Monday, February 11, 2008

A new home for the blue show....

So the latest fatalistic conspiracy is that Smackdown's future is in danger because WWE is parting ways with the CW Network, which has been the show's home since its inception nearly ten years ago (of course, at the time it was UPN).

Personally, I don't think that WWE has anything to worry about. They seem to have a very healthy business relationship with NBC Universal, which operates loads of television stations, not to mention that Raw and ECW are typically the top rated programs on USA and Sci-Fi, respectively.

Nevertheless, WWE did potentially shoot themselves in the foot, as they've spent the last few years treating SmackDown like their red headed step child. This doesn't exactly make the blue show (wait, wasn't it just red headed???) an attractive buy as it looks for a new home.

What would I do to help the brand, you ask? Here are a few ideas:

1) Even out the rosters: Right now, Raw has established names like John Cena, Triple H, Shawn Michaels, Chris Jericho, JBL, and Randy Orton. They also have a number of guys on the cusp of achieving main event status, such as Umaga, Jeff Hardy, and Mr. Kennedy. On top of that, when legends like Hulk Hogan and Stone Cold Steve Austin make appearances, it's always on Raw. Ditto for Mick Foley and Rowdy Roddy Piper. And finally, Mr. McMahon, the all powerful owner, appears almost exclusively on Monday's flagship program (although, in fairness, he has been visiting Friday nights recently).

Meanwhile, on SmackDown, you've got established guys like Edge, Batista, Undertaker, and Rey Mysterio. Yes, Ric Flair is also a member of that roster, but he's pretty much retired, and until this "you must win or you're fired" angle, he also almost always lost. On top of that, he appears on Raw more than he does SmackDown, anyway. As far as Superstars on the cusp, you've got MVP, Finlay, Kane, The Great Khali, Mark Henry, Chavo Guerrero, and Matt Hardy. And a lot of those names were really generous.

Lets be realistic about the solution to this problem: Triple H and Shawn Michaels aren't going to be going to SmackDown (because they'd probably consider it a demotion), and neither will John Cena, because he's WWE's golden child and he has to be on the flagship program. So we won't even consider them as options.

If I could turn back time, I wouldn't have had JBL move to Raw to feud with Chris Jericho. Instead, I would have had Chris Jericho switch to SmackDown to goad JBL into coming out of retirement. This would have made more sense on a number of levels. First off, as the cowardly heel, it seemed strange that JBL would do something as proactive as changing shows and coming out of retirement to fight a top babyface. Along with that, JBL is one of the very few characters that actually shows brand loyalty, so it was inconsistent that he'd so openly turn his back on SmackDown (the show that made him a star) to make his in-ring return on Raw.

And if you think about it, the landscape of SmackDown has changed a fair amount since JBL retired. He could feud with Jericho, Finlay, Flair, Kane, and CM Punk (when you consider the deal with ECW). And after years of fawning over MVP, it would have been a lot of fun seeing these two team up in tag team competition. As far as Jericho goes, I could see some really, really enjoyable feuds with Edge, MVP, Mysterio, Chavo, Matt Hardy, CM Punk, John Morrison, and Elijah Burke, and some not-so-great feuds with Great Khali, Big Daddy V, and Mark Henry.

As far as other transactions go, I'd move Umaga over to SmackDown, since he's feuded with virtually every person on Raw by now (Umaga/Undertaker and Umaga/Batista both have potential). I'd also suggest moving either Kennedy or Jeff Hardy over from Raw as well.

2) Stop sending the message to your viewers that Raw is #1: Perception is reality, and the WWE seems to go out of its way to portray Raw as THE show, which doesn't do anything but hurt their two other brands.

Take the current Hornswoggle angle. Hornswoggle is officially a member of the SmackDown roster. As are Finlay and The Great Khali, two other central characters in this storyline. As owner, Mr. McMahon is not technically a member of any roster. Yet, the angle has taken place almost exclusively on Raw.

This is reminiscent to last year when McMahon feuded with ECW Superstar Lashley over the ECW Championship. Instead of the angle taking place on, ya' know, ECW, almost everything happened on Raw. It seems to me that forcing the audience to watch your two other shows in order to see the progression of a major angle makes good business sense. Why watch SmackDown and ECW when all of their important angles will take place on Raw anyway?

3) Give SmackDown some big debuts/returns: Who was the last debuting or returning Superstar to join the SmackDown roster? Rey Mysterio (2002)? Sable (2003)? Scott Steiner, Chris Jericho, Hulk Hogan, Roddy Piper, Charlie Haas... they've all made their big debuts or big returns on Raw, even though Hogan, Piper, and Haas were last seen as members of the SmackDown roster. Give people a reason to watch SmackDown by having some shocking things happen on it. I keep hearing people argue that the internet fans are such a insignificant portion of WWE's audience. If that's true, then they shouldn't be worried about spoilers.

4) Really shake things up: This is, of course, the least realistic possibility of all, as it relies on the cooperation of numerous networks (which would all be under the same umbrella), and completely reshuffling the schedule they have had established for quite some time. Nonetheless, it's worth suggesting.

The big thing that everybody agrees SmackDown is missing -- or, at the very least, why Raw is preferred -- is that it's not live. SmackDown and ECW are taped together Tuesday nights, with ECW airing live and SmackDown being taped, to be shown Friday nights. Why not switch these two shows, so that SmackDown is aired live, and ECW is taped? ECW is clearly the lowest rung of the ladder, so taping it won't affect its status. Naturally, this means that Sci-Fi would either need to move ECW to a different night, or give SmackDown its timeslot (as well as an additional hour). In a perfect universe, Raw would air live on USA Mondays, Smackdown would air live onUSA Wednesdays, and ECW would air taped on Sci-Fi on Fridays.

This would give SmackDown the "anything can happen" essence that it is currently missing, which is a big reason why I think that all the big surprises and returns occur on Raw. Of course, this plan also runs the risk of SmackDown and ECW losing portions of its audience due to such a drastic change.

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