Tag Archives: Wrestling

Re-Serializing Sports Entertainment: Jeff Katz’s Wrestling Revolution

Professional wrestling is a storyteller’s medium.

Case in point: I spent my middle school years running a fictional wrestling federation on the internet, writing out extensive recaps of fictionalized wrestling events complete with matches, promos, and everything else in between. Using a combination of real WWE wrestlers and characters of my own making, I saw the world of professional wrestling as a place to explore my creativity (and, given the length of many of these pieces, teach myself how to type). None of these documents have survived, at least as far as I am aware, but I remember one particular pay-per-view I wrote was something like 70 pages long, an early sign of my long-winded nature.

This notion of fantasy storytelling remains quite common within the space of professional wrestling, enabled by programs such as Extreme Warfare and often influenced by frustration with the WWE and other available products. Extreme Warfare has no actual wrestling, instead putting the user in control of who wins, who fights whom, and how much time is given over to promos, etc. The user becomes the “booker,” the person responsible for deciding which stories to tell, which wrestlers to push or bury, and what kind of product they will sell to their virtual audiences. For any wrestling fan who has been frustrated with a booking decision (which is likely every wrestling fan in existence), fictional federations and simulators were a way to take over the role of storyteller and imagine a more satisfying narrative experience.

Earlier this week, one particular booking decision (which is airing tonight on WWE Smackdown) set off a firestorm of controversy within a subsection of professional wrestling viewers, and one of those viewers has taken an honestly fascinating step. Jeff Katz, a Hollywood producer, has started a Kickstarter campaign to create a tightly-serialized wrestling program that eschews the 52-week model of the WWE entirely. Specifically comparing it to shows like Dexter and The Wire, Katz is arguing that what wrestling needs isn’t just better decision-making, but an entirely different storytelling model which offers a beginning, a middle, and an end.

Katz has given the project 90 days to raise $100,000, and I find this whole idea to be incredibly fascinating. However, I’m not sure that Katz has provided any clear image of just what this “Wrestling Revolution” might look like. While he throws around a lot of comparisons that would excite fans of serious drama, and suggests that is what the WWE would be if it were written by Shawn Ryan, I have my doubts about whether professional wrestling is conducive to the kinds of stories he is imagining (and which I imagined back when I was a teenager).

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Excellence in Execution: Transitioning the WWE’s Montreal Screwjob from the Real to the “Real”

In 2009, I had two live event experiences where I felt “out of place.”

The first was in April, when I was in “the pit” (at the front of the floor section) for a Bruce Springsteen concert. My brother was there as a big fan who had never seen the Boss in concert before, whereas I was there because I was travelling with my brother, and because I enjoy Bruce Springsteen’s music in a purely casual fashion. So when the people around us started discussing how they were there at the Darkness Tour in ’78, and how this was their ninth show, and how they had already seen him twice on this tour alone, I felt more than a little bit of an outcast (loved the show, by the way).

Then, in the fall, I went to a WWE House Show here in Halifax, where I felt out of place in a different way. While I have never been a big Bruce Springsteen fan, I used to be a big pro wrestling fan in my childhood (and, okay, my teenage years as well), so the kid in front of me elated to be able to slap the hands of the wrestlers going by in the aisle and the douchebag who yells and insults the wrestlers and thinks its funny were people that I used to be, or used to relate with on online message boards (oh, those were the days). And while Springsteen made me seem out of place, there was something about returning to the world of professional wrestling that felt more profound: I used to be part of this world, and even if I no longer relate to either of those roles (I had a lot of fun taking photos, though) personally I understand them enough to continue to find wrestling an intriguing element of the cultural landscape even if I could no longer find a place in that universe.

And so I’ve watched with only moderate interest as the WWE brand has expanded into providing something closer to “entertainment” than “sports entertainment” with their recent (brilliant) decision to bring in guest hosts to their weekly Monday Night Raw episodes in order to boost revenue (the spots are effectively being sold) and exposure (both in terms of bringing in fans of the hosts and in terms of media coverage of more high-profile guests). I haven’t written about it largely because there’s no real nuance to it, as they readily admit that it’s a business decision first and foremost, and because the creative results haven’t been enough to convince me that the actual WWE product (from which I’ve been disconnected for the better part of the past decade) is worth diving back into to catch Jeremy Piven or (later this month) James Roday and Dule Hill from Psych stepping into the ring.

It’s no coincidence that, with a healthy dose of nostalgia guiding the way, my first foray into the world of wrestling in the context of television criticism comes when the new “Guest Host” format engages with my childhood wrestling fandom, as Bret “The Hitman” Hart (the obvious choice for my favourite wrestler growing up considering I was Canadian) returns to the WWE after a decade-long absence, and after an infamous Montreal screwjob that was a rare “storyline” with real world implications. And this week’s episode of Raw is a unique glimpse into how the injection of “real” drama heightens the fictional world of professional wrestling, and how nostalgic remembrance and wrestling’s traditional Good vs. Evil storytelling converge in order to turn twelve years of bad blood into a narrative that can capture old and new fans alike.

Yes, seriously.

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