Someone a while back, I forget who (hold up your hand in the audience if you read this, I guess) asked me how I would book the WWE given the chance. Now, the traditional internet-smark thing to say here is “well I would bury John Cena and make the fans care about Tyson Kidd and then I would book Dean Ambrose to win every title on his first night and also every wrestler I like would be a cool heel again.” I would do none of this. Well, I would try to make fans care about Tyson Kidd, because he is really great. But not the rest of it.
I also know that, after last night’s truly dreadful RAW, the obvious thing to do is decry it as being horrible wrestling and say “I would do the opposite of that.” But, unfortunately (from my perspective, anyway), the fans in attendance clearly had a great time last night. John Cena’s fan support has not been this strong in years (when was the last time you heard a really strong “Cena Sucks” chant?). There are lots of people out there who want to see Santino Marella in silly slapstick sketches and want to see Michael Cole get beaten up. (I am not convinced that anybody wants to see Hornswoggle the midget, though. Sometimes that sort of thing is just the result of Vince McMahon thinking midgets are inherently funny.) Saying that these people are wrong to want to watch these things is, frankly, not good business. So you don’t just cut them off.
But at the same time you want to also make them care about the wrestling, which is what drives the program and the narratives. So you need a vehicle to do that. I would do it this way:
Recently the WWE has been running a “who will be the next General Manager” angle, bringing back all of the old former general managers. (For those not following: the General Manager is a sort of authority figure for the show who, story-wise, is the one who makes matches happen.) Now, all of the options are basically dreadful because the General Manager concept is so played out in wrestling generally at this point that it makes Jersey Shore seem underexposed in comparison: we’re on our seventh or eighth iteration of an imitation of Vince McMahon’s heel act by now and Vince McMahon knew well enough to get off the air before he got so stale himself that the fans would no longer cheer when he intermittently showed up. Every General Manager is the same: make matches, abuse authority against the people they don’t like (face GMs abuse heels, heel GMs abuse faces), generally be a waste of space otherwise. Nobody actually cheers Teddy Long, after all. He’s just sort of there.
So I would kill it. Not get rid of the GM position outright, but when Vince or HHH or whoever assembles the candidates, I would have a new character come out as well. Maybe he grabs a microphone and interrupts Vince as Vince is about to decide between Vickie Guerrero and Mick Foley or something. (“How did you get a microphone?” “Vince, your sound techs will give pretty much anybody a microphone.”) This new guy who we have never seen before would come down to the ring and make his pitch: he’s a guy WWE corporate recruited for an interview, but Vince has been blowing him off for weeks, et cetera. (Ideally we would get some vignettes of Vince blowing off the guy first so that the internet could go “wait, who is this guy?” But that is not necessary.)
And the new guy basically makes his case. Every GM Vince has hired has been a failure because he keeps hiring from within the business, and outside of the WWE you wouldn’t hire Teddy Long to manage a McDonald’s, much less a major sporting organization. But New Guy has sports management experience, and alternative dispute resolution experience, and most of all he doesn’t have any grudges towards any of the wrestlers. His strongest point is that, if Vince fires him, he’ll just shrug and go work somewhere else for half a million dollars. And that’s why he’s the guy Vince should hire. So he gets a tryout show, nails it, becomes the new GM, and thereafter his onscreen role is extremely limited: no speeches, maybe one appearance per RAW to set up matches or address a wrestler’s complaint in a completely neutral tone.
The New GM makes the following rule changes:
1.) From now on, one title – let’s say the US title – must be defended at every TV show and PPV. This is an old tradition going back to the early days of WCW and their TV title, and it’s a good one. Plus if it’s the US title we can get some amusement out of Santino in the ring before he finally drops it. To make it “fairer to the champion” who has to constantly defend the title, all of these title matches have a ten-minute time limit. Presto: the US title matters again. (You can even merge it with the Intercontinental title if you like – after all, WWE’s roster isn’t much larger than when they only had two singles titles. Right now they have four, which is the equal of WCW at its peak, and that organization had a roster of nearly 100 wrestlers at that point!)
2.) Second change: blatantly steal the Bound For Glory Title Series idea that TNA is currently doing, because fuck it, it’s a good idea and it turns non-title matches into important marquee matches, and the first rule of wrestling booking, I think, is that Every Match Should Matter As Much As Possible. You can have wrestlers competing for the opportunity to have a title series match, even – this would be a great way to put newbie wrestlers into matches that would have some appreciable stakes for the fans to root about, even if the next week they just get trounced by Established Superstar in said title series match. And the point of the title series is to get the other title shot at WrestleMania – you know, the one that the Royal Rumble winner doesn’t get.
3.) Final change: if you want a title shot, you have to win a lot of matches. No more heels or faces coming up and demanding a title shot just because – New GM will say “well, tough, you lost your last X matches except for this one, and that was only a DQ anyway. I’ll give the title match to Mister Winning A Lot Lately.”
That’s basically it. I don’t see the point of altering the booking much more than that; maybe make the comedy bits a bit less obviously dumb, make Cena’s character a bit less of a dick and more of a Superman-style face, and write angles more for the long term, but those are relatively minor things, much like bringing back King of the Ring (which I would also totally do). The important thing is to kill the authority figure angle as dead as possible, and to make individual matches on what is soon to be a 3-hour show matter in and of themselves so that viewer interest is retained.