January 15, 2007
A slightly different perspective
By NICK TYLWALK -- SLAM! Wrestling Columnist
Sometimes a little time away from something you love can change your outlook a bit. It could be the whole absence makes the heart grow fonder thing, or maybe your head just gets a chance to clear. Whatever the case may be, you return with a viewpoint that's shifted ever so slightly.
I had just such a break from wrestling and this column over the past eight weeks while I enjoyed the birth of my first child, a baby girl. I caught a couple of the televised shows here and there, but I was in large part out of the loop and definitely not as immersed in wrestling as I usually am. Now that wife and baby Elizabeth are okay, I've jumped back in over the last two weeks.
Last Monday's Raw was the first show I watched in its entirety in a while, and it was, to be kind, not the WWE's strongest effort. The match between imposter versions of Rosie O'Donnell and Donald Trump didn't help, and the fact that it killed a nice chunk of the middle of the show is the kind of thing I usually end up ranting about. It certainly seemed like something that could cause Raw's most loyal fans to change the channel in disgust.
That's an especially relevant idea in light of the poll that ran here on SLAM! Wrestling during my time off. The poll question asked whether or not readers flipped channels during a match or segment that didn't interest them, and 63 percent of the voters said they always did. By contrast, only 10 percent of the readers claimed they never turned elsewhere in the middle of wrestling programming.
In this day and age of digital cable and rampant video file sharing, those results are hardly surprising. As viewers we're getting used to the idea of watching what we want to watch instead of what someone else thinks we should. The TV ratings even include the portion of the audience that records a show on DVR and watches it later. And if they can't break the numbers down into minute by minute intervals yet, I'm sure they will be able to do that soon.
All of those thoughts were in the back of my head while I was trying to decide how I felt about the Rosie-Donald segment. On one hand, I wanted to join the chorus of voices blasting Vince McMahon and crew for wasting our time with the whole deal. It's never a good idea to alienate your base, after all, and hardcore wrestling fans like us don't want to be bothered with gags like that.
After further consideration, it crossed my mind that I may have been looking at the whole thing the wrong way. The Rosie and Donald bits were a blatant attempt to grab some people who don't usually watch Raw, and there's nothing wrong with that. If that sounds like I'm defending McMahon and his writers, than I guess I am.
Consider the state of the wrestling industry as we steam into 2007. The WWE has been dealing with flat ratings for quite some time, and the educated guess is that live show attendance is much the same. ECW has degenerated into the mess that all the skeptics predicted it would be. TNA appears to have lost the momentum that moving to prime time and acquiring Kurt Angle should have given it and might not be ready to provide any serious competition.
Like any business, the wrestling business wants to grow, and it is clear the status quo isn't going to help accomplish that goal. One of my first columns, back in October of 2005, examined how wrestling had lost mainstream fans, and focusing on the current wrestlers and storylines was a better way to get them back than nostalgia acts. I was concerned that the WWE was risking turning off its longtime fans to pursue new ones, or at least those who hadn't watched the shows in years.
A year and a half later, it's probably time to admit that I missed the point. It's worth the risk that viewers will flip away from Raw for a bit if there's a chance that others will flip in. Grab some new eyeballs with a gimmick that's ripped from the headlines, and if they like what they see, they just might stick around for the rest of the show. The Rosie-Donald match may have been poorly executed, but the logic behind it is actually sound.
Meanwhile, the 63 percent of us, the constant and loyal wrestling fans, will flip back when the publicity stunts are over. Most of us will, anyway. We're stubborn that way, and we love wrestling too much to give up on it altogether. Besides, who else will help our mainstream friends catch up on what's going on in the storylines if and when they come back to wrestling?
I hated every second of the segments with fake Rosie and fake Donald, and before my brief sabbatical, I'm certain I would have used this space to tear them to shreds. Instead, this whole column turned into a piece defending them.
That's what happens when you get a little time off and your perspective changes. Just a little.
Nick Tylwalk has been a SLAM! Wrestling contributor since 1998, and his column, Walkin' That Aisle with Nick Tylwalk, appears most Mondays. Comments, compliments and complaints can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org . If you'd like to see a response to your question or comment in a future column, please include your full name and hometown in your e-mail.