WWE has spent many years trying to replicate the success of the Attitude Era. And who can blame them, it was a time of incredible prosperity for the company, one which the industry had never seen before. While many aspects of that time period haven’t exactly aged well, there were definitely some basic principles of the Attitude Era which we believe could still make the transition to the modern WWE. Here are some things that were common in the Attitude Era that WWE should consider adapting in order to make the current product more enjoyable.
10. Unique Pay Per View Sets
This first one isn’t exclusive to the Attitude Era, but it was an important feature of that period. Ever since WWE entered the HD era, the set for Raw is the same as the set for Smackdown, and the set for every Pay Per View is remarkably similar as well. From a certain perspective it makes sense, because it’s easier to manage a bunch of easily moveable HD video boards that have a limited number of ways to be arranged, and almost certainly more cost effective as well. However, we’re not asking WWE to build expensive WrestleMania sets for every Pay Per View, we just want something to make them look unique. Remember the giant hooks that got worked into the motif of every Backlash PPV? The various themed sets for the Royal Rumble? Even just some uniquely shaped video boards would be nice, once in a while. At this point, it seems like if you were watching a random match replay, you’d probably have trouble remembering which show it happened on just from a visual inspection, because everything looks exactly the same at this point. They don’t even use different ring ropes between Raw, Smackdown, and Pay Per Views most of the time!
9. Going Outside The Arena
Think about the most recent episode of Raw you watched. How many different sets did you see? We can probably answer without thinking about it and be right most of the time: the ring, the interview area backstage, the office of whichever Authority figure happened to be in charge that week, and maybe the parking lot or a hallway that showed wrestlers walking to the ring before a commercial break. By and large, Raw has become a weird version of a “bottle episode”, a TV term for when a show puts all its characters in one location for an entire episode in order to save money in the budget. Similar to the interchangeable Pay Per View sets, by keeping the show confined to a small number of areas that can easily be moved from city to city, WWE reduces the budget needed to prepare multiple sets every week. With that said, it has made the show feel very confined, as even matches that should ostensibly spill all over the arena are largely limited to short segments of moving through the audience before ultimately returning to the ring area. We miss the days when a fight could spill backstage, into boiler rooms and dining areas and even into the streets. It was the kind of chaos that made certain matches more interesting, and the next item on this list would also go a long way to bringing that feeling back.
While we don’t want to see a return of gratuitous chair shots and ridiculously violent hardcore matches, the 24/7 Hardcore Title was one of the most fun things to happen in wrestling. You didn’t have to have a brutal brawl with deadly weapons, you could just sneak up on the champion at an opportune time and steal a pinfall! We saw “matches” in ball pits, airports, theme parks, various areas backstage, sometimes everywhere but in the ring. Sure, it wasn’t technically “hardcore”, and it was incredibly silly, but it was enjoyable TV that gave a lot of the lower card workers something to do, and a title to fight for. If nothing else, Hardcore Title matches where fifteen people run in at various times and attempt to pin the champion were usually more fun than a boring old battle royal (yes, even one named after Andre The Giant) in terms of finding a way to get everyone onto major PPV cards. As long as the level of violence doesn’t escalate to dangerous proportions, we would love to see the Hardcore Title, and the 24/7 rule, re-instated in WWE.
7. Bleeding (But Not Blading)
Let us explain this in a way that doesn’t make us look like horribly bloodthirsty monsters (which we probably are, but we do have a public image to maintain). Cutting yourself deliberately to induce bleeding as part of a wrestling match is barbaric and we are completely fine with it not existing. And we would never be okay with wrestlers deliberately stiffing each other in an attempt bust someone open, either. Also, it’s not something we’d want to see on a weekly, or even monthly basis. However, once in a while, in a big match environment, as part of a heated feud between two bitter rivals, we believe that the appearance of blood would ratchet up the intensity in a way that would significantly add to the match. However, nobody said it had to be real blood. Hell, WWE (and wrestling in general) has spent years making fake weapons, pre-cut tables, using hidden crash pads, and employing all sorts of visual trickery to make things seem dangerous while actually remaining relatively safe. Is there someone out there who is legitimately going to complain if wrestlers used fake blood instead of slicing themselves open with shards of razor blades? And if there is, are they the sort of person we should really be listening to?
6. Everyone Gets A Turn
Even when “Stone Cold” Steve Austin was becoming the biggest star in the history of professional wrestling, you didn’t necessarily see him appear in the ring on every single episode of Raw, and if he did, it wasn’t necessarily to wrestle a match. In fact, Austin very rarely actually wrestled on Raw, as even with WWE moving away from jobber squashes and into marquee matches up and down the show, there was still an old-school sensibility of making people pay to watch the big stars wrestle, and that meant Pay Per View (and when Austin had a match on Raw, it was always heavily advertised ahead of time to maximize viewers). This is something WWE has evolved away from, due to massively increased TV time forcing top stars to wrestle on a weekly basis, often multiple times, and it’s unlikely to change given the need to fill so much time every week. However, one thing WWE did really well at one point was rotating Superstars appearances so that this week you might see a Steve Austin segment, next week it might be The Rock or D-X, and it could be over a month before you actually saw any of them wrestle multiple times. And in the meantime, other stars got to shine in prime spots on Raw, giving the roster an even deeper main event scene.
5. Commissioner Foley
We were speaking about “fun” earlier, and in the dark and gritty days of the Attitude Era, nobody was more fun than Commissioner Mick Foley. We don’t want them to have to drag Foley out of retirement to fill the role, he’s probably happier in his retired life (and doing a reality show for WWE Network), but we’d love the see someone in a position of authority that could bring back that spirit of fun that Foley represented when he did the job. When you really sit down and think about it, when was the last time WWE had an authority figure on Raw for an extended period of time (i.e. not a guest host) that was a good guy? We’ve suffered through The Authority, Jonathan Coachman, Vickie Guerrero, John Laurinaitus, occasional stints by evil Vince, Eric Bischoff…unless you’re willing to count the short and mostly incompetent run of Mike Adamle, it’s really been a long time since there wasn’t someone on Raw screwing over the faces and having evil designs on amassing even more power. Sure, we had Teddy Long on Smackdown for a while, but Raw has been a near-unending series of evil overlords for as far back as we can easily recall. Someone who just wants to make jokes, have fun, and mildly irritate the heels would be a good change of pace.
4. Throw Out The Format
We’re not talking about those “worked shoot” attempts to convince fans that the show was being booked on the fly that was favored by Eric Bischoff and Vince Russo in the latter days of WCW. We’re talking about the face that modern episodes follow a very standard format for every single show that takes away a lot of the unpredictability that used to be ingrained in the product. Say what you will about the “car crash” booking of the Attitude Era, at least you generally didn’t know what to expect from segment to segment. These days, we can pretty much time what’s going to happen in a given segment. We know if it’s been a certain time since commerical and somebody makes an entrance, we’ll be going to commercial break before the match starts. If both wrestlers make entrances in the same situation, the match will have a short segment that ends with one or both Superstars on the ground as Michael Cole yells “Raw rolls on” before going to break. We know that the “main event” material will start just before the top of each hour, and a thousand other things that make watching Raw a matter of routine. During the Attitude Era, you actually never knew what might happen. Someone might get attacked during their entrance leading to a brawl around the arena. Something important might happen backstage in the middle of an unrelated match. Somebody might make a shocking appearance. The only thing you knew for sure was that you’d better not miss any of it, because something huge could happen at literally any point in the show.
3. “Bullet Point” Promos
Similar to every segment in modern WWE being timed to the second, nearly everything that is said on WWE programming these days is scripted to the letter. For every show, there are literally printed scripts with entire promos written down word-for-word. And while we’re sure the wrestlers have input into what they say, it does rob their performances of a certain spontaneity and natural delivery. We’re not saying that you give all the wrestlers a blank slate and tell them to improvise, but nearly every veteran of the Attitude Era often speaks longingly of the days when they were told what bullet points they had to hit during their promos, and then being allowed to make up the rest on their own. Giving wrestlers a certain latitude to extemporize is what gave us some of the best promos of all time, and while it’s not something we’d recommend for everyone, at a certain point if you want to be a professional wrestler in WWE, shouldn’t an ability to come up with entertaining promos for your character be one of the job requirements? Entertaining promos have been a part of WWE since the days of Hulkamania, no wrestler should be unaware that it will be necessary to succeed in the company.
2. Crowd Participation
Segueing straight from the need for more natural, loosely scripted promos is another thing that WWE’s evolution into a polished TV product has basically erased, which is making the live audience an important part of the shows. Thanks to an increased emphasis on production, WWE Superstars are now forced to focus their attention on the TV audience, rather than the fans in attendance. This is why action in the ring takes place with a focus on looking good for the hard camera (including all match-ending pinfalls facing that direction), in order to make replays and video packages easier to produce. It’s why wrestlers either talk at each other or directly towards the hard cam, and refer to the WWE Universe in general, rather than talking directly to the audience. Gone are the days of singing along with The Rock and finishing Billy’s Gunn’s sentences for him. The live crowd is now “part of the show”, and everything that happens is designed to show off the product with those watching at home in mind. It creates a slick product on TV, but it robs it of the atmosphere that used to exist by having wrestlers acknowledge the crowd, and encourage them to interact with the product. While there are some rare exceptions, for the most part modern Superstars are instructed to ignore the crowd, and it’s not difficult to see why fans are finding it harder to connect to a product that doesn’t seem to care about them.
1. Something for Everyone
Most of all, the greatest thing the Attitude Era did right was making sure that absolutely everyone who appeared on TV had a gimmick and a feud. From the main event stars to the lowest wrestlers on the card, if they showed up on Raw, it was in service of plot progression or character development. There weren’t a lot of matches that existed only for the purpose of filling time, which is a complaint that is often leveled against matches on Raw these days. Sure, some of the gimmicks were terrible, and many feuds made little real sense and were often dropped without notice, but the effort was clearly made to make sure that every wrestler at least had something to do. This had the side benefit of offering fans a whole bunch of alternatives for which wrestlers they wanted to support. Every week, there was a good chance, just from sheer volume of diverse characters, that there was someone appearing on TV that they’d be interested in watching, and that certainly helped attract more viewers to Raw. These days, only a handful of wrestlers ever get serious attention from the Creative team, and the common complaint is that the mid card is full of interchangeable wrestlers with nothing to do.