Imagine Mr Smiles.
You’ve gone to a car showroom. You don’t want to, you’d rather buy privately, but this time you just need the finance, what with Little Jimmy coming up to the big school this year, the cash flow’s a little tight, particularly with Little Jimmy appearing to require quite a lot more support than you’d hope. It’s like he’s been through some stuff.
But anyway, you’re at the showroom. Mr Smiles bounds out of the door like an eager puppy. Thankfully he doesn’t open with the same old over-written promo that you’ve heard a million times before, he does something a little different, or so he thinks. He looks at you like he’s assessing you. The light seems to go on. That’s right – he sees you’re a player, player. He sees you’re not like the other customers he gets in here every day – Mr Smiles is excited because he knows he’s got a high roller here, someone willing to take a risk.
Now, you’re not willing to take a risk at all, you’ve come in here for a nice little family car that can get Little Jimmy safely to school, preferably a hatchback so you can keep him in the back, but Mr Smiles knows that whilst that might be what you want, that’s not what you WANT – what you WANT is an ageing, overpriced sports car that’ll get you to Little Jimmy’s school and back about ten times before it needs not only filling up but some new tyres, a check over and some TLC.
You set yourself. You were expecting this. You’re going to be firm, you’re going to stand up to Mr Smiles. You’re not going to be fooled by his crap, you know what you want and that’s what you’re going to get. You tell him.
Mr Smiles smiles. You go back and forth and you compromise on the SUV – it’s a little more than you wanted, but really you knocked Mr Smiles way back from the sports car that he wanted to sell you so really, you got a good deal.
Everyone knows that scenario and even though everyone knows that scenario, it’s still played out on every forecourt of every showroom, every day of every year. People know it so they play along – it’s a matter of who plays better.
The funny thing is – it’s the reverse that seems to be true of the WWE.
When you go to a showroom to make a deal, you know you’re making a deal. You know what you want, you probably know what the other guy wants as well and you reach a compromise that’s beneficial to both sides, or as close to it as you can get.
I don’t feel like I’m getting that from WWE.
Now I don’t mean that I think I’m getting a bad product. I’m not –we’re not. We might not be getting the product we want all of the time, but it’s decent enough. We make the deal of putting up our time in exchange for entertainment and for the most part, we get that. We’re entertained, Sheamus, thank you for asking.
The thing is VFM. Value for money dictates how a thing is deemed worthy. Is the sports car sold by Mr Smiles value for money? Well, it depends on the customer. If that customer wants that particular sports car and Mr Smiles is selling it cheaper, then it’s VFM. It’s what you’re prepared to pay.
Is WWE VFM? Well, it depends on the customer and what they want. I want stories. I live and breathe stories – I read them, write them and watch them on TV. Getting to the conclusion of a story even led me to sit through the last season of Lost. I need to find out what happens next.
I don’t have kids, I don’t need a family car and if I had the money I’d be more than happy to line Mr Smiles’s pockets but in the mean time what I’m after is a good conclusion to the stories I’m watching when I’m tuning into WWE programming. That’s what’s in it for me. Now let’s face it – the ending to Lost was a pile of pants. Every one of us could have written that last series better, right? Just like any of us could have written Revenge of the Sith better or – far better – not written the damn prequel series at all.
The ending of something is always bound to be a bit pants. The serendipity of Mr Smiles and you going home beaming over the same deal happens so rarely it’s noteworthy but I’m not sure the same should be true of wrestling feuds. It shouldn’t be hard to send at least a good proportion of people home happy – or anti-happy if that’s your intent – most of the time when booking wrestling storylines.
To be clear, I’m not talking about how the matches are booked here, that’s for people with more knowledge about move sets, ring mastery and ring storytelling than me to judge, but the real basics of a feud should be getting the story right. It’s not hard.
Take Bray Wyatt’s current feud with the Shield Shards. The story here is an easy one as Dean Ambrose has pointed out to us helpfully on Raw – this is a war that will go on and on and on (and, possibly, on) but why is it a war? Because Bray Wyatt doesn’t want it to be Roman Reigns? Anyone BUT Roman Reigns in fact. Luke Harper and Braun Strowman care about that because Bray does – I get that. Dean Ambrose cares about this because his friend is involved and we’ve all got involved in scraps because our friend is too dumb to back down, right?
But really, I’m left asking… is that it? Is that really all the bang I’m getting for my buck?
Dean Ambrose is a lunatic fringe, supposedly. He’s ‘out there’. He’s the side of us all that wants to do crazy, mental things but that we don’t because we want to keep our jobs, not upset the neighbours and make sure our wives continue sleeping in the same beds as us. He’s supposed to do things we can’t, as a lunatic. Why isn’t he playing reverse mind games with Bray Wyatt? Why isn’t he trying to find out who Sister Abigail is? Why isn’t he bringing a Head-style doll of Sister Abigail to the ring and kicking it around to wind Bray up? Why isn’t he leaping out of boxes again in the black photo booths that the Wyatts are using as promo huts as he did to get at Seth Rollins?
There are countless other similar scenarios. Others have commented more eloquently on the Divas Revolution than I ever could, but it’s another good example of someone having half an idea and not running with it.
Think of it. Imagine you had a creative team who were in on the deal with you. Imagine, for a moment that they were trying to be all that they could be. The stories are devices to get us to the matches – I get that – but they’re also ends in and of themselves. I want to see who wins out of the Undertaker and Brock Lesnar, but I also want to see how their story is resolved. I don’t give a crap about how the Big Show and Ryback ends because it’s the same old bully v bully fight at school that you build up to for weeks and then ends up with a really disappointing headlock and a couple of slaps before teacher breaks it up.
But imagine – a creative team that understood storytelling (beginning – middle – end, hasn’t really changed much in centuries) and applied that as a basis for its feud writing. Imagine if you thought about the beginning (Shield and Wyatts), middle (reforming after various failures on both sides – both sides desperate for the win to prove themselves) and end (one side drives the momentum forward, the other drifts into the madness of their loss). Instead we get a random sort of stable match thing with no real consequence spelled out for the loser.
Imagine, also, if they’d simplified the Big Show and Ryback story. So Ryback loses to Big Show a few times on Raw, but each time he does, he learns a new vulnerability about Show. One week it’s his knees, the next it’s that he’s a bit slow and quicker, more targeted blows are the way to go, not power v power. The final week Ryback learns a way to FINALLY get Show up for Shellshock after failing a few times – by subtly changing the way he does it. THEN when we get to the PPV Ryback struggles, but puts together everything he’s learned and beats Show and moves on to the next challenger having become a better wrestler and champion. Instead, we get Miz vignettes.
Maybe those are bad ideas – but they’re not anything more than me trying to show the details of the deal I’m trying to make with the WWE. I’m giving them my time – how about they give me something coherent and worthwhile as well as purely entertaining back in return?
Think about it – regardless of whether Little Jimmy is safely on his way to school or not, if it were a case of WWE Creative vs. Mr Smiles, I’m afraid I think WWE Creative would be paying top price for a previously-owned red Cadillac.
They get it so right – but only so often and that’s not good enough. When you have 30 writers, every PPV should be 8 or 9 out of 10. That’s my deal. Take it or leave it.
A little about me
I’m Matt, I’m English and I’m one of the lucky few to be a new column writer. I came late to wrestling, only starting to watch in 1999 or thereabouts, when I was at university, but rather than feeling like I’ve missed out on the childhood awe, it’s what I feel now when wrestling really works. As you may have guessed from the article above, the art of wrestling for me is more than just watching a good match – I like wrestling best when the matches mean something, when the wins and losses mean something and when something is on the line and it’s all tied up in a nice storied package. Top three wrestlers to watch would be CM Punk, Mick Foley and William Regal. I love to write (google me and you can find two novels self-published) and it’s going to be a joy to be able to combine my passions for writing, wrestling and opinions for you guys.