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WWE: Making Sense Isn’t Enough by Matt Corton

Do you know what would make sense? If WWE put the title on someone the crowd really didn’t want as champ, someone they really wanted to see beaten. They could align that person with seemingly insurmountable odds, in the shape of authority figures, people who you just can’t seem to get one over on because they’re always one step ahead. Then, when someone finally beats the champ nobody wants to be champ, and when the authority figures finally see their plans in disarray, even someone who isn’t really very popular might be seen as a welcome change to what there currently is.

Oh wait…that’s what they’ve done!

It’ll work, too, because that’s what usually happens. People will get behind Roman Reigns now he’s trying to take back what’s rightfully his, because getting what’s rightfully yours is one of the most common storytelling devices there is. It’s commonly used because it resonates.

It makes sense, doesn’t it?

Only it’s boring. What makes sense often is, it’s why fiction exists, because once you blur the lines between what’s real and what’s not, sometimes even what’s possible and what’s not, that’s where you get something interesting. It’s why reality TV is at least partially scripted, because you can’t rely on real life to be interesting enough.

That’s why this is the era in which WWE should have more eyes on its product than any other. Not because everyone will love what they’re putting out, the differing opinions of all of us who care about the product show that, but people should be tuning in because WWE should be resonating with a large section of the population that watches scripted dramas purporting to be real life every single day.

The WWE has its own actual reality show, Total Divas. Now I’ve only ever sat through one episode of that show and came out of it a much angrier person than when I’d started watching, but you couldn’t help but feel WWE could learn from itself a little bit by learning from Total Divas. In the episode I saw, Fandango-era Summer Rae was upset because her ex was engaged and she was still single. So, she tried to hook up with Fandango, it didn’t go well, there was awkwardness and then they got over it. This was part of a swathe of relationship stories on the show, which I imagine is what happens every week and don’t intend to test to see if I’m right or not.

It worked because it felt real, even though it was clearly as scripted as anything could get.

The reality era, if it ever actually existed outside of Triple H’s promos, has not worked. That’s partly because, as Ron said the other day, they need to embrace it more but also because I think they’ve misunderstood what it could be.

If you analyse the storytelling Total Divas gave to the Summer Rae/Fandango fiasco, then compare it with the Summer Rae/Lana/Ziggler/Rusev fiasco which featured on WWE’s premier show, they managed to do a much worse job of the premier show fiasco than they did the Total Divas fiasco and it would have been so simple to fix. Just have there be a proper beginning, middle and end, played out in a timely manner and let the story take you where it goes. Show us each step along the way and have them make a difference to the people involved.

The most popular reality shows aren’t the shows that showcase the best reality. They showcase the bold characters, both characters you want to see succeed and characters you love to hate. It’s why they are so heavily edited and why ‘backstage’ segments tell you what’s happening every five minutes, so you don’t miss the carefully scripted points and themes they’re constructing the episodes around.

The WWE seem to be almost deliberately steering clear of the elements of reality TV that are popular.

For something to feel real, it has to be at least a little bit natural. Their motivations aren’t enough. The fact the story makes sense isn’t enough. The fact you get where you wanted to go at the end of it isn’t enough.

TV works in the same way. If you were a detective on a TV cop show, who found a husband, knife in hand, standing over the stricken body of his wife, you might as well put your gun away and not bother arresting him, because you know it’s not going to be him who did it, it’s too early in the show. You need to build suspense, have the detective overcome the adversity of not knowing who did it and do some detecting, so they get the right guy in the end.

If you apply that theory to the Wyatts vs. the Brothers of Destruction, you can instantly see why this was such a botched feud. First off, does it make sense? Well yes, it makes sense that Bray Wyatt would want to target the WWE’s most fearsome duo, because he wants to be the new face of fear. So the motivation is sound. It also makes sense that the Brothers of Destruction would outwit him somehow and escape to fight another day because Bray is a heel who has underestimated his opponents, because that’s what bad guys do (whether they should or not is the point of another article, not this one). So the story and the actions made sense.

Only the Brothers of Destruction destroyed Bray’s family two weeks early. The detective arrested the husband and he copped a plea in the first ten minutes of the show. The rest is just procedure and the last thing anyone wants to see played out on their TV screens, fan or not, is a procedural stroll towards an ending you’ve already seen happen.

My last example is Star Wars.

Maybe I’m too savvy to things these days (who isn’t?) but I would say the whole point of Star Wars wasn’t whether the Empire or the Jedi came out on top. Films almost never have the bad guys win, you know that before you go and see them. The good guys are going to come out on top. It’s how they do it that matters. You invested in Luke, Han, Leia etc. and while you wanted to see how they overcame the Dark Side as a whole, you also wanted to see the characters’ individual journeys throughout the franchise. The characters made those films, not the good vs. evil story that has been told a zillion times before, although maybe not in that exact same way.

That film has been out since the ‘70s. And what has WWE learned from that? Absolutely nothing. All they had to do was give us a predictable, easy to tell story in the WWE World Heavyweight Championship tournament. Check – they did that. All they had to do was put a twist or two in there to keep us thinking anything can happen. Well, half a check – they gave us Kalisto over Ryback (before destroying everything they’d built the following week) so at least there was something.

Then all they had to do was make sure we were invested in the characters in the tournament, that we understood what drove them, how they felt about being in the tournament and let their pumped up enthusiasm pump up and enthuse us as viewers.

Forget the actual wrestlers that made up the tournament for one minute and assume they could have been picked out of a hat (which is how I would have had the tournament set up actually – really easy, quick, simple way of confirming why the wrestlers who were in the tournament were there in the first place). Whoever came out of the hat, you just need to see their reactions to being in the tournament and not only do you have a believable structure to work with but you have some emotion to play off before you’ve even begun.

Instead we get wrestlers slung together in a clearly worked structure, we have no chance to invest in any of their emotions or any build to the matches, and we don’t see any reaction from anyone when they lose what could be their only chance at the big one.

They did it again on Raw. I almost don’t care about Ambrose’s matches any more (except I obviously do), because quite clearly neither does he. He didn’t seem to care one bit about losing the title match to Reigns, or that his friend got screwed over shortly afterwards. Some ‘brother’. He just happily moved on into a tag match. If he cared about anything at all that happened the night before, or even in his whole life before, I saw no sign of that on Raw other than he seemed a bit miffed with Owens.

They had a perfect opportunity to build on the fire lit inside Ambrose by his loss, turn it into an arc against a mocking Kevin Owens, and build to a bitter blood feud, emotions riding high, both angry at missing out on their shots, leading to a fever pitch match at TLC.

Instead, the reset button has been well and truly pushed on everyone’s emotions and it might make sense because ‘it’s wrestling’ but that’s not enough in this day and age.

As always, I’m interested to see what you guys think – do you want more emotional investment from the wrestlers? Is there anyone out there who thought the tournament was well executed?