Just over a week ago, I penned a column about the contradictions of the All Elite booking process, and last night’s Dynamite was a prime example of the often conflicting narratives that dilute the overall presentation of the product. That along with Tony Khan’s recent appearance on the Mark Maron podcast, where the All Elite kingpin detailed his booking theory, create some concern for the future of the program. No, AEW isn’t going to flop next year or even in a few years, but I have to be honest, I’m genuinely concerned that the product might plateau and that a ceiling will be put on just how impactful the organization could be to the industry. It’s a dreadful comparison if you have any optimism about the business at all, but TNA hit a ceiling in 2009 and its existence, even today, was minimal at best.
My concern, if All Elite does plateau around the one million mark for viewership, is that it will lead to an overall stagnant industry, which is more or less what happened for several years before AEW was launched. The WWE is ready to be sold, which is worrisome in itself, especially because corporate suits have never been able to successfully run a pro wrestling promotion because of the unique nature of the genre. Unless Vince Russo climbs a rope ladder into the NBC offices, the future of the WWE is stable based off of simply its brand name for at least a few decades. That being said, when the 2.8 that Raw drew for its 30th anniversary episode is considered a great number, that paints a rather bleak picture of the possibilities of the future. To put it in perspective, Thunder regularly drew 2.6 the year that WCW collapsed like a house of cards. Granted, it was a different era, but there’s a reason that only a slightly better audience is watching today than the audience that watched Disco Inferno fumble around the ring in 2000.
It’s the presentation and philosophy of each product. WWE as a corporation is doing great business, mostly because of the stock price, but less people are watching wrestling now than any other time in history. Does that create enthusiasm for the the future? Assuming the WWE is sold, it can go on autopilot for the rest of the modern era, and it will continue to draw the core of its audience with the typical, but minimal influx of casual fans. If AEW hits a ceiling then there will be nothing to spur WWE into anything different than the bare minimum it takes to continue to collect the rights fees or sell the organization to a corporate entity that will coast of the reputation of the letters. Either way, the consumers will have to settle for what’s given, which is either the recycled playbook from the WWE or the AEW program that just can’t get the pieces of the puzzle in the right place to get to the next level.
Hence why it’s so important that All Elite doesn’t fall into those TNA pattern of fumbled decisions and missed opportunities to avoided that previously mentioned ceiling. Make no mistake about it, if AEW stalls, and the WWE goes on autopilot, the business will become stagnant and thus the fans will have to settle for a rather flat industry.
“Take what you’re given because it’s the best we got” shouldn’t be the motivation for the audience to tune into the shows every week.
On the podcast appearance mentioned earlier, Tony Khan explained the charts he uses to organize booking, and I must say that it almost sounds ludicrous that a national television product is being booked like a pie chart in math class. 3.14 might be the analytical version of pie, but pro wrestling sells emotion, not graphs. The audience wants apple pie or blueberry pie, not the numbers pie represents in an equation. I understand that Tony is from a sports analytics background, but pro wrestling is much more than putting the names on the page, it’s determining what performers connect with the audience, and ultimately, the ability to do that is what allows a company to draw money. You can script segments between two wrestlers from week to week in a logical manner, but if those performers aren’t over or the storyline isn’t over with the audience then the meticulous scripting doesn’t matter. Tony commented on the order that he books the angles based on their importance to the product, but you don’t need a chart for that. The most important angle is the storyline that can draw the most money for the company. The only numbers that truly matter in pro wrestling are revenue and profit. Sure, the ratings matter because the larger the viewership, the larger the demographic is for potential pay-per-view and ticket sales, but the bottom line is, that still boils down to how it translates to revenue.
Give credit where it’s due, Tony Khan didn’t have to fund a pro wrestling product and he has good intentions for the sport, but that doesn’t automatically guarantee success. It’s well known that he is fan of the history of the industry so you have to ask, did Eddie Graham, Dusty Rhodes, or Kevin Sullivan use a chart to book angles? It might not win The Wrestling Observer booker of the year award, but the booking process doesn’t have to be something purposefully convoluted to appear more intricate than it actually is. Get a heel with heat, and a baby face that’s over with the audience. Aside from the scenario that creates the conflict for a feud, a booker has to determine how effective the angle is with the audience. As an example, whatever pie chart Tony had to give ROH more time on the program should’ve been scrapped, along with the dozen belts that go along with it. Did Brain Cage wearing the ROH six man belt to the ring really mean anything?
As far as last night’s edition of Dynamite, I saw two major problems, but none of it had to do with the quality of talent in the ring. Timothy Thatcher vs. Bryan Danielson was an excellent technical contest and the type of bout that could provide a true alternative to sports entertainment. For some of the rightful criticism of Tony’s style, the fact that he isn’t trying to present sports entertainment is a positive because nobody is going to present sports entertainment as well as the WWE. The problem is, the angle that brought Thatcher to AEW is a recycled concept from the Chris Jericho/MJF feud so there will naturally be diminishing returns. We’ve already discussed in a previous article about the misguided use of Konosuke Takeshita and Bandido against Danielson in this storyline. At least Thatcher was booked as a hired hitman for MJF and worked the role well in the match. But again, the problem is, this is a retread of a previous concept and so far, I don’t think the realistic possibility of MJF dropping the title has been established. Granted, we know that some of the major selling points of the AEW product are in-ring quality and work rate, but the building blocks of pro wrestling are still the beloved baby face potentially winning the championship. I’m sure the iron man match at the pay-per-view will be fine, but nothing about this angle so far makes the bout “must see,” and part of that is because this is a reused angle.
The main event was a Darby Allin vs. Samoa Joe rematch for the TNT title. While it made sense for Darby Allin to get the hometown win a few weeks ago, much of that momentum was moot after he dropped the title for such a brief reign. At the same time, Samoa Joe doesn’t look as dominate as champion because he lost the title and thus if he eventually puts Wardlow over, it will mean less than it would’ve otherwise. The more title changes there are, the less importance it has in the grand scheme of things. The whole sequence seems thrown together, and that’s something that appears to be the problem for the vast majority of AEW programming. “Hey, we’re in Seattle so let’s book Darby to win the title in his hometown” isn’t the best booking decision if it dilutes the bigger purpose of Wardlow getting a push from eventually winning the championship.
I’m not trying to be completely negative on AEW, but rather to point out the importance that the proper decisions being made has to the rest of the industry. AEW, for all of its positives and negatives, is the best chance the industry has at competition that can keep things fresh. Unless Mark Cuban decides to run a wrestling company, All Elite is the best chance the business has at an alternative, and the talent is on the roster to be able to accomplish that, but the presentation is the key. When Brock Lesnar showed up once every three months and TNA was on Destination America right before ice fishing, there wasn’t exactly hype around the industry so that’s why it’s so important that Tony Khan avoids a plateau for the company.
Trust me, I hope that pro wrestling flourishes, but if a team thae stellar quality of FTR can’t be featured as a top act somewhere on national television, it’s difficult to be optimistic for the future.
What do you think? Share your thoughts, opinions, feedback, and anything else that was raised on Twitter @PWMania and Facebook.com/PWMania.
Until next week
E mail firstname.lastname@example.org | You can follow me on Instagram & Facebook @jimlamotta89