WWE Smackdown doesn’t need a brand; it needs a reason for beingBy Matthew Martin| October 7, 2014 WWE Blogs So having discussed the problem with Smackdown, is there anything to be done to make the show watchable? It should be noted that the show is not exactly struggling. It remains among the highest rated cable shows on Friday night and SyFy’s most consistently high-rated show. Still, it pulls in only about half the audience of Raw. Lets assume that half of that half consists of casual fans who only tune in to RAW to keep up with the storylines; they can’t be counted on to view any more WWE programming (other than the occasional PPV) than they already retain. Even taking that segment of the viewers away, you’re still left with a sizable chunk of potential watchers who have yet to find a reason to tune in (or even DVR). That audience is there for the taking. What can be done? DO IT LIVE Before the budget cuts, moving Smackdown to a live broadcast was discussed as a possibility by WWE brass. It’s probably a tabled idea now that the company is pinching pennies but still, it’s the simplest idea possible. Speaking for myself, I regularly check out Smackdown spoilers just so I don’t have to be bothered to watch the show. If a match is announced on Raw to take place on Smackdown, and it’s a match I’m actually excited about, I still check the spoilers, because if the finish is lame (as it usually is) I don’t want to bother getting teased with a great match only to be left disappointed by a bad finish. I don’t have that luxury on Raw, which is why the highs are so high and the lows so painfully low. I tune in every week and even though I am often frustrated with this match finish or that storyline progression (or, usually, lack of progression) I still tune in every week; the bad episodes are bad, but the good ones are so satisfactory that I don’t mind the crap that precedes it. That’s the kind of feeling you only get with a weekly live show. Moving Smackdown to a live format would give me plenty of incentive to tune in weekly. Obviously the show would have to change nights, presumably to Tuesday (the day it is taped), but that’s not really a bummer anyway. It would be on a more crowded TV night, but going live would ensure that Thursday night’s loyal crowd would remain, and they would be sure to pick up a lot of those faithful Raw viewers who read just read the spoilers. With rumours about the show possibly switching back to Thursdays, the show will still be taped on Tuesdays only to air later in the week. If, however, they were to air the show on Tuesdays, WWE would see a dramatic uptick in interest for the show. It would cause a slight reshuffling of the WWE programming deck, but not a major one. In fact the move would allow the Network to be the place to watch WWE wrestling in the backhalf of the week. Raw remains the staple on Monday nights, Smackdown becomes the Pro Wrestling place to be on Tuesdays. Thursday remains the night for NXT action, Main Event can air on Fridays (taped on Tuesdays) and Superstars airs on Saturday nights. The only night not to have some kind of in-ring action is Wednesday (the most un-Wrestling of days, historically) and a few Sunday’s a month. HYPE If you want Smackdown to become must-see you need to hype it as such. I’ve never understood why WWE refuses to hype their product more in advance. I suppose it’s because they book on the fly so much they don’t know what they’re planning one Monday to the next or one Thursday to the next. When they want to hype something, they consistently prove they are the best around. Their wordless promo package for Summerslam’s main event (the pulse-pounding, sound cutting-in-and-out one) was the most effective commercial they’ve put together in ages. WWE’s production department knows what its doing; it’s a shame that creative doesn’t help them out more by planning things more than 3 hours at a time. Regardless, once you’ve got the plan for Smackdown, WWE needs hype the heck out of it on Raw. They have three hours to kill every Monday night, and let’s face it; they usually only have about 2-2 1/2 hours of programming; the rest is just filler. Why not use that filler to air hype packages advertising the upcoming Smackdown. If you want to book Randy Orton vs Mark Henry in a last man standing match, show a video highlighting the carnage of such an encounter. Show me clips of Orton and Henry tearing people up over the years, and then tell me they are colliding TOMORROW NIGHT LIVE! Without the possibility of spoilers, and with WWE’s uber-effective hype train, you better believe I will tune in. Even better would be if WWE gave me two weeks to get hyped (and stay hyped) about a match. But that might be asking for a miracle. If nothing else, they need to get away from barely acknowledging Smackdown’s existence and start using commentary, twitter, and their promo department to better encourage Smackdown viewership. GIVE IT AN IDENTITY Here’s where things get really interesting. If you really want Smackdown to be something worth tuning in for, but WWE refuses to allow storylines to develop there (and take away from Raw), then they need to completely change the way fans perceive Smackdown. No matter what you do–go live, hype it up, give it big matches–if the fans see it as just “Raw, only less important” they’ll struggle with consistent viewership. You don’t need a brand split to give Smackdown its own identity. WWE just needs to offer things on the blue show that you can’t get on the Red one. It doesn’t have to be superstars, it can be match types… Imagine if they took a month of Smackdown programs (four episodes between PPVs) to book a tournament to crown a number one contender to the IC title, or the Tag Titles; really any of the championships outside of the World title could use a boost in prestige. Wade Barrett winning the IC title tournament made that belt relevant; it gave the fans something to follow and invest in, thus they were engaged in the process and not just the conclusion. Right now WWE is all about the conclusion. They have their midcard champion lose in non-title matches on free TV to his future-PPV challenger so as to make the challenger look strong. Then the challenger wins the belt on PPV. But so what; he just beat the guy one more time. He beat a weak champion. Making himself a weak champion. He then loses to his next challengers over and over and the cycle continues. WWE only cares about getting that initial, short-lived pop when a title change happens. But on the rare occasions that they invest in the journey to the title change, the fans cheer harder and remain committed to the champion longer. TV has changed a lot in the past decade and now viewers are used to long-form storylines playing out over multiple weeks/months. WWE likes to claim they do this, but they don’t. They tell one story and then repeat it for a few weeks in a row before advancing it on PPV, then they tell another story over and over until a month goes by and they move on. It’s slow, boring and maddening. Make Smackdown the place where new title contenders are crowned, give the fans a story to follow every week, exclusively on the blue show. Here’s another idea: make Smackdown the place where titles are on the line on free TV. Make the mid card champions defend their belts on Smackdown. Obviously PPVs will remain the place where feuds are either finished or escalated, but Smackdown can be the place where champions take on random challengers. This can be done to give the champ something to do before his big title defense on PPV. _________________________ There are countless little ideas that could make Smackdown a different kind of wrestling show, without forcing it to have its own roster and brand. Keep the talent flowing between the shows, but make Raw the place where sports entertainment drama is unfolded, and make Smackdown the place where in-ring drama is unfolded. That’s kind of the way things were during the best years of the brand split; there’s no reason the spirit of that can’t be maintained in the days of the combined-roster. Raw has existed with Smackdown as a counterpart longer than it has without it. But for most of its existence, it has been the ugly stepchild that few pay attention to. With a little creativity and a willingness to think outside the box, the blue show can become just as must-see as Raw is every week. Until then, I’ll be reading the spoilers.