RAW going to 3 hours, Impact Wrestling going live
Both WWE and TNA today made blockbuster announcements regarding the future of their flagship television programs. WWE dropped the bombshell that Monday Night Raw will expand to three hours beginning with its forthcoming 1,000th episode in July. And TNA revealed plans to air Impact Wrestling live on Thursday nights this summer.
It’s a mixed bag as far as what the changes mean to fans.
You’d be hard-pressed to find a knowledgeable wrestling with a solid grasp of wrestling history to tell you that the decision to add a third hour to Raw is a good move. More likely, you’ll hear the obvious comparison to WCW Nitro, which expanded to three hours in 1998. It became almost immediately apparent that 180 minutes of live programming each Monday night (not including the usual 10-minute over run) was unsustainable.
Granted, WWE is a considerably better product than WCW was back then, but the issues remain the same. WWE has a hard enough time making Raw must-see programming each week with just two hours to fill. Having a third hour of programming will almost certainly water down the product, even with Smackdown stars more prominently featured. What’s more, it’s going to further burden an already-overworked creative team that routinely struggles to write compelling, logical storylines each week.
Adding a third hour to Raw also further diminishes the importance of pay per views, which until now have been the only place to watch three hours of live WWE programming. And what about the live Raws that come on the night after live pay per views. Six hours of live WWE in two nights? It’s enough to try the loyalty of even the most diehard WWE fans.
All that said, I understand why WWE and, even more, USA would want to go this route. For WWE, television rights fees remain one of their biggest revenue generators. An extra hour of live programming on WWE’s biggest show could bring in millions of new dollars to the company.
For USA, the benefit is obvious. Raw is consistently one of, if not the, highest-rated show on the highest network on cable. An extra hour of Raw is bound to trounce the numbers of whatever rerun USA typically airs on the Monday 8 p.m. slot.
But , in the long term, I worry that this move could hurt everyone involved. For WWE, the oversaturation of television will turn off viewers and diminish TV ratings that already are at the lowest levels they’ve been in years. And if WWE begins to slip further, USA may start to weigh the pros and cons of being in the pro wrestling business.
In the end, this just reeks of the latest desperation move to artificially boost WWE business, without the will and patience to address the core problems—namely uninspired creative and a lack of starpower. It’s no different than raising the prices of tickets or pay per views or squeezing in a few extra overseas tours. It may be enough to convince Wall Street that things are going well, but not those who know better.
At the same time that WWE announced what could be the most dooming decision for its television future, TNA announced what could be its most promising one. Beginning on May 31, ImpactWrestling will air live on Thursday nights. For now, it appears the live shows will be an experiment, and that TNA and Spike will decide whether they want to make the change permanently depending on the ratings.
Now, as I wrote in my last post, I sincerely believe that it’s simply too late for TNA to reverse the years of damage its done by horrendous management and creative decisions. That said, all things being equal, there’s no question that a live television program is more appealing to fans than a taped one.
That’s especially the case for a product as clearly stale as TNA. After getting years of bad television from TNA, many fans make up their minds about ImpactWrestling before it even airs. They read spoilers ahead of time, see that it was the usual nonsense, and then don’t bother to watch, feeling they’re not going to miss anything. If the show is live, fans may be more inclined to watch at the risk of missing some newsworthy event.
An important point that I can’t emphasize enough: If the product is no good, it doesn’t matter whether it’s live or taped. I think that’s what hurt TNA the last time it attempted to go live regularly back in 2010.
But, in fairness to TNA, the shows have consistently been better than they have been in a long time. Still fans aren’t watching. Maybe going live will at least pique the curiosity of some fans that long ago wrote TNA off as dead and buried.