna build a giant drill and bore straight into hell releasing ancient demons from their sleep-forever spell so they can walk upon the earth and get recituated and run the diet pill pyramid that MC Pee Pants has created
I'd say that it was right after they lost HHH and Benoit to injury.
Those two were going to be central players in their story lines, and when they went down, it seems as though they started to panic. The story lines, especially at the top, have gone in fits and spurts ever since.
2002 rspw Quote of the Year: JR--"Lita's no Cheater"
When looking at when McMahonland jumped the shark like Fonzie, you also have to look at things like when did the WWF ride the prize winning bull like Fonzie did at the dude ranch. While Mania 17 and the idiotic Austin turn are good points to look at, the downward turn began with three examples in the months previous.
1. At the beginning of the WWF/TNN era, a large deal of time was provided for Chyna to ramble about how pretty she was, how she was naturally beautiful, blah,blah, flip the remote of the channel.
2. The night before the U.S. Presidential election in 2000, what does the WWF decide to do for the fans. Bring back Vince McMahon, not for any wrestling related purpose, but to bore the crowd with a 15 minute go out and vote spiel, flip the remote.
3. And of course, the tearing away of the curtain and revealing the facade of OZ, the XFL. Notice how the mainstream media no longer speaks of Vince McMahon as a modern day entertainment genius? How the headliner and legend of Vince McMahon is never recycled? Once Vince lost that aura, he was never able to regain that touch.