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On The Apron: Kill the PPVs

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Every Tuesday, features editor Dominick Suzanne-Mayer talks about the latest developments in and around WWE.

There was a lot that I wanted to talk about in the two weeks since On The Apron has last gone to post (Character progression at long last! The return of Goldust! LOS MATADORES!), but after the unmitigated dud that was the Battleground PPV, I’ve opted to circle around to something I’ve only obliquely touched on within this column in the past. First of all, Battleground was neither actually good nor bad enough to be an entertaining trainwreck. With respect to the latter, I think of gems like the 2006 December To Dismember PPV, or HHH-Edge-Vladimir Kozlov from Survivor Series 2008. By contrast, Battleground was an exercise in mediocrity throughout; save for some Rhodes Family-Shield hijinks, most of the wrestling was forgettable at best, and then there was the ending.

If WWE is now running so many events a year that they have to end shows the way they end most Raw episodes, it may be time to make a change. To recap in brief, if you’re unaware: Battleground ended with the match for the vacant WWE Championship between Daniel Bryan and Randy Orton. After about 25 minutes of back-and-forth, Big Show came out to knock out a) the referee, b) Bryan, and c) Orton, in that order, before posing over a pile of bodies as the final credit appeared onscreen. That’s a bad ending even by television standards, and the epitome of narrative wheel-spinning. Whatever was supposed to happen during the fall months clearly hasn’t gone as planned, leaving WWE to wait for the hasty return of John Cena, or Sheamus, or Mark Henry, or anybody who can breathe new life into what started as a riveting storyline and has become in recent weeks tedious.

Here’s why the current format doesn’t work, and what’s different now than when it was working. The Bryan-Orton feud was built upon Orton being a pawn for the Corporate McMahon-Helmsley regime, and Bryan raging against “the man.” Anybody who stepped up to protect him was quickly cut down for their insolence, in particular the ever-watery Big Show and his desperate attempts to remain in the good graces of people he truly just wants to knock the fuck out. That’s riveting television, and it followed (for a time) a clean narrative arc in which Bryan kept getting screwed and having to prove himself. Even the “Dusty Finish,” in which the belt was vacated, worked inasmuch as it gave everyone a reason to stay at each other’s throats. But there’s something about this three PPVs in eight weeks format that isn’t clicking with the story, and in order to not only sustain the narrative but also to sell paid events, WWE has had to overcook more and more.

Most of Bryan’s cavalry was written off after that spectacularly ill-advised 11-on-3 tag match a few weeks ago, in which nobody looked good except for the villains in the SWAT gear, and went back to their own stories and programs. The McMahons are still tied to the A-story by way of Orton, but have largely moved on to their own thing with Big Show and their quarrel with the Rhodes family tree. That leaves the main event, which only a month ago was the hottest part of the show, to flail. And that’s because of oversaturation.

Imagine, for a second and as many before me surely have, that WWE ran four events in a year. Their calendar saw Royal Rumble in January, WrestleMania in April, SummerSlam in August and Survivor Series in November. This would mean that the summer would have time to build up extensive programs between various wrestlers, and that SummerSlam would again feel like the year’s true #2 show to WrestleMania, the blowoff to smaller feuds. There would be room for the sort of ratings-grabbing major developments on TV on occasion, and PPVs would likely sell like crazy because of the demand for them. Twelve or more PPVs were an effective model in the late ‘90s, but a lot of that is owed to WWE’s knack for building a compelling show from the top down, instead of relying on the main storyline or two to carry every single event and sticking everyone else wherever they please on the card. If WWE isn’t going to build midcard feuds or push anybody that isn’t part of the Regime story, why not save some money and make some interesting television?