There is always a lot of talk about different time periods in WWE. Obviously the Attitude Era is the most popular era among fans and many long for the days of Steve Austin, The Rock and Mr. McMahon as an on-screen character. Today is often referred to as the PG Era, due to the program’s TV rating. It’s definitely not a beloved period at this point, although I don’t think the show being PG is the reason for its lack of popularity, but maybe it’s time to shift the focus to something different.
As I’ve mentioned before, I was tuned out of WWE for a while. That period covered a large chunk of CM Punk’s career. I was familiar with him obviously, but I just wasn’t a fan of the product at the time. I’ve recently been re-watching a lot of that time period for a project I’m working on and I’m noticing how much realism was brought into his storylines. His promos with Vince McMahon, Tripe H and John Cena were as compelling as it gets. It was almost uncomfortable to watch at times because the rifts between these people was so palpable.
It’s possible that watching this material when it actually aired may have made for a different viewing experience. I’m seeing a lot of this for the first time, but with the information that has come out after Punk’s departure from WWE. I’m not sure how much of that was common knowledge at the time, but watching these real life grievances aired is incredible television. Based on Punk’s popularity though, I’d assume it came across just as good at the time.
After indulging in about an hour’s worth of CM Punk promos, I realized how formulaic everything seems now. Viewers had no idea what Punk would say next or what his adversaries would say to him in response. It was gripping and impossible to turn away from. Raw today is basically, “We’ll have this guy go out and say some things, then this guy will go out and interrupt him. Then The Authority will come out and make a match. Then after the commercial, this guy will fight that guy…” Vince used to always say “anything can happen” but these days, for some reason nothing seems to happen with any kind of purpose or spontaneity.
Then remembered Triple H appearing on the Stone Cold Podcast in February. They were discussing the “Reality Era” and how kayfabe is dead. They discussed how the behind the scenes aspect of the business is known to the fans now. They talked about how fans won’t just accept a story at face value anymore because we view them through the lens of what’s happening in real life. I don’t know exactly when the Reality Era thing was first brought up, but these are all very accurate observations. They should also lead to WWE accepting and embracing that this is how things are and they should run with it.
In some respects WWE has embraced these circumstances. The Daniel Bryan story from 2014 was an on-screen portrayal of what we believe he was going through backstage in real life. We celebrated his WrestleMania 30 victory not just for Daniel Bryan overcoming the odds that were stacked against him, but just as much that Bryan Danielson overcame the real life odds.
They’ve also run with this change in the landscape by airing shows like Table For 3, Breaking Ground, WWE 24, Unfiltered, even the Stone Cold Podcast. These shows allow us to see beyond the characters these performers play on TV. They give us a chance to see the real people, know their real personalities and their real life stories. We even see Triple H and Stephanie McMahon involved in charity events that show us they aren’t real villains.
Most recently, as we all know, Paige insulted Charlotte’s late brother Reid in a promo on Raw. This caused a huge brawl between the two women leading into their match at Survivor Series. It also allowed for some real emotion to be injected into the story as well as some sympathy toward Charlotte and heat toward Paige. Of course there was backlash from some fans and some within the industry. My hope is that this doesn’t cause WWE to pull back and avoid these tactics in the future. I will admit, I can see why it bothered some people and Paige’s comment made me uncomfortable, but it made me FEEL something. Isn’t that the most important part of pro wrestling? To feel and care about the characters and their actions?
With all of the reality we get to see involving WWE performers and all of the inside access we get from interviews and podcasts, there is no going back. Outside of little kids there really are no marks left. We all know what’s going on and WWE knows we know. I feel like I spend a lot of my time here writing about how I think the product can be better, but isn’t this another way in which WWE can evolve and grow? I believe this could be a way to take the spotlight off the PG rating which so many have such disdain for.
Why not have matches take on a more realistic, sporting event type of feeling to them? Why not embrace the toughness, athleticism and desire of each WWE Superstar? I feel a certain weight and gravity during the introduction of every big Brock Lesnar match. Not every performer is Brock, but they are all incredible athletes in their own right and should be treated as such. Jim Ross is never coming back, but he actually made you feel like you were watching a real fight with real consequences.
I think that feeling should be extended to microphone time as well. These performers have been trained to speak in front of a live audience, taught to access different emotions and personas, so why not trust them with their own promos instead of scripting everything they say? I guarantee the extended promo time on Raw each week would be a lot more interesting and characters would have a much easier time getting over if they can be themselves. You can’t tell me Kevin Owens and Bray Wyatt are the only ones capable of handling that job.
Triple H, Vince McMahon and John Cena have talked about performers not going all out and taking chances to get to the top. From where I’m sitting it seems these performers aren’t being given an opportunity to take those chances. They are being confined and forced to be play actors in a lot of instances, which isn’t what these men and women are. It’s time for Vince to practice what he preaches and pull the trigger on the Reality Era. Set these highly trained performers loose and see where it gets you. There is no pretending anymore in this business so stop pretending. Use the talent at your disposal to make the product the best it can be. The Reality Era could be the next big thing in wrestling if it ever truly becomes a reality.