I was really enthusiastic when WWE debuted their one hour Main Event program in October 2012. Rather than another throw away show full of meaningless matches and jobbers, it promised quite literally to showcase a “main event” each week. This being somewhat of a homage to the old Saturday Night’s Main Event specials from the 80s.
For those that weren’t around at the time or haven’t dug out these gems from the archives, Saturday Night’s Main Event was a massive deal during its original run from 1985 to 1992, when Vince McMahon was capitalizing on the Wrestlemania boom. It was one of the few time periods when wrestling really was accepted by the mainstream, and off this wave he managed to cut a deal with NBC’s Dick Ebersol for a series of specials that would run in Saturday Night Live’s timeslot. In was an amazing position for wrestling to be in!
Contrary to what modern fans are used to, the one hour format would be built around a main event that would open the show instead of close it, with lower card bouts and interviews filling in the rest of the hour.
WWE’s marquee stars like Hulk Hogan and Macho Man Randy Savage, who rarely had big matches on TV (if at all) were regulars at these events, and because of this the ratings were staggering.
The February 5, 1988 episode featured a WrestleMania III rematch between Hulk Hogan and André The Giant, and drew an unheard of 33 million viewers and a 15.2 rating, which is still the highest-rated show in wrestling history. Modern day RAW hovers around a 3.0 number.
Of course today’s Main Event is never going to get those ratings, but it doesn’t mean it can’t borrow from the formula. In fact it did for several months, which is why I’m writing this blog.
The very first episode saw WWE Champion CM Punk take on World Champion Sheamus.
The following week the ongoing feud between Big Show and Randy Orton was showcased in a match.
John Cena showed up for a match a few weeks later.
There were some lower card matches getting the main event slot as well, but for the first few months these represented ongoing feuds and were treated as a big deal. The show would often open with the hosts on the mic hyping up the match, similar to how Vince and Jesse did it in the 80s. There were also hype video packages to get you intrigued. All in all it was a solid one hour that had good meaningful wrestling, and didn’t drag on like RAW.
All of this effort that made Main Event unique and must watch weekly TV now seems to have fizzled out. Big matches pop up every so often, but there is no more build, there is no more hype, and the format is slowly becoming comparable to that of other B Shows like Superstars.
I’m sure it will pick up again sporadically, but I think the lack of focus is simply down to WWE’s over-saturation. There are so many hours of unique programming they tape every week that creatively the lesser shows are always going to suffer first.
Far from the boom of the 80s WWE’s current approach doesn’t appear to be about making each show count, but rather getting as much content out there in order to make money from television rights fees. The last shareholders meeting made it clear that they’re always looking to produce more shows. This approach has to flat line at some point. There’s only so much wrestling fans can watch each week before they skip the least important shows, or worse just get sick of the product entirely.
Though I like the traditional Main Event format, I also feel there is certainly an argument to be made about pulling back the reigns and limiting the amount of ring time top stars get overall. Before the Attitude Era the “squash match” was a tried and tested formula. The logic is that big names were special, and when they did get in the ring on TV they faced lower card talent in order to showcase their dominance. Big names would only clash with each other on big live events, PPVs or when something was at stake, in order to peak interest.
This logic completely disappeared during the Monday Night Wars because it was all about topping the previous week’s numbers. The Rock, Steve Austin and others were wrestling pretty much on every show. Today the bigger names are used so often that wins and losses cannot be used as a measuring stick of somebody’s position. How many times has Damien Sandow lost in recent weeks? Doesn’t that mean he’s not a good wrestler?
The same goes for Dolph Ziggler. Fans want to care about him but for somebody that’s a “show-off”, he rarely has anything to show off about.
Likewise how many matches did we get this year and last between Randy Orton and Wade Barrett, just because they are bigger names in the company and needed to be put on TV?
It would have been much more effective to have Barrett win a series of matches against JTG, Zack Ryder, Yoshi Tatsu etc. This proves that he’s a level above the lower card talent. A match with Orton should be something used sparingly, because we’re supposed to be excited about which of the two top stars are better.
I don’t believe fans would tune out because of squash matches, they still get to see the top stars and now they would be winning regularly, instead of trading wins back and forth with no meaning.
In this respect I would not be opposed to Main Event changing its core formula and having a well built match, not between two big names, but between one big name and a lower card talent as a way to keep the bigger name strong, but to also give the rub to a forgotten star like JTG, who would be given enough TV time to at least get noticed.
What’s your opinion, has Main Event lost its edge? Or overall does WWE have too many named stars facing off all the time, that could benefit from the return of the squash match?