The Customer Is Always Right, Plus Bret Hart’s Autobiography

WrestleZone

THE CUSTOMER IS ALWAYS RIGHT

In most entertainment industries, what matters most is the 18-35 demographic. Not the kiddies. Not the musty and wrinkled. Not the housewives. The 18-35 demographic has dough, will spend. Winning their attention and approval moves the needle.

Sometimes WWE gets that. Sometimes WWE doesn’t.

But right now, with Jeff Hardy holding the WWE belt and Matt Hardy reigning as WWE champ, Vince McMahon has shown he gets it. Or, more probably, someone young and in touch got it, then pitched Vince, and luckily happened to be the last person Vince talked to that day.

Personally, I’m not blown away by the Hardys. But I’m 47. I don’t need to be.

WWE is usually booked for the "audience of one," but in the case of the Hardys, the promotion heeded one of the most accurate barometers the entertainment industry has ever provided: the audience. The great unwashed goes nuts for Jeff and Matt. The 18-35 demographic goes nuts for Jeff and Matt. That’s who you book for. WWE is giving the people what they want.

This bucks the usual trend. McMahon is mostly self-indulgent when it comes to booking, and bigger has almost always been better when it comes to Vince’s champions. McMahon gives the people what HE wants, ramming it down their throats if necessary. Every fiber of McMahon’s judgment surely goes against the concept of either Hardy as a "world" champion.

But the customer is always right. McMahon is listening to his customers.

You’ve got to be careful with this sort of thing. You can’t just go by crowd reaction. When Sting won the NWA world title in 1990, the crowd in Baltimore exploded. Sting went on to get awesome pops every night of his reign. Problem was, the audiences kept shrinking. Those who did show up went ballistic on a regular basis. There were just less and less every time.

Crowd reaction is a good place to start, though. Full credit goes to McMahon for listening. Now it’s time for buy rates, live attendance and merchandising to prove the Hardys worthy.

You have to figure Jeff will blow it, though. He always does.

Matt is, by far, the more reliable. He also has, by far, the lesser belt.

Jeff just has some weird kind of junkie charisma that gets people unhinged. Jeff is unique. There’s a lot to be said for that. Both Hardys are top-notch workers, but that probably means less than it ever has. Both are wooden and forced on promos.

But nothing succeeds like success. The mob has anointed the Hardys. Let’s see if they deliver.

The upshot of Jeff Hardy’s popularity might be providing the perfect building block to finally establish Randy Orton as a true top-level performer. Orton typifies McMahon’s philosophy of force-feeding wrestlers he likes to an unreceptive public. But Orton has elevated his performance. He has the ability and charisma. He might, at long last, be truly ready.

THE BEST THERE IS, WAS AND EVER WILL BE…

I’m in the middle of Bret Hart’s autobiography. It’s a great read. Rare is the wrestling book set primarily in the ’90s where stories are told I don’t already know, but such is the case here. The book captures Bret’s voice perfectly. I can almost hear him saying what’s written.

Bret is one of wrestling’s good guys. One of the most earnest people I know. He is unflinchingly honest, but not malicious. He’s been through a lot, unfailingly supporting people (including family members) who often didn’t deserve it. His mom and dad were great. (Side note: A long time ago, I did a story on shooting. I interviewed Stu Hart, who was very cooperative and informative. Stu invited me to visit him in Calgary so he could demonstrate some of the techniques he was describing. I declined. "Smart decision," as Bret told me years later.)

Perhaps the most enthralling thing about the book is the realization that the Hart family (replete with Stampede Wrestling and the "dungeon" in Calgary) was a unique entity that will never be duplicated. It’s depressing to know that money and stardom caused irreparable rifts in the Harts, but having worked in wrestling, it’s totally believable.

It made me sad that Bret clearly considers his time in WCW inconsequential. That it didn’t count as far as he’s concerned. It could/should have been so much better.

Early in Bret’s WCW tenure, I pitched an idea that would have turned Bret babyface, as he so obviously should have been upon arriving after the Montreal screwjob. Ric Flair would have declared Bret "the real world champion" – since he never lost the belt in WWE, just as Flair never lost the WCW belt in 1991 – and Bret would have joined the Four Horsemen.

Eric Bischoff loved the idea. Bret loved the idea. When I left Nitro that week, it was a go.

Next week, it was dead. My plan would have killed an upcoming feud between DDMe and Bret, and Bischoff’s neighbor was having none of that.

My lone criticism of the book is Bret’s marginalization of great workers like Ric Flair, Shawn Michaels and Triple H based on personal differences with each. But that’s Bret. When Shakespeare wrote "To thine own self be true," he may have been thinking of Bret Hart.

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