I wrote last week about the potential benefits and pitfalls of Raw moving to 3 hours. The overwhelming feedback that I received in response to this column carried an identical message: keep it about wrestling…use the additional time to establish stars and provide compelling in-ring action.
I can’t deny that I was highly skeptical of the move to 3 hours. While I whole-heartedly agree with the sentiment expressed above and even proposed my own idea last week to help make it happen, WWE’s propensity to overlook the second W loomed ominously in my mind.
Although we’ve only been subjected to a miniscule sample of what is to come, I have to say that I’ve been pleasantly surprised with the effect that the third hour has had on the product. At a fundamental level, I didn’t walk away with the dull feeling that I had been conned into dedicating an additional 60 minutes of my life solely for the purpose of contributing to the WWE marketing machine…Instead, I came away with the impression that the extra hour indeed will be utilized to enhance the existing product…a far cry from simply banking capital from the good will that already has been established.
Don’t get me wrong, this past Raw had its share of promotional ploys and overused stock footage…If WWE can finagle a method to use Tout to promote HHH/Lesnar in a continuous fashion, Vince McMahon may just blow his wad on the spot (Can I say that?)…Nevertheless, in my mind, the positives far outweighed the negatives as it pertains to the utilization of the additional hour.
Last week, I applauded appearances from guys like Damien Sandow and Tyson Kidd as I looked forward to the opportunities that would be provided to those chomping at the bit for that break-out moment. Although the cast of characters was different, more of the same could be said about this week. Discounting an inexplicable absence from Zack Ryder, I have few complaints about the increased utilization of ancillary and budding talent.
More importantly though, no matter what portion of the roster is being discussed, one simple fact remains true…an appearance alone means nothing without substance. Unless and until a wrestler or a program is given a reasonable amount of time to connect with the audience, there is little opportunity to achieve success.
In this manner, Raw has managed to exceed my expectations since moving to three hours.
The one thought that kept popping into my head on Monday night was the notion that nothing transpiring before my eyes felt rushed…This may seem like an obvious conclusion given the 180 minute time-frame, but a true balance of quality over quantity can be difficult to achieve.
In that vein, we saw multiple stellar matches in which all competitors involved were given an opportunity to shine. Punk and Mysterio kicked off the show with an outstanding show of athleticism…the tag division continued to enjoy a well-deserved spotlight…Daniel Bryan brought the best out of Cena...hell, even the divas match benefitted from the credibility associated with being granted more than 2 minutes of television time.
At a time when a lack of depth has been a perceived weakness for the WWE, creating and maintaining personalities is of the utmost importance. Quality stories developed inside and out of the ring allow such personalities to emerge and blossom…I felt that the pacing and availability of time on this Monday’s Raw allowed these stories to be told.
In the end, WWE faces unique challenges ahead…After all, consistent 3-hour programming was ineffective even at the height of wrestling’s popularity. Nevertheless, the additional time in this instance may be the only way for the WWE to effectively transition a considerably young roster without abandoning a number of aging stars who produce revenue at a consistent pace.
Raw hasn’t been perfect by any means, but it certainly has kept my attention. From Sheamus and Del Rio, to Jericho and Ziggler, all the way to Punk and Cena, I have felt more comfortable and in tune with the individual storylines in one week than I have during many months of programming.
You simply can’t rush a good narrative…If telling compelling stories up and down the roster remains a focus, rather than being a disastrous example of over-exposure, three hours of Raw may be the one of the most important developments in recent memory.