Better Storytelling

– The Key To Better Raw And Smackdown Ratings

Jobber Heel Blog by Danimal Daniel Jobber

As I'm sure many of you have, I've been thinking a lot lately about the low and declining ratings of Raw and Smackdown, thinking about the reasons, and looking for answers. I think many loyal fans are starting to accept that the problem is in the WWE's storytelling, but what is the real problem with the storytelling, and what kind of storytelling could make the WWE better?

In a recent blog, I highlighted why I thought a big problem was that they made their main character Seth Rollins a comedy character and the holder of their most coveted prize, the WWE World Heavyweight Champion, at the same time. As amazingly talented as Seth Rollins is, this is an impossible task. The biggest problem is that the WWE Worlds Heavyweight Championship (WHC) is not a joke, and is certainly not intended to be a joke on the fans month after month. It only adds to the problem that Rollins gets beaten up and humiliated week after week, and has lost to John Cena repeatedly in the past months. A champion who barely wins any matches is likely to become increasingly insulting to all but the most hard-core of WWE fans, as this kind of story just does make much sense.

Now, Seth Rollins himself is not the problem. Personally, I think he plays his character and his role quite well. I find him quite funny and entertaining. With his facial expressions, his mannerisms, and his emotional level, he just breathes humor. I think he plays a perfect comedy villain (Heel). If the WWE could find a way to utilize him to his full potential as a polarizing trouble-making heel, he could really anchor Raw and bring out the best in many other performers. There is no doubt in my mind that Seth Rollins should be a central villain character in virtually every Raw show, and should perhaps carry over into Smackdown from time to time as well.

The problem is the the WWE insists on trying to keep him as the World Heavyweight Champion in addition to his critical villain role. Many fans still hold expectations for what the WHC should be. He should be somebody worthy of some level of respect, admiration, and perhaps fear. He should be somebody that fans are at least somewhat excited and perhaps even awe-struck to see when he appears. Finally, even though he can, and often should appear beatable, he needs to be somebody who is capable of digging deep inside or into his bag of tricks (particularly with heel champions) to find a way to win virtually all of his matches. The WWE has failed in a number of ways to make Seth Rollins this type of champion, and I believe it's because the role of WHC clashes heavily with the role that Seth Rollins is adapt at and needs to continue playing. Seth Rollins is best at being the central character and a humorous villain.

Now, how do these roles clash? First off, how many people really respect, admire, or fear a comedy villain? Fans who deeply understand the purpose and meaning behind the show may perhaps respect and admire him, but do the vast majority of fans really put that much effort into finding a reason to hold him in such high regard? Secondly, the pressure of putting on an engaging and entertaining 3 hour Monday Night Raw show forces Seth to be a central character on nearly every show. How can fans remain constantly excited to see a champion who is always in front of their face, and how long can this be maintained before fans no longer care whether they see the World Heavyweight Title at all? Finally, in an effort to maintain the pitiful aspect of Seth's character for humor impact, the WWE has him on a terrible stretch of losses and severe beatings. Seth has now competed to win the United States title more times in the past few months than he has defended his own WHC. How does the WWE honestly expect the vast number of fans that they need to keep the Raw and Smackdown Ratings high to accept, respect, and even understand their portrayal of this character who is supposed to be their highest champion? To me its not at all surprising that Raw and Smackdown ratings are so low, as only the most loyal and knowledgeable of fans are able to accept this story without feeling that their intelligence is being insulted.

Further Complicating this problem is a belief that the most talented overall wrestling performer must be the World Champion. There is an unwritten axiom that talent has to be rewarded with constant success. It is a noble and sensible mission to try to make the WHC mean something by ensuring that the champion is the most talented performer, but what happens when this doesn't make for a good story? What happens when the effort to create value for the title forces the creative team to tell stories that devalue the title in the process? Perhaps, rather then trying to choose a champion, and then trying to build a sensible story around them, the creative team should work on a compelling story and then try to fit the appropriate performers into the most appropriate positions.

So, what kind of story could the WWE tell to compel more viewers to watch? As I mentioned in a previous blog, I feel that Seth Rollins has a strong cartoon villain flavor to his character, but is portrayed in such a way that makes people constantly laugh at him, making the current WWE product too much like a cartoon comedy. What if the WWE turned things around, and made the show more like a heroes vs villains cartoon style? Follow me for a bit further, and I'll illustrate what I mean. First off, you have this villain character Seth Rollins who is funny, entertaining, and really good at antagonizing people. He has a character that I could see playing a main villain role similar to the late great Rowdy Roddy Piper back in the early 80's. However, as champion, he's already in a position of extreme antagonism. All he has to do is wave the most coveted championship belt around, and there's not much need or even room for additional villainy. What a waste of a great villain! With such a strong villain, the WWE needs to create a hero (babyface) World Heavyweight Champion character that can serve as his ultimate target/victim. Whats more, this hero champion needs to be somewhat novel. When the World Heavyweight champion comes on the show, it needs to be a big meaningful moment, so it doesn't get predictable. For this to work, you need a strong cast of sub-heroes who make up the good-guys in the bulk of the main story-lines that take place in the weekly shows. To counteract and antagonize them, there needs to be a cast of sub-villains, most of whom are under influence from the main villain Seth Rollins, say with a little help from another head-villain like Bray Wyatt. The WWE could even make a few little mini-factions, with the Wyatts obviously being one of them, and the other made up of a few strong heels under the leadership of Seth Rollins. Most shows should revolve around Seth Rollins, Bray Wyatt, and the heels they influence. They should attempt to create trouble and conflict for the heroes. They could do this by forcing a bad situation on a hero, tricking a hero into unknowingly committing villainous actions, causing trouble for the authority, inadvertently messing up the Authority's devious plans for them, tricking the authority into giving them some advantage over a hero, or even creating some fun, clumsy villain double-crossing of each other. In the end, most of these stories could still end up blowing up in the face of the villains, giving the fans a chance to laugh at the villains failures and futility (I am especially fond of seeing Seth Rollins getting “crapped-on” in the end of a show). In some cases, the Hero Champion himself could come on the scene in a surprise to help solve the conflict, but not so much that it becomes predictable and wears out the novelty of his character or the title. Whats more, many of these mini-conflicts could lead into the rivalries that make up great wrestling matches and Pay-per-view events that WWE fans expect. There could be so many great stories the WWE could tell to entice viewers into watching if they just accept that even though Seth Rollins is an extremely talented performer and should be the center of the show (especially Raw), by pushing him on the fans as a joke champion, they are extremely limiting what he can do as a strong principal character in great storytelling.

Now, obviously to start, the WWE would need to choose a strong Hero Champion to fit into this new storytelling direction. Anyone who follows me on Social Media (e.g. @DanielJobber on Twitter) probably knows that I see and advocate Roman Reigns as fitting perfectly into this role. His babyface character is symbol of goodness and power, and is the closest babyface in the WWE to having an air of invincibility to him as did Hulk Hogan did back in the 80's. Whats more, he isn't as great a speaker or as capable of carrying a show as Seth Rollins, so him playing a more novel and surprise-appearance type of role will help to give the WHC back its mystique and rareness without robbing the show of the performance of backbone characters like Rollins. Roman Reigns in-ring performance has evolved to such a level that his matches would create and reinforce the idea that the World Heavyweight Champion is almost unbeatable, and that it would take a lot to wrest the title from his hands. I think after the beating the WHC has taken under the title run of Rollins, it could use a solid figure to give it back its respect and majesty once again. Of course, if the WWE and the WWE Universe does not have enough faith in Roman Reigns to perform this role, there are other candidates they could consider. My personal feeling on the matter though, is that most other babyface characters are too important to the daily storytelling, whereas Roman Reigns is most effective in short, surprise appearances when he makes his moments and words powerful and meaningful. If, in this less predominantly exposed championship role, fans want to cheer against Roman, it would not be such a big deal, because he's not the central focus of the weekly shows. It wouldn't be the first show where fans chose to hope for the villain to be successful, even though in the end, these fans have to come to accept that the hero is probably going to win. Hasn't the WWE been extremely successful putting John Cena in this role over the years?

As for strong casts of heroes and villains, I think the WWE has such a roster that is as good as it has been in years. They just need to allocate and utilize them more effectively in their storytelling. They need more alliances and friendships to counteract the rivalries. Perhaps they need another small heel and babyface faction to create more interesting and intriguing dialogue, which I feel they do really well in NXT. As in NXT, relationships between various characters help the audience to see different sides of them, and perhaps even relate to and care for them. The characters should not be isolated people most of the time any more then they should be just thrown together into 2 or 3 person tag teams, as the WWE tends to like to do. There should be more meaning behind the characters feelings, reactions, and relationships towards each other, so that when they do team up, we better understand the dynamics of their alliance. How many times have you been watching a 3 man tag match on Raw or Smackdown thinking “why did they throw these 3 guys together like this?” Too often the WWE will just throw 2 or 3 pairs of feuding wrestlers together into opposing tag teams to get them all exposure in a shorter time, and perhaps relieve the monotony of always featuring the one-on-one rivalry matches. This just feels too forced, and doesn't make for a component of a good show, and is certainly not good storytelling.

Anyways, I hope I was able to paint a picture for you of what kind of storytelling the WWE could be doing on Raw and Smackdown, and hopefully helping you to highlight key areas where the WWE is falling seriously short of their potential. When it comes to great storytelling, I don't think the WWE needs to reinvent the wheel. There are many great templates for great storytelling already in existence, just waiting for amazing characters and story-lines to be inserted into it. The classic villains versus heroes template has been a time-honored tradition in wrestling for many years, and if it isn't broken, why ruin your product by trying to fix it? Storytelling in wrestling doesn't need to be brain science. Fans, like any other people, like to be taken on a journey from start to finish on a show and/or series of shows, with an outcome hopefully containing a little surprise, and that makes them feel like something significant has happened when its over. This, when coupled with great in-ring performances from very skilled, talented,and exciting athletes is all wrestling needs to maintain its unique appeal to fans. Right now, the WWE is stubbornly insulting and alienating too many would-be-viewers by trying to prove that the same peg can fit into two completely different shaped holes at the same time, and is thus trying to pass off a story to fans that just makes little sense. In the process, they're watering-down, overexposing, and devaluing their most precious championship, and relying on the strength of a lower championship to make up for it. They're asking fans to swallow too much nonsense, and I think too many of the non-hardcore fans have just become tired of it, and are finding other ways to entertain themselves. For this reason, it doesn't surprise me that ratings are down so low. However, I think with a fresh reboot with a new champion and a more positive direction, it wouldn't take as much as one might think to turn things around, considering the talent the WWE has in their main roster and in their up-in-coming NXT roster. They just need a bit more creativity to find ways to utilize them better, and tell more sensible and compelling stories in the process.

Danimal Daniel Jobber

@DanielJobber (Twitter)

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