The Common Denominator – Bring the Drama (WWE, CM Punk, John Cena, Ryback, Survivor Series, The Walking Dead, NWO, DX, Vince McMahon)
by Ralph Hardin on November 9, 2012

Where’s the drama? Where’s the suspense? Where’s the cohesive storytelling?

The WWE touts Raw as “the longest running weekly episodic television show in the history of the universe” or whatever. To me, though, the key word there is “episodic.”

By definition, episodic means made up of separate but connected episodes. You know, the cast of characters, the plotline, the overall theme of the show makes sense from one episode to the next. On every episode of Seinfeld, George was the neurotic friend, Kramer was the wacky neighbor and Elaine was the cynical ex-girlfriend. That never changed. Jerry never left his apartment to find that George and Weezy had moved in next door. And on shows where the cast did change, like say ER, there was almost always a totally believable storyline to explain the change.

Now, I’m not saying that Raw is highbrow television, but I need things to kind-of, you know, make sense from week to week. Even if it’s over-the-top, I want to see a story unfold. I want characters I can invest in and care about their fate. I honestly can’t remember the last time I saw the WWE pull that off for a sustained period. Yeah, a lot of you might be screaming “SUMMER OF PUNK” at me here, but, and I am not the first to point this out, they took what could have been a great, red-hot, months-long angle, possibly strung out all the way to Wrestlemania or at least the Royal Rumble, and instead fast-tracked it, diluted it with the injection of Kevin Nash, HHH, John Laurainitis, and crammed everything into a few weeks.

I’m not a professional wrestling television show writer. But I am a writer. I don’t claim to be anything special, but just some background here…I write for a living. I am a newspaper reporter. I write dramas for my church. I have had plays produced. I have written two full-length novels (which have received very nice rejection letters). I have written for online news sites and this site. Again, I am no (insert your favorite writer here), but I know my way around the written word. I know how to tell a story. The people currently producing programming for the WWE do not know how to tell a story.

Yes, they are likely hampered by Vince MeMahon’s “creative” authority, but something has got to get through, right? I’m trying to think about well-received plot points in recent memory. Kane and Daniel Bryan had a few weeks of funny stuff, mostly thanks to the dry wit of Glen Jacobs and the unkillable heat for Bryan (though God knows they’ve tried). But even that has already become repetitive. AJ was so hot she was glowing during the Punk-Bryan angle, but they totally overexposed her, changed her character, and stuck her in a completely unsuited GM role. Brock Lesnar’s return was, at least in my opinion, completely botched. I hope, just to show them, when they do bring him back, the WWE “Universe” completely craps on him like they did for the Lesnar-Goldberg joke at Wrestlemania. This entire year has been filled with false starts, fizzled plots and, sorry but flat-out boring storylines. The last time I was truly excited was when I though Santino Marella was going to get the World Heavyweight Title at Elimination Chamber. No, I wasn’t expecting him to keep it more than a week, but it was the perfect time in terms of Santino being at the peak of his popularity, Bryan being the heel people wanted to see lose, and the live crowd begging for the upset. In other words, it was everything they WISHED was going on at Hell in a Cell with CM Punk and Ryback.

Which leads me to Survivor Series. I don’t know the exact circumstances surrounding the complete overhaul of the top of the card, but whatever it was, it just smacked of terrible planning and writing. Vince has become his own deux ex machina. I guess it was a combination of being afraid of having two straight pay-per-views without John Cena on the card, a continued less than desired reaction for Ryback, and the idea that “holy crap, we’ve put all our top guys in one match and boy does it suck!” I mean seriously, that original traditional Survivor Series match roster looked like crap. I’m not saying it’s any better now, but at least it’s not the Main Event.

The real problem for me is how we got to where we are now. It was supposed to be this grudge between Punk and Foley. First, Foley is taken out of the match. Not with a mega-beatdown from Team Punk, with Ryback making the save, but just by saying, “Oh, I’m not in the match, haha!” Then, Punk is taken out of the match as well so that he can defend the WWE title against Ryback and Cena in a three-way. Why wasn’t that the Main Event of Hell in a Cell. Cena couldn’t go? Are you saying he couldn’t even make a token showing in a triple threat match where anything goes and his participation could have been minimal and could have happened without any effect on the finish they went with?

No? Well, anyway, what was the dramatic storyline that got Punk pulled from the match and put in the title match? Oh, that’s right, there wasn’t one. Vince just came out and completely neutered Vickie Guerrero’s character’s authority and made the match. No explanation, no build up. Just “this is what we’re doing, not that other thing we were going to do.”

I mentioned episodic storytelling at the beginning of this (before I went completely down the rabbit-hole with my bitch-fest, sorry about that). They used to be able to pull this sort of thing off all the time. Even WCW, for all of their faults once Nash got the book, told great long stories and even paid them off sometimes. The original Austin-McMahon feud, the rise of Goldberg, the NWO, the Ministry of Darkness, the Harts vs. the USA, the Nation of Domination, the return of Sting. Hell, the storyline modes on WWE ’12 and WWE ’13 are better than what’s been on my TV lately.

Here’s an idea. Since they seem to be willing to just change things on a whim at this point, let’s just wrap up our current storylines at Survivor Series and start fresh. I’m going to borrow from one of my favorite shows on TV right now, The Walking Dead. For the uninitiated, it’s the story of a group of survivors following a zombie apocalypse and their ongoing efforts to remain survivors (not all of them do). Now, I’m not saying we need a zombie apocalypse on WWE TV (but I’m not saying we don’t, heh!), but we need a threat. A very real threat. Remember how great the Nexus angle was when it started before it became apparent that no one in that group was going to be allowed to get over on any of the top guys? Well, something like that. Spend the time between Survivor Series and…what is December’s pay-per-view? I’m not taking the time to look it up now, let’s just call it Decembergeddon and move on. Okay, start introducing new talent call-ups. I know they’re there. You can even sprinkle in some guys already around, like Ted DiBiase and Michael McGillicutty. In fact, that might be better, Anyway, have them debut/re-debut, maybe one or two per show in singles matches, and have them, you know, win. Not against top guys, but I think Jack Swagger, Santino, Zack Ryder, Primo, Hunico, the Usos, whoever, can take the loss. Have the announcers make subtle references to the new wave of hungry young talent making their mark in the WWE. Then, at Decembergeddon (or whatever) one of the new guys, let’s just say McGilli—I’m just going to call him Joe Hennig. Hennig gets a shot at the U.S. or Intercontinental title and wins. At the end of the match, the rest of the new guys (let’s say there are eight of them in all) come out and celebrate with Hennig, which is odd, because none of them are booked on the show. Then the group proceeds to come out at the end of every match and beat down one or both participants in the match. By the last couple of matches, the guys in the ring are paranoid and begin watching for the interference, but they start coming out of the crowd then, and finally in the main event, probably CM Punk vs. John Cena (sigh), they run in before the match ends, beating everyone down in sight and then just leave.

The next night on Raw, they open the show declaring something edgy about the backstage politics and the glass ceiling and they can even have put together old clips of things like Vince McMahon’s “Ruthless Aggression” speech, the NWO, Austin and DX’s anti-authoritarian stances, some of Cena’s edgier stuff and some of CM Punk’s “pipe bombs.” Then they make some statement akin to “Why are we acting like this? Where did we learn this from? From you! We learned it from watching YOU!” Then they can proclaim themselves the Progeny or the Offspring or the Reaping or whatever. The point is, everyone is on alert about this new threat.

Something like this…

They start taking people out. Start with guys that need time off, are nearing the end of their contracts, or they just don’t have anything for. They get taken out and are off television indefinitely. Then you get down to a dozen or so “survivors.” CM Punk can be the leader (the Rick, for you Walking Dead fans), and Randy Orton can be his loose cannon buddy (the Shane of the group, if you follow). Throw in Cena, Daniel Bryan, Kofi Kingston, Cody Rhodes, Wade Barrett, maybe a dozen or up to 15 guys altogether, and maybe a few Divas for good measure, assuming the Progeny (or whatever) have a Diva or two of their own. Matches are no longer just about winning or losing. There is a real threat during every match. Paranoia sets in. Even authority figures get taken out. Give the Progeny (or whatever) complete run of the Royal Rumble only to bring out a potential savior at the end. It can be the Rock, Brock Lesnar, Undertaker, whoever, who wins the rumble but then gets destroyed.

Over the next few months, you can have some of the guys that were taken out make surprise returns, like in the movies when you think that one guy is dead in the second act, but he shows up at the end to fight the monster and save the day. Some of the new guys that aren’t really catching on can be culled, there can be converts from one side to the other. Anyway, you state building toward the big finish. Bring in all these guys like Rock and Lesnar and Undertaker to help even the odds. There can be in-fighting within the two factions. This really could go on for months. And whichever of the new guys stands out, that’s your next wave of top guys.

Now is any of this going to happen? Not likely. Especially with tentative plans for 2013 already (probably) put together. But who knows? They have already shown their willingness to change direction with all the grace of a newborn giraffe, so I guess anything’s possible. I just want it to make sense.

Anyway, thanks for reading. Feel free to join the Common Denomi-Nation in the comments below.

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Ralph Hardin

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  • Aaron Sirois

    Not to be a downer, but your big plan is to basically run the same storyline that we’ve gotten several times before? Just have it run longer?

  • CH Punk

    Yeah, but RAW isn’t Hamlet. Factions, tag teams, and a firm comisioner(sp) made for a great show, back in the 70s until the late 90s. I don’t think WWE cares anymore and they really don’t need to :(

  • ralph hardin

    You know, you are absolutely right. That is something I had not considered. Looking back, as a kid I knew when Jack Tunney or one of the nwa honchos showed up it was a big deal. They need a real credible authority figure. I’m gong to give it some thought..

  • ralph hardin

    I know it sounds like that, and maybe it is, but I’m looking for some kind of tension and conflict and a strong antagonist to drive it.

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  • Kung Fu Panda

    I appreciate what you’re trying to do and I enjoyed the read but one massive storyline throughout the company isn’t the answer. When things are most entertaining is when each wrestler has some sort of individual storyline going on. When they all get lumped together as a group, they still get lost in the shuffle. The cruiserweights were entertaining til they all got lumped into the LWO. Smaller stables work. Massive stables don’t. Now, your idea of some sort of revolution sounds great, maybe just on a smaller scale. Maybe the secondary belts and tag belts, but not the whole fed.

  • James A

    While we’re fantasy-booking, I’d love to see a new Sabu-type character who’s obsessed with putting people through tables. Give the gimmick to someone who the audience don’t know much about – Curt Hawkins would be my pick. This won’t turn business around at all – I just think it’d be fun.

    It doesn’t matter what the match type is, and it doesn’t matter if he wins, loses, or draws, he’ll do whatever he can to put his opponent – or failing that, the first person he lays hands on – through a table by the the end of the night.

    Hawkins won’t be a ‘wild man’ type character – he can come across as pretty intelligent in his own right. Maybe he’s the disgruntled son of a carpenter or something. Maybe he likes the statement that putting someone through a table makes. Maybe he describes himself as an artist and the table is his medium of choice. Heck, maybe it’s even better as an unspoken thing, and when he’s asked about it during an interview, perhaps he just turns to the camera and says – with a completely straight face – “Tables and I… we have an understanding.” His finisher will be something that works on anyone and fits the gimmick – a diving elbow, or a moonsault or something. A Lionsault would be cool.

    To establish the gimmick he’d put one or two guys through a table each week in various circumstances. He wouldn’t get DQ’d very often, but he’ll start off by getting a lot of decisions reversed because he’ll win matches and then continue beating up his opponent afterwards and moonsault them through a couple of tables. But he doesn’t care, because the broken wood will have satisfied his need. If he loses singles matches, he’ll still pop up afterwards and get revenge on the winner – or, the referee, if he’s left alone in the ring with them.

    After a few weeks of this, there will be a card – a ppv or something – where Hawkins won’t have a match. You won’t see him all show, but whenever people are interviewed backstage there will be a table in the background. Perhaps a few people will acknowledge it and look around nervously, and ask Striker or whoever “wait… you haven’t seen Curt hanging around have you?” Then, after a normal mid-card match while someone’s celebrating at the top of the ramp he’ll pop up like 911 in ECW and just throw the guy off the stage and through a conveniently-located table below the ramp. He won’t celebrate or taunt – he’ll just turn to the audience with a self-effacing “couldn’t resist” look, and walk off happily.

    The next night on Raw, Vince or whoever the authority figure is comes out and tries to fire Hawkins for being attacking people with tables. But Hawkins comes out and says “Mr McMahon, you’ve got it all wrong… I’m attacking tables WITH PEOPLE.” And he sees a table nearby and jumps through it, with every sign of enjoyment. As he’s pulling himself out of the wreckage Vince looks on in disbelief, thinks about things, and says “you really like tables, huh? Fine. Next week, you’re in a tables match against RYBACK!”

    The next week on Raw, the show goes on as usual, but there’s a table set up at ringside for the entire event, there are tables in the background of every interview, and all of the wrestlers are on edge, wondering where the next attack will come from. Everyone keeps looking over their shoulders to check that Hawkins isn’t around. Hawkins vs Ryback is the penultimate match of the night, and it’s a typical Ryback squash. Hawkins gets Shell Shocked through a table after putting up a small but noble fight. As Ryback is celebrating, though, Hawkins grabs a mic, gets to his feet, smiles and says “You haven’t quite got the technique down… Want to try again?” Ryback gets mad and throws Hawkins through another table. Hawkins still has the mic, though, and he’s half dead but he doesn’t care: “One more time! Come on, Ryback, you can do it.” He leads a Ryback chant to encourage the big man. Ryback is pissed now, strides over and puts Hawkins through one table, then another, then another in quick succession. Then he walks off. Hawkins gets to his feet and grabs another mic: “That… That’s what I’m talking about!” Then he collapses. EMTs wheel him off. He has a big grin on his face the entire time.

    After that he’ll stop putting people through tables so often before it gets too old – but there’s loads of stuff he can do in the meantime. Perhaps he goes to therapy to try to wean himself off of tables. Perhaps he produces a series of tables designed to look like title belts which he puts someone through whenever he wins the belt in question. His motivation for winning the WWE Championship is that he wants to put someone through his “spinner” table. He’ll probably never win the belt, but hey, he’s got ambition! Maybe he wins the tag belts with a table as his tag team partner.

  • Blair A. Douglas

    Ha, this was great James. Very cool idea.

    I disagree with this though:
    “This won’t turn business around at all – I just think it’d be fun.”

    I think stuff like THIS (maybe not this one idea alone, but other different ideas as well) are exactly what WWE needs to turn business around (although their business is fine.) I think different ideas like this are exactly how you get more people watching.

    Anyway, well done.

  • CH Punk

    Arn Anderson or Ted Dibiase Senior. No cartoonish guys.

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