In Your House

The impact that television had on pro wrestling as a medium can scarcely be over-emphasised.  When Barthes discussed the narrative structures that wrestling promoters utilized in wrestling as touring live show, his notion of wrestling was as a 'discrete event' (p. 34). Television complicated things substantially, transforming this 'discrete event' into an ongoing narrative.

 In his book, Ringside, Scott M. Beekman suggests that TV meant that rather than attracting an audience in for one night, promoters now had to "keep them interested" (p. 82) week after week. Still, TV was primarily thought of as a means to publicize live events and ensure a healthy gate - although opinion on whether the live audience or the TV audience should be the priority has proven to be very different for different promotions over the years.

Television tapings introduced a rather unique difficulty in putting on a pro wrestling show - a balance between making use of the new techniques that television offered, but making sure not to alienate fans who actually turned up to the arena. Today, commentary is a huge part of the format of pro wrestling, and can be hugely useful in building characters, furthering storylines and generally shepherding the audience towards an intended reaction. However, it's just as important today as it was way back when to make sure that the live audience are still engaged, and the accounts of the proliferation of backstage skits that do nothing for those in attendance that is well documented in the WCW archives on this very site capably demonstrate how much of a mis-step focussing too heavily on how your show plays out on TV can be.


The point is, for a modern wrestling show to be successful, the TV product needs to work with the live product, ideally with neither taking too much of a precedence over the other - the TV show needs to entice fans into visiting when Raw comes through town, but then that live show needs to get its hooks into the audience to keep up with storylines by watching weekly until the next time they pass through that market and the cycle can continue (pay-per-view cards provide a further complication to this arrangement, but that's another kettle of fish entirely, and in general buying a pay-per-view and attending in person are somewhat equivalent.)

So, after sixty years of televised wrestling, Monday Night Raw and Smackdown are no doubt the primary example that anyone would point to of a mainstream wrestling television programme. Laurence de Garis, the author of one of the best examples of real study of pro wrestling 'The "Logic" of Professional Wrestling', states that 'good promotion can get fans into an arena, but good matches will bring them back' (p. 195) and this is the number one principle that the WWE product of today lives and dies by. Raw and Smackdown, for better or for worse, are long-form advertisements for an upcoming pay-per-view. TV ratings, rather than being the prize in of themselves as you could argue they were for WCW, are a useful gauge of what is and is not compelling to an audience, but you can bet that the really good stuff is being saved for Sunday night.

Saying that Raw and Smackdown are adverts is no slight on those shows - an advert can certainly be entertaining in its own right, even if its endgame is to sell you on something. I would argue that sometimes WWE uses its many hours of TV time well, and sometimes it kicks its heels. I would also say that the amount of hours of regular programming WWE has at its disposal per week is far larger that the amount of solid, focussed content that serves a purpose in building hype, but that's neither here nor there. They certainly do not need any further scheduling time to devote to current storylines based on how they use the five hours of Raw and Smackdown any given week.

Archive stuff would be dope though, I'd subscribe.

Archive stuff would be dope though, I'd subscribe.

So, to sum up, what a difference a TV makes. Wrestling goes from the 'discrete event' of one match on one night in one town as Barthes would describe it, to an ongoing soap opera beamed out nationwide -  and all in less that sixty years! But, at the end of the day, soap-opera dance-off video-package filler bullshit will only get you so far - without a match to promote, and a good one at that, your audience will not come back. At the end of the day, the show you're promoting is still two guys in a ring, and it's the strength of those two guys as wrestlers that will determine whether you can stay afloat, but the advantages in how that promotion can be performed that TV gave to wrestling are manyfold.