The TV-PG vs TV-14 battle has been a topic of debate over recent years, many fans are blaming the TV-PG rating for a poor product of today. This got me thinking, I don’t believe a TV rating makes a show, it’s the overall product as a whole that makes the show better. With so much focus on the past recently, mainly how good the “edgier” attitude era was for pro wrestling, what made the attitude era so great?
WWE has always been a family friendly form of Wrestling, during the wrestling boom in the 80’s it was always family focused, whilst several of the NWA territories focused more on violence. In particular Ric Flair’s constantly bleeding. After the steroid scandal in 1993, the WWF were forced to tone down their product and as a result the mid 90’s was a very watered down product with minimal risks. The over the top cartoon gimmick was apparently king. It’s very noticeable during any 1996 event that the crowd is very high pitch, something that would change the following years.
On 15th December 1997, Vince McMahon introduced the attitude era. It would mark a new creative direction for the WWF, something that had slowly been developing into something that would take inspiration from current television programs like Jerry Springer, King Of The Hill and Seinfeld. The attitude era would bring a more edgier product, pushing the boundaries.
As a result WWF and wrestling in general would become hugely popular within the mainstream, the attitude era would bring new stars like Stone Cold, The Rock, Triple H and Chris Jericho. It also brought in bad language, an increase in sexualisation, edgier characters and more violence.
The success is down to various reasons, one of the those is not the TV-14 rating. The TV-14 rating allowed the product to be more edgier to protect the younger audience. However this didn’t happen until December 1998 and only PPV’s and Monday Night Raw was rated as TV-14. Smackdown was rated PG throughout its entire run. During the attitude era it was only really 1999 where it pushed the boundaries completely. 2000 saw the beginning of a “watered” down product, a year that I believe was the WWE’s strongest year.
So what made the attitude so great? I will look at some key area’s that made the attitude era.
The Monday Night Wars have been heavily documented in the past, the key positive from this was making wrestling relevant again. The TV ratings war between WCW and WWF saw the best and worst from both companies. When Eric Bischoff persuaded Ted Turner to have the same time slot as Monday Night Raw, no-one really expected the acceleration in popularity that wrestling had. In the initial year, the WWF didn’t really react to WCW, however once several key stars had left, WWF were forced into making changes to ensure the future of the company. Vince always said that they had a consistent product and persistence would prevail, compared to the aggressive WCW take on things. In the long term it worked for the WWF. Today, there is no realistic competition for the WWE, so they are being complacent to protect the business. If TNA were to become a viable threat to WWE then the product would certainly get better.
The characters were certainly more riske during the attitude era. You had Val Venis, who was portraying a porn-star. The Godfather who was a pimp and would bring his ho-train to the ring. Mark Henry was dubbed “sexual chocolate” a womaniser. You had D-Generation X chant “Suck It!” and perform sexualised moves. These were cool at the time, they had shock value to them, something we hadn’t seen in mainstream wrestling before.
The key difference in terms of characters from today to the attitude era was really fully utilising the entire roster. Everyone on the card had a character, a storyline and was important. The mid-card was extremely strong, and would easily get large pops whenever they came to the ring. Today, lots of guys gets lost in the shuffle, there is too much focus on the short term rather than the long term.
In addition wrestlers today have script writers, most promo’s today feel forced and staged, before everything had a structure but the wrestlers had a bit more creative freedom. It allowed them to develop their characters more.
A stacked Roster
Rolling on from characters to the wrestlers themselves. The attitude era was all about Stone Cold Steve Austin, however the main event had The Rock, Undertaker, Kane, Mick Foley and Triple H all at the top. Other top stars included, Chris Jericho, Kurt Angle, Big Show, Eddie Guerrero, Chris Benoit, Billy Gunn, Chyna to name a few. Everyone was treated as a viable star, regardless of their position on the card. What made the attitude era incredible was moments like Taka Michinoku getting a huge pop when he almost won the WWF title against Triple H.
The tag division also felt important, the late 90’s through to 2001 was all about tag teams. You had the Hardy’s, Edge and Christian, The Dudleyz, New Age Outlaws, Too Cool and APA. Every team was important and connected with the fans. Most significantly most of them would then go on to become successful single stars as a result.
Timing and Risks
In a competitive environment correct timing and risks are necessary to ensure success. Wrestlemania 14 was a huge risk, Vince had invested alot of money into bringing Mike Tyson into the WWF, it was a gamble that certainly paid off. The media went crazy when Austin and Tyson had their infamous shuffle on Raw, as a result drew incredible amount of attention to Wrestlemania. The teased main event of Stone Cold vs Vince McMahon allowed Raw to edge ahead of Nitro in the ratings. Just these two key events were perfect timing to give the WWF Product the edge.
In fairness, due to a lack of stars WWE had to invest time in developing new stars, this is a slow process and doesn’t happen overnight. Stone Cold took over a year to reach full steam, It would have been easy to give Austin the title early, like they did with Goldberg, but they didn’t. Keeping him away from the main event was a gamble that would pay off in the long term.
JR and Jerry Lawler
Watching back older event’s and you can really notice the benefit of having a strong announce team. JR and Lawler’s combination added so much to the drama and story. Every wrestler had a back-story and the commentary team helped aid the wrestlers development. Stars were no longer rookies, they were young, hungry and determined. Wrestlers were not mocked or laughed at, everyone was taken seriously. Today, the announce team is a joke, how can anyone get over when JBL, Lawler and Cole bury pretty much everyone. Finally the announce call’s were perfectly executed to the moment. Who can every forget Hell In A Cell in 1998.
“With god as my witness, he is broken in half!”
Monday Night Raw became must see TV. You couldn’t miss it, as you had no idea what to expect next, every week the WWF would deliver incredible moments and segments that were entertaining, shocking and never seen before. Today alot of these segments are recycled often and no longer have the same impact. Daniel Bryan’s takeover of Raw was very innovate, so was Bryan’s turn on Bray Wyatt. However when was the last time, something massively shocked us? The attitude era had Austin ride practically every vehicle to the ring, Beer Truck anyone? Vince McMahon in the hospital; Mick Foley presenting The Rock with this is your life. Moments that will never be forgotten.
Creatively behind the scenes and on screen Vince’s role during the attitude era helped make wrestling what it is today. The feud between Vince and Austin was incredible. Most importantly the key background to it all, was something that everyone could connect to. Everyone has had one of those bosses you just wanted to say what you want to but never could. Austin and McMahon showcased that all on TV. Behind the scenes Vince mastermind the WWF past WCW creatively and to secure the long term future of the WWF with merchandise and television deals.
The attitude era was successful due to a number of things, competition, creative uses of the roster, the stacked roster, innovate segments, an incredible commentary team and Vince McMahon’s creative vision. These just a few reasons to why the era was so successful, the edgier content helped shift the momentum from WCW to WWF, however the TV-14 rating wasn’t as much of an influence as you might think. If the TV-PG rating remained, the WWF would have still been successful. WCW Nitro became popular under the TV-PG rating.
TV-PG is not to blame for today’s product. WWE need to re-align their focus back to the overall picture. Stop putting the full effort into the main event. Take a look at the mid card, make them relevant again, this will provide future talent. Allow the stars to adlib their promos rather than be awkwardly structured. Allow them to speak on the mic as they come to the ring, small little things to help the crowd connect with the wrestler. Take a look at the commentary team, and make the focus of their role to put over wrestlers and their characters. Make the fans interested rather than laugh at Emma’s dancing.
Remove any yearly gimmick PPV’s, Hell In A Cell, Elimination Chamber, Extreme Rules and TLC PPV’s screams living in the past. Utilise gimmick matches when they are needed the most, to heighten or end a feud. Currently it is very forced, and the only real reason for the match is because it’s that time of the year. Take Triple H vs Undertaker Hell In A Cell at Wrestlemania 28 as an example of when to use the match.
The current product is very good, it is enjoyable to watch, as a fan there are so many ways to make the product better. I just feel that the TV-14 rating has nothing to do with making the WWE Attitude Era as good as it was.