SPECIAL FEATURE: WrestleMania 35 – Previewing the Production: Timing out the show, analyzing time window for each match based on past years

By Grant Sawyer, Guest Writer


WrestleMania 32 - AT&T Stadium April 3, 2016 (credit Brian Kettler)

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Having worked in both television and wrestling production for years, when WrestleMania season rolls along I’m always fascinated by the entire aspect of trying to time and produce such a massive show. Just for fun, I would type up a very basic run-sheet for my like-minded friends to enjoy. Like clockwork, as Mania day grew closer every year, I would frequently be asked if I was going to do one. For the first time last year I shared this thought process with the Torch readers; to possibly give fans a different way of viewing such an event.

Every live televised broadcast you see gets very specifically timed out and produced to the smallest detail – from the projected hit time for every individual segment to where the cameras need to be to when the announcers are on screen to every single pre-tape, musical cue, and on-screen graphic that is needed throughout the broadcast. The live nature constantly dictates a series of changes that evolve throughout the show such as segments getting killed due to running heavy (i.e. the show is running longer than originally planned and changes have to be made to keep it on schedule to hit the same out time). Sports events are a little more unpredictable when it comes to their length and have “floating” out times as opposed to a news broadcast or a ‘Saturday Night Live’ type show which have “hard” out times (meaning they have to be hit at an exact time). At one time, all WWE pay-per-views had to be out by the 3-hour mark (4 for WrestleMania) but with the evolution of the WWE Network, their pay-per-view events have migrated more towards a floating out time.

This year’s out time is a floating 12:30am ET/9:30pm PT, a five hour, 30 minute window which is a half hour long than the past three Manias which had 5 hour windows (with the last two running past that window, ending at 12:10am and 12:11am). There will be likely between 26-32 segments depending on how many matches actually end up on the pre-show. It’s in the timing process that you really determine what there will not be time for on the main show. Now when you see the 26-32 segments, keep in mind that covers a variety of things that are not actual wrestling matches which usually add up to around 30-40 minutes worth on the show. Here is a breakdown of the ones that regularly occur during WrestleMania:

6:00 segment – ‘America The Beautiful’, followed by pe-produced Cold Open for the show
2-3:00 worth of segments – One or two backstage promos
1:00 segment – On-camera introduction of ringside celebrities
1:00 segment – Site location of next year’s WrestleMania announced in pre-produced commercial
2:00 segment – Announcement of crowd attendance
3:00 segment – On-camera reset/recap with preshow hosts about 3/4 of the way through the show.
6-7:00 segment – for any potential concert act that is not part of a specific ring entrance
6-7:00 segment –Hall of Fame introductions
6:00 worth of segments – Commercials for various products – WWE video games, Snickers, Tap Out, KFC, WWE Network, etc.

Between the ones that do occur and then the additional pieces such as exterior shots of the Metlife Stadium, New York City, and on-camera announcer segues between segments you end up with right around 30-40 minutes of non-match segments on your typical WrestleMania show. There will occasionally be a non-match segment aberration such as the Rock/Rousey-Triple H/Stephanie promo from Mania 31 which was a 24-minute segment but blew up the non-match segment total for that show to 56 minute. On the other hand, the Rock-Wyatts segment from Mania 32 was a 28 minute segment but since it was “technically” a match, that kept 32’s non-match segment time at 32 minutes. The Elias segment this year could easily fall into that department as it is like to go longer than the typical 6-7:00 concert segment and potentially evolve into an unadvertised match as well.

So as we progress just keep in mind that for WWE’s purposes, it’s all about the segment time and not the actual match itself. In fact, the segment time is usually close to 3/4 of whatever the actual match time is. Two drastically different random examples: Matt Hardy vs. Jeff Hardy at WrestleMania 25 went 13:13 from bell to bell but was a 21 minute segment with the packages, ring-introductions, and post-match wrap-up. Undertaker vs. Triple H from WrestleMania 28 technically ran 30:50 but had a whopping segment time of 52 minutes.

Moving on to breaking down the WrestleMania 35 undercard where there are 16 matches scheduled which would tie the all-time record with WrestleMania IV (although 3-4 of this year’s matches will be on the preshow and production elements were MUCH different back then, so there really is no comparison for this article’s purpose). Here’s how each segment time breaks down based upon what has traditionally been the case for similar segments (keep in mind that any match with a video package added to it adds around three minutes to the total segment time):

Buddy Murphy vs. Tony Nese: Cedric Alexander-Mustafa Ali last year were given a 16:00 seg/12:00 match in the same spot and would be difficult to see Murphy-Nese getting any more than that.

2nd Annual Women’s WrestleMania Battle Royal & Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal: These battle royals usually run right around a 17:00 segment with the match time fluctuating depending on how many of individual ring entrances actually occur. For example, last year’s battle royals were both 17 & 18:00 minute segments but since more time was spent on the women’s entrances, their match time was 9:50 while the men’s (which had far fewer entrances) ran a full 15:45 of their 18:00 segment. It seems that with the inclusion of the ‘Saturday Night Live’ crew, that will reverse itself this year and the men’s will be allocated slightly more time to tell the necessary story. On a side note, if you’ve wondered if the men’s battle royal would make the main show due to the presence of ‘Saturday Night Live’, I fully expect that match to specifically air on the USA Network broadcast of the pre-show as it is a NBC Universal property and the crossover would be deemed more valuable airing there than on the WWE Network itself.

The Revival vs. Curt Hawkins & Zack Ryder: The Dolph/Big E vs. Kane/Bryan tag title match at WrestleMania 29 had an 11:00 seg/6:00 match and if this match is on the pre-show, the Usos-Dudleys at WrestleMania 32 were given a 10:00 seg/5:00 match. It’s hard to imagine this segment getting much more.

Samoa Joe vs. Rey Misterio Jr. / Bobby Lashley vs. Finn Balor: Both of these matches are extremely similar in nature, being mid-card singles bouts for the secondary titles. The 4-way for the United States title last year got 17:00 seg/8:00 match but in general there have been very few singles bouts for these championships to draw upon for reference in the past decade. Realistically, one of these will likely run a touch over last year’s times and one will run a touch under.

Usos vs. the Bar vs. Rusev & Nakamura vs. Ricochet & Aleister Black – Back-to-back years for the Smackdown tag team titles to be decided in a 4-way match. Last year’s was one of the shortest 4-ways in the past decade, only being a 12:00 seg/6:00 match. Both Mania 30 & 31 had 4-way tag title matches as well, but both of those were on the pre-show and vastly different, the former having a 26:00 seg/16:00 match and the latter being a 15:00 seg/10:00 match. Mania 31 is probably the most likely scenario as it falls in the middle of the three examples.

Sasha Banks & Bayley vs. The IIconics vs. Natayla & Beth Phoenix vs. Nia Jax & Tamina: You can draw off of the United States 4-way mentioned previously as well as the women’s 4-way from Mania 32 (29:00 seg/16:00 match) and the median will likely be what this match is allowed.

A.J. Styles vs. Randy Orton: Orton has had no shortage of mid-card singles matches over the past decade, including bouts vs. similar opponents to Styles in both Rollins (22:00 seg/13:00 match) and Punk (23:00 seg/15:00 match). Styles’ two Mania matches that weren’t for a title ran 29:00 seg/20:00 match (vs. Shane McMahon) and 25:00 seg/17:00 match (vs. Jericho). All of these examples fall into a very similar ballpark, so a median of those will likely be where this one falls.

Roman Reigns vs. Drew McIntyre: You can’t draw on post history for Reigns here as all of his previous singles matches have been in the main event and given a 30+ minute segment which he won’t be getting here. Looking back at previous singles matches with upper tier guys in mid-card slots, Lesnar-Ambrose at Mania 32 with a 23:00 seg/13:00 match is probably the most similar to this one.

Shane McMahon vs. Miz: Since Shane returned three years again, he has gotten 50, 29, and 30-minute segments. Miz doesn’t have a lot of comparable singles mid-card matches, but last year he did get a 24:00 seg/15:00 match in the opener. I would expect this to be similar to Shane-Styles from Mania 33 (29:00 seg/20:00 match) in many ways, but not quite as long.

Triple H vs. Batista: Triple H owns two of the five longest WrestleMania segments in the past decade (52:00 & 50:00 minutes), the longest segment last year at 37:00, and the second longest at Mania 33 at 39:00. It’s been a long time since Batista was in this spot, especially if you exclude his WrestleMania XXX main event, going back to when he faced Cena at 26 with a 28:00 seg/13:00 match. It’s more than fair to expect a 30-minute segment here, how much more than that is the real question.

Kurt Angle vs. Baron Corbin: It’s fair to say that this retirement match won’t be similar at all to Ric Flair’s (37:00 segment/20:00 match) or Shawn Michaels’ (43:00 seg/23:00 match). It feels like this will be the shortest match on the show (unless they do a quick finish in Balor-Lashley) and the non-match segment will – at the very least – triple the actual match length.

Brock Lesnar vs. Seth Rollins: Both of Lesnar’s title matches vs. Reigns at Mania were within a minute of the other, going 31-32:00 seg/16:00 match. On one hand, you could skew a bit longer because of Rollins’ style but on the other hand, you could skew a touch shorter since this one actually isn’t closing the show.

Daniel Bryan vs. Kofi Kingston: You only have to go back to last year to find a similar match where a WWE title match would be positioned high on the show but not the actual main event in which Styles-Nakamura got a 37:00 seg/20:00 match last year. Going back a little further, Punk-Jericho at Mania 28 had a 32:00 seg/22:00 match so taking a piece from both of those, this feels like a 37:00 seg/22:00 match. FYI, the segment time would decrease if Bryan actually escapes with the title and they don’t need additional time for Kofi’s celebration.

Ronda Rousey vs. Becky Lynch vs. Charlotte Flair: This is very much uncharted territory for the women but we can pull from two previous WrestleMania title matches in Charlotte-Asuka (28:00 seg/13:00 match), and Charlotte-Sasha-Becky (29:00 seg/16:00 match). The two shortest WrestleMania main events in the past decade have both been Lesnar-Reigns (again, 31-32:00 seg/16:00 matches) and I think it would be fair to add on a few minutes to all of those times, especially when it comes to the overall segment due to the elaborate entrances and production for three wrestlers instead of just two.

Trying to come up with a match order prediction is next to impossible when you’re dealing with sixteen matches and seven+ hours including the preshow so in trying to finalize it all, I laid out everything in a logical order, added the times, and moved the stuff that could be moved as needed. Just some notes on the logic applied when structuring what match should go where. No similar matches go back-to-back and normally require multiple matches between them. For example, the battle royals, the 4-way tags, the No Holds Barred & Falls County Anywhere matches, and the women’s matches will all have a separator or two between one another. As far as what will be the main show opener, Samoa Joe-Misterio fits the bill the most for what is typically placed there but also, 80% of Manias open with a babyface win as well. Other possible openers would be the Smackdown tag title match (although tags never kick off the show but it would certainly fit the “hot opener” category), Miz-Shane (would have been the most likely if both Miz and Shane had not opened Mania already the past two years), or even the women’s battle royal (since in theory we would have some form of opening promo from Alexa Bliss in there). Certain segments will need to come as “breaks” in the show, following what in theory will be the hottest matches. This is where the Elias segment, the Hall of Fame introductions, and the Angle match will go. In addition, the Balor-Lashley match is the most “collapsible” so it seems like if time is needed to be saved late in the show, it would be the most likely for time shaving. Once I completed timing the show, it also became very apparent that unless certain segments have drastically different times than normal, then the preshow will need to contain four matches this year if they have any hopes of ending by the 12:30am ET window. So with that said, here are my very unofficial WrestleMania 35 runsheet predictions:

5:00pm ET/1pm PT – Cold open for Preshow, out to exterior shots of Metlife Stadium, Cut to Preshow panel

5:10pm ET – Buddy Murphy vs. Tony Nese (15:00 segment/11:00 match)

5:40pm ET – Usos vs. the Bar vs. Rusev & Nakamura vs. Ricochet & Aleister Black (15:00 segment/11:00 match)

6:01pm ET – Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal (18:00 segment/12:00 match)

6:30pm ET – The Revival vs. Curt Hawkins & Zack Ryder (11:00 segment/5:00 match)

7:00pm ET – ‘America The Beautiful’ by Yolanda Adams, followed by Cold Open & Alexa Bliss promo (6:00 segment)

7:06pm ET – 2nd Annual Women’s WrestleMania Battle Royal (17:00 segment/13:00 match)

7:23pm ET – Commercials (1:00 segment)

7:24pm ET – Samoa Joe vs. Rey Misterio Jr. (14:00 segment/8:00 match)

7:38pm ET – Commercial / On-camera introduction of ringside celebrities (1:00 segment)

7:39pm ET – AJ Styles vs. Randy Orton (23:00 segment/15:00 match)

8:02pm ET – Backstage Promo (2:00 segment)

8:04pm ET – Shane McMahon vs. Miz (26:00 segment/18:00 match)

8:30pm ET – Commercials (1:00 segment)

8:31pm ET – Bobby Lashley vs. Finn Balor (13:00 segment/5:00 match)

8:44pm ET – Commercials (1:00 segment)

8:45pm ET – Roman Reigns vs. Drew McIntyre (22:00 segment/12:00 match)

9:07pm ET – Backstage Promo (1:00 segment)

9:08pm ET – Elias segment (14:00 segment)

9:22pm ET – On-camera reset/recap with preshow hosts (3:00 segment)

9:25pm ET – Triple H vs. Batista (32:00 segment/20:00 match)

9:57pm ET – Hall of Fame introductions (7:00 segment)

10:04pm ET – Sasha Banks & Bayley vs. The IIconics vs. Natayla & Beth Phoenix vs. Nia Jax & Tamina (20:00 segment/10:00 match)

10:24pm ET – Site location of WrestleMania 36 announced in pre-produced commercial (1:00 segment)

10:25pm ET – Brock Lesnar vs. Seth Rollins (32:00 segment/16:00 match)

10:57pm ET – Commercials (1:00 segment)

10:58pm ET – Kurt Angle vs. Baron Corbin (17:00 segment/2:00 match)

11:15pm ET – Announcement of Metlife crowd attendance (2:00 segment)

11:17pm ET – Daniel Bryan vs. Kofi Kingston (36:00 segment/21:00 match)

11:53pm ET – Commercials (1:00 segment)

11:54pm ET – Ronda Rousey vs. Becky Lynch vs. Charlotte Flair (35:00 segment/19:00 match)

12:30am ET – Fade to black

Grant Sawyer has been the technical director for over 600 professional wrestling events and is the editor of the History of Professional Wrestling books at Amazon. You can follow him on Twitter @Statmark.

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