SPOTLIGHTED PODCAST ALERT (YOUR ARTICLE BEGINS A FEW INCHES DOWN)...
There is understandably some consternation that a brand split will be bad for fans and bad for WWE because it splits a “thin” roster in half, and because last time the brand split was executed so poorly.
I am 100 percent behind this “new brand split,” and believe I’m already seeing signs it will be done better this time. It could be a failure if executed poorly, but just because it was executed poorly last time (off to a decent start and then got worse over time), doesn’t mean it will be executed poorly this time.
Ryan Ward, the main writer/booker of NXT during its rise to a major popular “underground” brand, has been promoted to the main roster, specifically Smackdown. He will be writing, perhaps, for many wrestlers who were the heart and soul of the NXT roster that sold out Takeover: Brooklyn and helped make NXT the darling favorite of even anti-WWE fans.
Between the NXT roster today, the recent call-ups from NXT, the main core of WWE’s roster, and the returning wrestlers (John Cena, Seth Rollins, eventually Randy Orton), WWE absolutely has the depth right now to pull this off. It will force Vince McMahon & Co. to accentuate the strengths of even the “flawed” wrestlers (either on-air skillset or behind the scenes in terms of attitude and maturity). It’s what Paul Heyman made a career out of as a booker, and now Vince & Co. have to play by those rules, and they have incentive to do so.
On the Sam Roberts Wrestling Podcast that dropped today, I talked with Sam and Katie Linendoll about the challenging times WWE finds themselves in, with two very distinct fan sub-bases. I experienced that in person at WWE Extreme Rules in Newark, N.J. on Sunday night. WWE has been tripping over themselves trying to book one roster and two essentially identical prime time shows over the course of five hours each week that pleased both types of fan. Now, ideally, Smackdown can skew more toward A.J. Styles fans and Raw can skew more toward John Cena fans.
The risk is that the Styles fans will watch Tuesdays and entirely skip Mondays, or the Cena fans will have no interest in Smackdown anymore. I don’t think that’s likely at all. For example, I think a well-booked Shinsuke Nakamura later this summer, in the hands of the Smackdown writing team, is good for fall fans. I think a poorly booked, overexposed, Shinsuke Nakamura is a crushing development for all fans. A.J. Styles featured once per week in the main event mix on Tuesdays is better for fans (and A.J.’s physical well-being over time) than if he’s a mid-carder filling 20 minutes of TV time twice a week while being taken for granted and overexposed against other indy-seasoned veterans in a pointless 50/50 booking scheme.
I believe if each show has a distinct vision, or “vibe,” as Triple H described NXT as compared to WWE Raw & Smackdown, all viewers will be better served. There can be babyfaces positioned as clear babyfaces, heels positioned as clears heels, and coherent storylines resulting from it, leading to overall better booking. That will appeal more to all fans. The booking has just been a mish-mash of competing philosophies, and by trying to serve all fans, they ended up mis-serving all fans.
Of course, there’s a lot that can still go wrong. But it’s simple-minded to assume with certitude that if it was done poorly ten years ago, it’ll be done poorly again today. NXT has been so well executed, WWE’s roster is arguably as talented and deep as it’s ever been (counting NXT), and with Triple H, Ryan Ward, and and rest of the team being able to book to their strengths with a roster and booking philosophy that appeals to them, they will be unencumbered in booking to a specific part of the fanbase with specific tastes.
If nothing else, Tuesdays became a new major pro wrestling night (with all due respect to TNA Impact, which I expect will move to Thursday nights if it even survives deep into summer as a national show). In fact, Tuesdays becomes equal to Monday – a major live pro wrestling show with a distinct (and likely more appealing to the PWTorch readership) roster of world class indy-seasoned wrestlers led by a writer who helped make NXT a phenomenon. As a huge bonus, Smackdown remains two hours. The only way today would have been better news for me is if Raw was cut back to two hours starting July 19, with the SyFy replay on Fridays used to make up for the lost ad revenue of dropping Raw’s third hour. There’s still hope, though!
Follow me on Twitter @thewadekeller and our brand @pwtorch.
(Wade Keller is editor and publisher of the Pro Wrestling Torch Newsletter, host of multiple PWTorch podcasts during the week, supervising editor of PWTorch.com and MMATorch.com, and a frequent guest analyst on major podcasts such as The Steve Austin Show, The Ross Report, and the Sam Roberts Wrestling Podcast. He has covered pro wrestling since 1987.)