Two facts out of the gate, both of which you probably know but bear stating for the purposes of this piece.
1. Tonight’s episode of “Monday Night Raw” will be three hours (and change) instead of two.
2. As of July 23, “Raw” will move to three hours on a permanent basis.
As I write this, I am already prepared for tonight’s Twitter news feed onslaught of people complaining about how bad the three-hour show is and predicting how it will be permanently bad in a few weeks. When the three-hour move was announced in May, it was almost universally panned by fans who for some reason don’t want more of their favorite wrestling show.
Yes, we all remember some really bad stuff from the three-hour “Nitro” era. Factor in the hours of “Thunder” each week (as well as “Raw” and “Smackdown” and roughly 30 pay-per-view events a year) and there was an ungodly amount of wrestling to watch on TV each week, most of it live, and very little of it produced by great wrestling minds. But why do we all have bad memories of those shows? Because we watched them anyway.
The landscape is vastly different from more than a decade ago — and not just the wrestling landscape. The entertainment media has evolved so much in such a short period of time — with no end in sight — it’s tough to get a handle on what actually matters (read: makes money to keep Titan Towers running). If you’re super into this type of thing, I suggest a quick read of this Phil Rosenthal column from Sunday’s Chicago Tribune looking at all the data content providers try to sort through.
But aside from all the business debates (my quick stance: adding a third hour is a sign business is good because there must be ad revenue to justify more TV time) and using the simple standpoint of a person who likes to watch a WWE show each Monday night (off the DVR while folding laundry after the kids are in bed), I’m already tired of people complaining about the three-hour “Raw” and we’ve not even seen the show yet.
In order to hold this view, you must suspend some disbelief. Since we’re all wrestling fans, we ought to be comfortable doing just that. Much of the “three-hour ‘Raw’ will suck” backlash comes from bad experiences watching show’s like we expect tonight’s to be — essentially a bloated version of a regular episode where usually the only stuff that gets more screen time is a part of the show we don’t usually care for in the first place. But that’s not exactly what we’re being sold here. WWE has hinted (sometimes overtly) that Raw as of July 23 will actually be something it hasn’t for literally years: different.
This could mean anything. It could mean the first hour of the show is unlike anything we’ve ever seen, then the regular “Raw” begins at 8 p.m. (Central time, fools). It could mean the entire show format is re-invented, perhaps the runover dies and the show actually ends promptly at 10 p.m. We can assume the arena setup won’t change, but what’s to stop them from introducing a studio show — a la the NFL or NBA pregame and halftime crews regular sports fans consider an essential part of the fan experience — or perhaps a more formal backstage interview process?
Maybe the opposite will happen and WWE will move away from the “art through the metaphor of sport” approach and find a way to just be art. Maybe there once again will be no authority figure as a regular TV character, and we’ll have some new understanding for why all these guys (and girls) are in a new city every week just to fight each other.
Maybe there will be an entire 30-minute (or longer) segment each week that is merely sponsored with on-screen graphics, like with soccer, so there’s no need to interrupt a match for a commercial break. Maybe there will be a promise for a title match of some sort every week on the show, and meaningful title changes will happen (but not too many, of course, because no one likes that.
As much as WWE (and it is not alone here) seems to love social media, it seems likely we’ll get some sort of interactive component to the show — perhaps the fans will decide who faces off in one match each week, or somehow they’ll find a way to make trending topics affect what happens on camera (I really, really hope they do not).
Detract if you will. There is abundant evidence of fans, myself included, trying to give the WWE a chance to turn something that at first seems sketchy into greatness, only to find the end result to be the worst-case scenario. And really, though the possibilities for re-inventing “Raw” are limitless (I only scratched the surface of my ideas), the truth is we’re more likely to get a few tweaks here and there, because the risk of a dramatic overhaul alienating the core fan base probably is not worth the reward.
I don’t want to rob anyone of their right to complain. If it gets to be too much for me, I could always just watch wrestling and ignore Twitter. I’d like to see a lot less “this is gonna suck” and a lot more reasoned criticism. It may well suck. As long as wrestling has been on TV, there has been bad wrestling on TV. And certainly if you are a wrestling fan and not just a WWE fan, there are plenty of other outlets for you to pursue.
In the end, my stance is this: “Monday Night Raw” has been a highlight of my week for a long, long time. It will continue to be so. I have always enjoyed some parts of the show and disliked other parts. That’s going to continue as well. There’s a chance “Raw” gets a nice polish and the show gets more enjoyable week in and week out. There’s a chance no one in Stamford has done a great job planning for the new schedule and the show will actually get worse. But when I think of all of the absolutely horrible things (either scripted stuff or offstage ugliness) that have happened since I started watching in 1987 and I’m still here, 25 years later, I’m hard pressed to think an extra hour of TV each week is going to ruin the WWE for me.