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Weak In, Week Out: Raw vs. Smackdown

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Guest TSMAdmin

"Suck it, Raw, because you can't even hang with Smackdown's second tier of goodness."


That's what I said to close out the most recent Smackdown report, and it's true. Smackdown was a good show this week, though definitely down a notch from the amazing two hours that aired the previous week. Even so, it was thoroughly, 1000% better than Raw, and better than any Raw that's aired in a long time. Everyone on the 'net notices the difference in quality between the two shows, so it's obvious WWE has to know about it. The question is, do they care?


After the brand extension first happened with the talent draft, it was clear Smackdown was getting the better end of the talent equation. Raw had more name-recognizable (read: old) stars, but Smackdown had workers like Kurt Angle, The Rock, and Edge, all of whom are pretty recognizable themselves. A few trades were made, and the difference became even more pronounced. The final nail in the coffin of Raw's talent came when the amazing duo of Eddy Guerrero and Chris Benoit moved to Smackdown.


This puts the shows in two different directions, which is good to sell the fact that they're ostensibly separate brands. Raw is the more "Sports Entertainment –" style show, with the wrestling taking a backseat to skits, limousine arrivals, and mike time for the commissioner. Smackdown, however, focuses on the wrestling. While the other aspects are still there, they rarely overpower the in-ring action. On the occasions they have, Smackdown has suffered, both in quality and with the Nielsen crowd.


So the plus for WWE here is that they have two shows which are functionally different, adding to the appearance that there really was a brand extension, and that the two shows are in direct competition. The problem is, is such a cavernous gap in talent healthy? I have to say no.


Without Booker T and Rob Van Dam, I don't think I'd ever watch Raw anymore. I don't want to see HHH walk around and show he has the biggest dick because of where he puts it when he goes home. I don't want to see Jeff Hardy blow his spots and move like he's strung out on something. I don't want to see The Big Show at all, let alone in the ring on my TV. I don't want to see predictable "three minutes" segments that became tired and very easy to spot after the second one. And as much as I enjoy Eric Bischoff as the smarmy GM, I don't want to see him blathering to the crowd when there could be something going on in the ring instead. That's a lot of negatives, with only a couple of positives to try and redeem the show. I don't consider Jericho much of a positive, given his apparent lack of interest and the stupid booking that plagues him.


On Smackdown, the only guys I don't want to see are Rikishi and Mark Henry. Everyone else on the roster is at least watchable, and quite a few of them are damn good. We have Eddy and Chavo Guerrero, Chris Benoit, Edge, Kurt Angle, Rey Mysterio, Jamie Noble, Brock Lesnar, and Matt Hardy. Billy and Chuck have been on a good run as a team, and even The Undertaker is watchable. Younger guys like John Cena and Shannon Moore, while green, are still worth watching and have a lot of potential. There are only two weak links on the entire Smackdown roster, while everyone else is at least something of a plus. While it's good that the shows appear to be in competition, there really isn't any competition when it comes to talent, and that is definitely a problem.


With the ratings having been on a downward spiral since the demise of WCW, the way to get the wrestling fans back is with actual wrestling. Crappy soap opera elements will only draw women and sappy marks, and neither of them comprise WWE's core audience. It's quite likely that the core audiences for Raw and Smackdown are really quite different: folks who like storylines and soap opera elements watch Raw, while people who go for the in-ring action watch Smackdown. There has to be significant overlap, but the shows are different enough now that they also have to be attracting their own, equally different audiences.


There are a few easy fixes for this. Since WWE has frozen roster moves between the two shows, that enormous talent discrepancy can't be addressed. However, there are ways for Raw to utilize what it has better. Here are a few suggestions.


1. Always have at least six matches. The only allowable exception is if you have a 20-minute match on the card, but barring that, six matches is the standard. Anything less, and the Sportz Entertainment crap is overpowering the wrestling. It also helps to open the show with a match as opposed to a long talking segment that doesn't go anywhere. In other words, keep HHH out of the first segment.


2. Get rid of limousine arrivals and wrestlers walking backstage unless something significant happens, or the event is somehow important to the show. Of course, if you're building important aspects of your show around a limousine pulling into a parking lot sometime during the first hour, that's another problem unto itself.


3. Build feuds. Everything feels rushed on Raw, and it's probably the frequent interruptions to the flow caused by Eric Bischoff's five segments per week. Feuds never really happen as a result, because everything is pushed to a rapid conclusion. If Bubba Dudley and HHH are a feud, then run with it. Have them confront each other, punk each other out, end up on opposite sides of tag team matches, etc. Even with today's short attention spans among the fanbase (helped along by the legacy of Crash TV, no doubt), there's no reason a good feud can't cover a few months. Kane vs. Chris Jericho? Fine, let it simmer and build, and blow it off at the Royal Rumble. It's not hard, and the WWF used to do it all the time before the Entertainment became so important.


4. Keep wastes of TV time like The Big Show and Jeff Hardy off TV until you make them worth watching again. For Show, that means not treating the biggest man in the company like a fat jobber. Only WWE could fail to get such an enormous man over as a monster. For Jeff Hardy, that means teaching him to work a style where he's not playing the daredevil, and is less likely to blow his spots and expose the business. I'd rather they both get released outright, but this at least gets some use out of them.


5. Push Booker T and Rob Van Dam. Those are the people the fans want to see. HHH just isn't as over as he used to be, despite his match with Shawn Michaels and despite his influence with the McMahons. Push the people the fans want to see and you'll find the fans are more eager to watch your shows. But when HHH spends a half-hour on camera every week, I'm sorely tempted to put Monday Night Football on.


6. Make smarter matchups. Either put two good workers out there together, or (since that would use up the good talent on Raw quickly) put one good worker against a poor one and hope for a broomstick match. But putting two awful workers like Show and Jeff Hardy against each other is asking for trouble.


7. Get rid of Jerry Lawler. He's more than overstayed his welcome this time. I'm incredibly tired of his overgrown adolescent schtick and locker room patois. The embarrassing way he acts anytime a Diva is on screen is beyond self-parody. Tazz has overtaken him by leaps and bounds as the better color man, and makes a pretty good team with an improving Michael Cole on Smackdown. Get someone else, anyone else, into the booth with Jim Ross, stat.


Those are the ideas that spring immediately to mind. With those seven suggestions as guidelines, I think Raw could utilize its existing strengths better, as well as disguise its weaknesses. It would certainly make the show a better alternative to Monday Night Football, which is probably all we can expect in the short term.

Do YOU have any ideas for improving Raw? Send them to me, and if I get enough good ones, I'll use them in a future column. You'll find the address below.


Dr. Tom

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