Please, for the love of all humanity, end the era of three-hour Monday Night Raws. I, and so many other wrestling fans, simply can’t take it anymore.
Listen, I completely understand why you increased Raw from two to three hours - advertising dollars. Although the show isn’t the ratings beast it once was, it’s still more than respectable as a cable offering. Assuming that each hour of Raw draws about the same ratings, advertising income should increase by 50%. I’ve never been good with math, but that sounds about right to me. So, in theory, you’re making a lot more while exerting the same effort as before, when Raw was just two hours.
My issue with the change is just that: you’re simply exerting the same effort as before, but simply stretching segments out to better fill time. Rather than looking at an additional hour as an opportunity to do something new, or push young talent, you’re giving viewers the same old WWE, with segments that are running on far too long. There’s a breaking point you need to be cautious of. There’s a fine line between captivating and boring television, and Raw has been far more boring than captivating since increasing to three hours.
Alright, maybe I’m being a bit harsh and exaggerating. It’s not like you haven’t tried anything new. Here’s something: there’s been a massive increase in WWE Studios-pimping. Did you know that the Miz is starring in The Marine 3? Or that Wade Barrett has a somewhat major role in Dead Man Down?? I sure as hell did, you tell me every ten minutes. And if exclusive trailers weren’t enough, viewers have been subjected to segments in which movie roles are utilized to further in-ring storylines. I get that you don’t want WWE Studios to go the way of the XFL, and if you don’t promote these silver screen gems, who will? But it’s getting to be too much. Shoving ancillary products down the throats of wrestling fans will only lead to resentment.
It’s funny, when it was first announced that Raw would be three hours every week, I was cautiously optimistic. I thought it was a mistake, sure, but there was also an opportunity to flesh out storylines. I thought the extra time would allow creative minds to flourish. It’s pretty nutty how wrong I was. The extra time on Raw has done the opposite for storylines, it’s hurt them.
One of my favorite books in the world is On Writing by Stephen King. In the book, King explains what (he thinks) it takes to be a successful writer of fiction. A key piece of advice that he offers is to cut the bullshit. Look at the story/chapter/paragraph/sentence you’ve written and edit out all unnecessary words and parts. Now, I know that I’ve been guilty of breaking that rule, and I can confirm that King has been as well (read any of his 1000+ page epics), but the rule remains pretty damn relevant. Clear and concise storytelling keeps and holds audience attention. Drawing out stories does the opposite.
I fear what three hour Raws will ultimately do to the Pay Per View model. Right now, Raw serves as a build up to monthly PPVs. The goal is to get the audience emotionally invested in storylines, so that they’re willing to pay to see the conclusions to those stories. But if three hour Raws are exhausting viewers (and they absolutely are), there’s a very real chance that they will lose interest in said stories, and ultimately choose not to stick it out until the conclusion. So while you’re making more in advertising on Monday nights, you will potentially draw smaller PPV buys. It’s risky business for sure.
But hey, the Pay Per View business is likely to go away in five years anyway, right? Why spend too much time fretting over it now? Because your plan to counteract the slow death of the PPV model is the WWE Network, which is anything but a safe gamble. As of right now, the rumor is that the WWE Network will be a subscription channel, with a price tag between $8-$15. When you consider that PPVs today cost $50+, it’s not a bad deal at all. Still, asking for fans to commit to a monthly payment isn’t an easy task, especially if they’re experiencing viewer fatigue from an overexposure to wrestling.
Isn’t the golden rule of show business “always leave them begging for more”? Every Time an episode of Lost ended, I was left there asking myself “What the hell was that?! Oooh, a preview for next week!” Three hour Raws don’t allow for fans to want more. Sure, fans have been able to sit through three hour PPVs, and even four hour WrestleManias. But add an extra hour of Raw, and suddenly Smackdown is easier to skip, because it’s too exhausting to consider committing five hours a week to Wrestling. Not to mention NXT, Superstars, Main Event, or whatever new kids show is running on Saturday mornings. An additional hour of Raw could be the straw that broke the camel’s back. With so much programming available, you’re practically begging fans to either skip shows or DVR them instead.
With so much content on television weekly, do fans really see the WWE Network as necessary? That’s a vital question you need to carefully consider. Instead of leaving fans wanting more, you’re giving them everything. Eventually, they’ll lose interest. And you absolutely cannot have fans tuning out just before you launch a venture as major as the WWE Network. For the Network to succeed, you’re going to need all hands on deck, which means something has to give: either the length of Raw or the way three hours is filled.
If three hours is here to stay, give viewers something new. There are so many talented performers in the WWE that are underutilized. Give them some screen time. Allow them an opportunity to get themselves over. How about the long-rumored return of a cruiserweight division? Or promo/interview segments devoted to hyping that night’s main event? You have the writers, there has to be someone out there with a good idea for filling time. The idea simply needs to be better than rehashing earlier segments and endlessly pimping B-movies.
Instead of drawing this letter out, I’ll cut the bullshit and end here. I implore you, Vince, to look past the money you’re making right now off an additional hour of advertising and instead look at the future health of professional wrestling. Yes, Raw is drawing good ratings right now. But what happens when Monday Night Football returns as competition? Or when The Rock and Brock Lesnar leave after WrestleMania season? Viewership will decrease unless practices change. And with important times ahead, you’re going to need to be on top of your game.
Thomas Avb Briggs
Thoughts and opinions? Share them with me!
Written by Thomas Avb Briggs
Before I get any comments/tweets/emails, I’d like to address the format of this week’s column. “Dear Vince: Give Christian the World Heavyweight Title” was my submission to the original TJR Writers Search two years ago. That was going to be my gimmick! It lasted just a couple of weeks before I decided it was too cheesy. Plus, I received a couple of really odd emails after the article. One reader asked me if I could pass a message along to Vince McMahon for him, another called me stupid for believing Vince would read my letter. I decided I didn’t want to explain that I wasn’t writing a real letter each and every week. But I thought a return to the format would be fitting this week, with the new writers about to be chosen. Uncle Briggs welcomes those chosen with open arms.