Monday, July 17, 2017

Be Careful For the News You Want to Hear

McMahon may be out of touch, but that doesn't mean Triple H is your pal
Photo Credit:
News broke last week that Talking Smack, the post-Smackdown interview show, would be cancelled on a weekly basis and only air after pay-per-views. I wasn't a fan of the format, so I didn't watch it and wasn't too broken up about the news. However, one would have to be blind to deny that it helped out the careers of select superstars, most specifically The Miz, Baron Corbin, Renee Young, and in the later stages, Kevin Owens. Its cancellation seems curious, since it aired on wholly WWE owned streams and filmed live in conjunction with already-televised programming, which would make the "lack of viewers" rumored reasoning behind axing it to be puzzling. Costs couldn't have been that high, but WWE is in cost-cutting mode, given it's getting rid of pyro too. Of course, getting rid of the stock talk show and fireworks to cut costs is like the government slashing already minuscule budgets for arts endowments and Planned Parenthood funding to be "fiscally conservative" while spending $Texas on military defense, but I'll just be over here sipping my tea.

Of course, soon after the news broke, Sports Illustrated's Extra Mustard ran a story by Justin Barrasso basically feeding everyone's confirmation bias that the show was cancelled by crotchety old Vince McMahon not getting modern wrestling and wanting to over-curate the on-screen product based on his fart-sniffing old man whims. More specifically, the reason given was that he thought the show "did not serve the company's best interests." The article also made sure to note that McMahon, while not detached from the product, is "just not as physically present as he once was." If this report lines up with all your previous notions about McMahon, then it probably worked.

Of course, McMahon probably is a crotchety old man, and given his tendency to try and cater to 1950s nostalgia every decade or so, the urge to paint him as a fogey is strong and most probably correct. However, when said feelings are written down strongly in news releases, especially in mainstream publications, one should probably be a bit wary of the intent. It's one thing for a rogue staff member in the inner circle to drop such a nugget to Dave Meltzer or someone of his ilk. News items that get dropped to Extra Mustard, however, aren't coming from anyone who isn't in control of the narrative, not the in-story narrative, but the company's public narratives:
Of course, the people who stand to benefit most are Paul "Triple H" Levesque and Stephanie McMahon. Levesque especially has been carefully cultivating a fan-friendly image over the last five or so years. Ever since his first big signing as Executive Vice President of Talent, Mistico/Sin Cara/Caristico, flopped, he's remade his image into the guy who gets the "smart" fan what he/she wants via the NXT brand. When a major indie/international star signs, they take a picture with Levesque. When one of his NXT graduates wins a major title, either there or on the main roster, who gets the first photo op? Who gave himself the opening spot on several Takeover events to welcome the audience to "his" prestige event?

Levesque knows that his reputation with hardcore fans took a giant hit after his active, in-ring career ended because of his perceived politicking and maneuvering to make sure he was always a top star in an era where he never gave off the aura of being worthy of the push associated with it. The best way to win those fans' favor back and their proclivities of spending huge amounts of cash at WWE events, is to give them the impression that you care about their needs while the other guy in charge doesn't. It's not a short-term game, because McMahon isn't going anywhere unless he becomes non compos mentis or dies, whichever comes first. But a long con of getting these 20-something indie fans to buy into what he's building so that they stick around when he finally comes to power over the entire company. Of course, it's a brilliant plan until one realizes that the key to longterm sustainability isn't getting back lapsed fans, but instead building a new legion of children, but again, this tea is delicious and I can't stop sipping it while looking blankly skyward.

Regardless of whether it'll work, Levesque has motive to try and outflank his father-in-law for the future, to attempt at some kind of resurgence for the WWE brand, despite the fact that it continues to post record revenues and that its television ratings are still among the highest relative to other programming. Don't be fooled by doom and gloom peddled by journalists stuck in 1998; the only area where viewership is up is cable news, and that's due to how non-diverse news programming is compared to entertainment television, and, well, because the Oompa-Loompa in charge right now has made politics as volatile and toxic as reality television. But people within WWE seem to think another boom the likes of 1997-2001 is right around the corner, no matter how many indicators in the entertainment landscape would say otherwise. Heaping all the blame for the Talking Smack's demise, replete with the hosts of it finding the news out on Twitter, on the old man is just another masterstroke in Levesque's attempt to prove himself cool and edgy and the man to lead WWE into the future. Forget that all backstage stories paint Levesque as big a bully as anyone else in WWE right now, or that the story goes that McMahon wanted to push Big E in the spot where Roman Reigns is now. Nope, Triple H is the man, not the moth-ball smelling old man.

Of course, the news itself isn't "fake" or what have you, and yes, McMahon probably did cancel Talking Smack. However, McMahon is still the final stop-valve for everything important that happens in WWE. Looking at how wrestlers have used Talking Smack as a launchpad, the show was important. But one needs to temper oneself against getting too caught up in fervor in the dealings of a corporation. WWE is not your friend. Levesque is not your buddy, no matter how many handshake snapshots he has taken of him with Bobby Fish or Kevin Owens or Alexa Bliss. It is a business that makes business decisions and has petty feuds within management as people jostle for power, credit, and thus a larger piece of the pie. Beware when one side uses friendly, free media to make its case for it.