Strange times call for a better change in show format.
Make no mistake, professional wrestling is not sports entertainment. It’s performance art.
Wrestling is fake. Fiercely and proudly. Everyone keeps kayfabe (pretending that it’s real) out of respect for the work, past and present. Because of this, the matches have become a better product since we’re all aware of the terms of the deal involving our viewership.
And yet, as much as all that was written above is true, the audience is just as vital to the show’s success as the wrestlers. Aleister Black can do a Black Mass sweeping roundhouse kick but it doesn’t convey anything unless there is a crowd to sell it to the audience at home. So, we’re stuck with a question straight out of western philosophy:
Can you jump the shark if there is no shark to jump?
Yes. Emphatically, yes.
With the Coronavirus reaching global pandemic levels, the entertainment industry has been gutted and shows like Monday Night Raw or Friday Night Smackdown have been left scrambling to produce five hours of weekly content. What we’ve seen these past three weeks from the WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) is nothing short of wildly tone deaf.
Watching luchadores Andrade and Rey Mysterio is appointment viewing. For those unaware, watching these two fights is a passing of the torch from the greatest luchador in a generation (Mysterio) to the next generation (Andrade) of Lucha Libre. But cutting from a frogsplash on the top rope to empty seats doesn’t convey irony or the current tragedy going in reality. It conveys that no one cares. It conveys a missed opportunity.
Wrestlers still come out and play hype man to an audience that doesn’t exist. Announcers ramp up the cadence of their play-by-play, but it all feels stale. If anything, viewers at home are seeing the seams and slips to all the magic. In a TV genre that has also been mocked for its rigidity, now, under these horrible circumstances, would’ve been the most ideal time to try something new. And something old.
If there isn’t an audience why continue to play to one?
This was the time to ditch all the lights and explosions and jumbotrons that were for the fans currently under stay-at-home orders and go old-school in presentation. Imagine a darkened room with the only light being on the squared circle. Two professionals swap locks, holds, kicks, and body slams until one giant spot makes you go ‘daaaaaaaaaaamn’ despite everything you know to be true. Or not true.
It was this presentation style that made wrestling on TV viable to begin with. Gorgeous George, Bruno Sammartino, Dumont TV Wrestling from the early ‘50s. If the most important part of the show is what happens in the ring, this is the best way to highlight it. Professional wrestling is an ongoing saga that heightens and folds back into itself.
Amidst all this real-world chaos this is the best time to give dedicated fans something new and new viewers a chance to jump in.