SPOTLIGHTED PODCAST ALERT (YOUR ARTICLE BEGINS A FEW INCHES DOWN)...
“Umm, excuse me. Vince? We know that the USA Network has requested more adult material in an effort to ignite ratings and realize a full ROI within their gargantuan, near billion-dollar contract with us. But burning someone alive? Murder?
“Pardon me, sir, but I think they just meant ditch the story time at the top of Monday Night Raw. You know, the one where Miz read a TLC version of T’was The Night Before Christmas with the number one contender to the WWE Championship in the ring uncomfortably grinning ear to ear? Abandon ship on that type of phenomenal nonsense. That was the message. Loud and clear.”
“Nope, sir, I promise. That’s what’s they meant. No murder necessary. And, quick sir! Look over there, it’s Roman Reigns!”
Think any top members of the WWE brass had enough of Vince McMahon’s Al Davis impersonation and had this real conversation with him? I doubt it. Though, even if it’s the obvious and correct conversation to have, like Davis, Vince is Vince and there was probably no chance in hell of changing his mind.
With that said, it all happened. Randy Orton burned The Fiend alive at the conclusion of TLC, and whether you believe various reports regarding USA’s frustration with current Raw ratings or not, it’s clear the strategy here was, “let’s do something that will get people talking.”
The match and the 4th of July BBQ at the end of the show was a disaster. A nightmare. It laughed in the face of logic, ruined the Orton character due to a lack of believability, and melted the WWE narrative structure and environment all at the same time. People were talking, though.
So, lets chalk that up to a WWE win. For argument sake only, of course, as we know it wasn’t. Even in accomplishing that goal, they still missed, as the execution of this pathetic attempt at shock television rivaled that of 2000 WCW Thunder and Nitro. That is the real reason for WWE to be embarrassed here. It was all cheap, minor league, and laughable.
Reports indicate WWE had the match and angle in the can hours before the TLC event went live on the WWE Network. They knew what they had and they rolled it out there anyway. That level of hubris is astonishing – even for WWE.
By “what they had,” I mean the overt, open, and obnoxious edit during the fire spot on the wooden rocking chair. I mean the blatant piped-in Fiend laugh as the camera held still on the back of his head as the edit chopped away. I mean the silly bursts of the fire around the ring to coincide with drama in the match that had absolutely nothing to do with the fire itself. Last but unfortunately not least, I mean the painfully obvious dummy in the middle of the ring to close the show. Yes, the dummy that Randy Orton “set on fire” as the world watched. Did WWE even try to make that look real? No, it certainly didn’t look like it, and that’s embarrassing for a wrestling company that tries to be anything but.
In burning the Fiend on Sunday night, WWE looked like a wrasslin’ company that was out of its league while trying something out of their comfort zone. We know WWE isn’t that. We’ve seen the good – The Boneyard Match, the Firefly Funhouse Match, countless promotional hype videos, and stellar documentaries.
If Netflix were going to try their hand at producing a serious horror movie, you can bet the dummy they set on fire for the film wouldn’t look like WWE’s. Like WWE, they are a billion-dollar company. Billion-dollar companies try – or at least they should, anyway. Rest assured, a Netflix dummy in a shoot like WWE attempted at TLC would have been a damn robot for crying out loud. It would have looked legitimate – same with the edits. They would have looked major league, because that’s what Netflix is.
WWE can’t have things both ways. If they are going to be on the forefront of content generation and want to be perceived as premiere in that space, they need to act like it. If they want the WWE Network documentaries to be viewed as on the level of The Last Dance material and ESPN’s 30 for 30 series, they need to walk that walk all the time. This includes when an out of touch old man determines that their horror character must be set on fire to drive ratings. They can’t be a wrasslin’ company when it suits them to help deflect criticism and a top-tier content juggernaut in board rooms around the world to help Stephanie McMahon win eye-roll inducing corporate awards at the same time.
Pick a lane and stay there. After Sunday, Netflix and everyone else are laughing.
NOW CHECK OUT LAST WEEK’S TAKE: HEYDORN’S TAKE: Don’t hold me to this – WWE TLC 2020