Balrog Babblings #56 – Lesson Learned?

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Many of WWE’s online fans are pretty excited about the numbers that RAW drew this past Monday night. And why shouldn’t they be? Between a 4.7 Hogan/HBK/Cena overrun and a 4.7 Diva Search segment, WWE accomplished a stunning ratings accomplishment by grabbing a 4.4 overall rating. First things first – congratulations to WWE for booking both a magnificent pay per view and a compelling RAW the night afterwards that made the fans want to watch the entire show!

With the congratulations out of the way, there is no time like the present to review why WWE might have done better last Monday than they have in previous RAWs. Now is also as good a time as any to state that I had originally intended for this column to show a few reasons why RAW fell into the “must-not-see-TV” category in recent months and, moreso, years. However, WWE gave me a reason to revise that entire premise after last Monday’s show.

There is one major, obvious reason: the Sunday night pay per view was one of the best WWE pay per views (barring WrestleMania 21 and XX) in the past two years. I have no doubts about that. I do have reservations on heaping praise on the pay per view itself, though, simply because I think that pay per views costing that much money should at least promise you seven or eight matches. However, between WWE abolishing the three hour plus pay per view and main events being given more time today than seven or eight years ago, my framework for a pay per view seems to have been thrown out the window!

But no one can deny the impact of the previous night’s pay per view on the success on Monday’s show. Similarly, there were a few other “intangibles” that helped, in my view, propel RAW in the ratings. First among these was location. Whenever WWE is in the California area, there is usually a Rock sighting at RAW. Well, I would wager that a small, less than .1 share of the ratings bump came from that intangible. This is only important because of something that Jim Ross said at the end of the show when Hogan was introduced: “Get on the phone and call somebody!”

That less than .1 share of the ratings who would tune into the entire show because of it’s location (count me included) is the same share that would get up and call someone to tell them that Hogan was on the show! Now, while I didn’t actually call anybody, you may have seen an increase in the final quarter and subsequent overrun because of IMs being sent and text messages getting thrown around between wrestling enthusiasts. In 2005, I think it is quite fair to say that RAW could have gotten a significant bounce in the final quarter hour and overrun from this “word of mouth” excitement about Hogan.

Another word of mouth bit of intangible excitement came from the RAW Diva Search segment. Sure, these girls have little-to-no microphone abilities and it was actually painful to hear them speak, but did you see them?!? My word! All of those girls were completely gorgeous! Although to a lesser degree, I would again claim that some IMs and text messages were lobbied about and the ratings got a marginal bump from this type of “turn on RAW!” advertising. However, this intangible brings another element to the show that your basic Steven Richards & Val Venis beating up Chris Masters doesn’t – it allows the channel surfer to stop for a minute and see what’s going on.

And if you’re WWE and you want that channel surfer to come back next week, how do you grab them? Throw in a bit of WWE history at the end and announce the first ever Sgt. Slaughter Bikini Boot Camp for next week’s RAW! This was booking for the immediate short term that was aimed at getting the channel surfer back – and we’ll know better this coming Monday if it works out.

The final intangible that I think played a small, but powerful part in Monday’s RAW ratings was the WWE Draft. Though this is less of an intangible than the others listed above, the buzz created from the “final week of the draft” had the potential to maybe not bring in news fans, but certainly to make those who are already tuned in stay tuned in to see what else WWE might throw at them. The booking for the 2005 WWE Draft was probably slightly above average at best, but that’s because my disdain for Jean Paul Levesque’s strangle hold on WWE’s business decisions won’t allow me to be happy about Batista’s move to Smackdown!, but that’s for a different column!

Of course those of you who have been reading my past few columns know that they have centered on calling it straight as far as Jean Paul Levesque is concerned. I firmly believe that his absence from RAW – first announced by Ric Flair at the beginning of the program – led to the higher ratings in the second hour. Jean Paul Levesque is one of the central reasons why RAW has become “turn-it-off-TV” over the past few years. His schtick is the same week in and week out which, by the way, I actually admire. I’ve always been a plan of keeping a character for a prolonged period of time – hey, if you want the fans to make an investment in the character (t-shirts, DVDs, buying PPVs, etc), then I feel WWE needs to make a similar investment in the character.

WWE has made that investment in Jean Paul Levesque and, though it’s a glaring conflict of interest, Jean Paul Levesque has made that investment in WWE through marrying the Chairman’s daughter. Love or not, it’s a huge conflict of interest to continually put the belt on the Chairman’s son-in-law. Again – that’s another column for another time.

Getting back to my point, when Flair announced that we were Jean Paul Levesque-free for the night, he was also able to shed that horrible cheerleader character that he’s been saddled with for the past two years. And folks, you can’t tell me that it wasn’t hilarious to see Flair and Angle “whooing” each other in the ring as the show began and they made a match for later in the show.

So I wonder, after all of this, if WWE has learned a lesson from last Monday’s RAW. Initially, I tend to say that they did not only because a few days after RAW, they completely destroyed any momentum that Batista had by moving him to Smackdown! with the World Heavyweight Championship. However, knowing that Smackdown! was taped ten minutes after RAW, there is no way that WWE could have known how good of a RAW they booked.

I have to deliberately say that WWE probably did not learn their lesson given this past Monday’s RAW. Why, you ask? Well, if you can remember back a month or so ago (I know, ancient history) to the last RAW that didn’t have an appearance by Jean Paul Levesque, you may also remember that the ratings for that show (for similar reasons as listed above) were astronomical, though I don’t believe they pulled down any 4.7’s. Anyway, the following week the show was riddled by Jean Paul Levesque and he magically “put” himself in the main event of the coming pay per view by saying “Hell in a Cell.” Odd to say the least…

The fans that tuned in rebelled and simply turned RAW off. To this end, I am part of what I hear is a growing number of fans who simply turn off RAW whenever Jean Paul Levesque is on. I’m not dense enough to think that my turning off of RAW is enough to effect their ratings, but when I do it, four or five of my friends from North Jersey do it, seven or eight of my friends from Central Jersey do it, my roommates do it, etc, etc – you have the underpinnings of a lesson to be learned.

So once again, I congratulate WWE on booking an awesome show last Monday. But when it comes to wiping their proverbial slate clean and saying that they’ve learned their lessons on what kills a show and what brings in ratings…well, history suggests that they have not learned their lesson.

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