November 28, 2005
Letter to Vince: Please end the brand split
By NICK TYLWALK -- SLAM! Wrestling Columnist
Another Survivor Series is officially in the books, and while it certainly wasn't the worst pay-per-view ever, it also didn't do much to make anyone forget the 1997 and 1998 editions. The days of "You screwed Bret" and The Rock going corporate are way in the past, replaced this year by show versus show, or as the WWE prefers, brand versus brand.
Covering the show for the site Sunday night convinced me of one thing: the brand split's time has come and gone. Many people were skeptical of its worth from the start, but I felt like it was a fairly noble experiment; a way to manufacture some feeling of competition in a post-WCW, pre-TNA time when none was on the horizon. And everyone who's been following wrestling over the past decade knows that "the WWE does better when it has competition" is one of the most prevalent schools of thought out there.
Be that as it may, last night's main event (and to a lesser extent, the nearly unwatchable GM versus GM match) did very little to convince me that the experiment hasn't failed. Smackdown is no competition for Raw, and there's no doubt that the WWE feels like its Monday night showcase is its flagship program. Thanks to a gradual process of slimming down the roster, even the once large number of performers under contract isn't a reason to keep the split going.
There's a lot more I could say on the subject, but I figured I could get my point across even better by using one of the most time-honored traditions of columnists everywhere: the open letter. Yes, there's very little chance Vince McMahon or anyone in power will actually read it, but just the fact that it will be out there in the digital ether means one thing: you never know.
Without further ado...
Dear Vince and other WWE honchos:
Long time fan, first time writer. I caught Survivor Series on Sunday night, though for purposes of disclosure I should tell you that I was being paid to watch and write about it. The assignment was for an internet site, so I hope that's okay. I know you're not too crazy about any sites besides WWE.com.
Anyway, the brand versus brand angle you've been working on for the past few months came to a head last night, and I, for one, wasn't too impressed. It felt like a last ditch effort to make Smackdown mean something. At least I hope that's what it was. You see, I'm writing to ask you -- maybe beg you would be more like it -- to end the brand split.
I'm pretty sure a lot of other fans feel the same way I do. For starters, internal competition has never really been your strong suit. You had a much better chance to do something similar a few years ago when you purchased WCW, and even though you did the Invasion angle, it felt like your heart wasn't really in it. Maybe part of the problem was that we knew from the start that WCW wasn't going to "win," so it sucked a lot of the drama out of it right from the get-go.
Last night had some of the same feel. There wasn't anything at stake, so the build up to the confrontation between shows seemed kind of flat. If, say, the Smackdown stars could have taken over Monday nights for a month, there would have at least been something hinging on the outcome. Instead, it really just seemed like a vehicle to let the announcers argue and bring back the Undertaker, and you could have done that any time.
I know what you're thinking, and yes, the angle did give us a chance to see some match-ups we normally wouldn't, but it should be obvious to you that if you ended the split, you could mix up feuds to your hearts' content. You've tried to do that using the draft lottery, but since we now have John Cena and Kurt Angle facing off on Mondays when they used to do it on Thursdays, that doesn't quite cut it. Your roster isn't as big as it once was, so I don't think people would get tired of seeing some of the same faces twice a week.
You've got another problem lurking out there that I know you're already contemplating, and that's Smackdown's uncertain TV future. UPN sure doesn't seem to be in love with it any more, and call me crazy, but I think it would be an easier sell to wherever it would end up if Cena, Angle, Shawn Michaels and Triple H were going to be there instead of the crew you have on Smackdown right now. Sure, the Friday night guys won last night, but you had to water down Team Raw to do it, and even then I'm not sure I swallowed it.
Speaking of swallowing, that brings me to my final point. We wrestling fans have to gulp down a lot of our disbelief when we watch, and we're willing to do it because we enjoy what you call sports entertainment. But the split brings up situations that test even our willingness to suspend disbelief, because they just flat out don't make sense. Why would Carlito and Chris Masters -- two of Raw's biggest heels -- team up with Michaels when all that's at stake is bragging rights? Why would Randy Orton follow Batista's lead when he could use it as an opportunity to scheme on the big man's world title? Watching faces and heels team up for simple pride in their show is ridiculous, and it's even more so when the same guys go back to feuding with each other as soon as one event is over. Bag the split and you won't have to worry about this any more. Or more precisely, we fans won't have to worry about it.
Let me say that I don't expect you to drop the brand split tonight on Raw or anything like that. I know it might take some time to build up to something as big as combining the shows back together, and it makes perfect sense to wait until right after WrestleMania to get the ball rolling. It could unfold over the summer, perhaps culminating at SummerSlam, and you'd head into the new fall television season with something exciting to promote. It's just a thought.
I know your hearts were in the right place when you started this forced separation, but sometimes we have to admit when something's not working the way you'd hoped and learn to let go. You're actually pretty good at it if you think about it -- you didn't fight NBC when they pulled the plug on the XFL, and you bailed on The World restaurant when it started taking on too much water. It's time to do the same thing with the brand split. You'll have the thanks of at least one longtime fan.
Nick Tylwalk has been a SLAM! Wrestling contributor since 1998,
and his weekly column, Walkin' That Aisle with Nick Tylwalk, appears every Monday. Comments, compliments and complaints can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.