WWE’s decision to move NXT to the USA Network and air it on Wednesdays opposite TNT’s AEW show has sparked a lot of excitement about a new Network Wrestling “war,” akin to the Monday Night Wars of the ’90s. The circumstances, beyond the superficial, are very different, however, compared to twenty-five years ago.
For one thing, WCW launched Nitro as a new program competing head to head with Monday Raw, which had been on the air only a couple years by that point. However, WCW (and related NWA divisions) had been on regional TV for decades. The WWF as well had been running their “Superstars” program in the same timeslot that Monday Night Raw inherited. Wrestling on TV featuring Macho Man, Sting, Jim Duggan, Ric Flair, etc, had been around long before Raw and Nitro took things up a notch. What those shows offered that the older programming lacked was a live format, shooting the action not in a studio with a small audience but in arenas full of ten thousand screaming fans.
Things are different here.
Even though NXT has been around for several years, it has been exclusive to the WWE Network. Many of its stars made the transition to Raw and Smackdown but the stars of NXT today are not known the way Seth Rollins, Sasha Banks, or Kevin Owens are today. NXT has had a different feel, a different presentation, and really a different philosophy to how wrestling on TV should be presented compared to Raw and SmackDown. There’s naturally going to be some blending of Vince’s and Triple H’s respective visions to make the transition to USA smoother, but NXT is still going to be a very “new” sort of wrestling show.
AEW simply is a new sort of wrestling.
The only foundation AEW has is a handful of PPV events and a variety of youtube videos. When their TNT show debuts next month it’s not going to be like WCW Nitro launching on TNT. It’s going to be more like TNA’s first episode on Fox Sports Net; an almost entirely-unknown commodity going live for the first time. By the way that’s the only comparison worth making between TNA and AEW; one has all the potential in the world out of the gate and the other was DOA.
So, on the one hand, you have NXT, a niche product thrust to the spotlight of Network Television. On the other hand, you have AEW, a niche product thrust to the spotlight of Network Television. NXT has the benefit of WWE’s support. AEW has the benefit of “not being WWE.” Both sides have something to offer and both sides have plenty to promote.
So what’s going to happen? Who is going to win the Wednesday Night War?
Let me stop you right there, because there isn’t going to be a war, and I say that for two reasons…
First, there’s not going to be a war because AEW isn’t debuting on TNT on Monday Nights or Friday Nights. The show isn’t going up against WWE’s top brands; it staked its claim to Wednesday Night. At the time the company announced that move, NXT was a WWE Network exclusive show; apples and oranges. It was WWE that decided to go head-to-head. In so doing, they put their C-show up against AEW’s flagship (and, at present, only) program. On the one hand, you can say that’s shrewd of WWE, as it makes their new challenger look like a C-level competitor. On the other hand, if AEW starts hot and picks up momentum, how would it look for WWE to start getting beat in the ratings by a C-level competitor?
Let’s not speculate about ratings just yet, though.
This isn’t a war because the two sides aren’t actually attacking each other with their best shots. AEW is avoiding WWE’s top shows, and WWE’s top shows are avoiding AEW.
Second, there’s not going to be a war because TV is not TV as it was twenty-five or twenty years ago. Back then if you wanted to watch Nitro you watched Nitro and only switched to Raw during a commercial. It behooved Vince and co. therefore to have a hot segment every quarter-hour to grab those channel-surfers and keep them from switching back to Nitro. The same was true of Eric Bischoff and those who ran Nitro. TV was dependent on the remote control.
Today everything is digital, downloadable, recordable, etc. If you have YouTube TV, DirecTV, Dish Network, etc, you have the means to record multiple shows and watch at your own convenience. What does it matter if you watch AEW live and skip NXT? You can still watch NXT later that night or the next day. It’s recorded and ready to go. Nevermind the plethora of YouTube clips that both companies will post on the night of each broadcast. There are countless ways to consume the two programs, meaning there’s no reason someone who wanted to follow both couldn’t do so regularly and conveniently.
So what do we have, if not a war?
We have something far better: Choice.
Going head to head the way Nitro and Raw did meant someone had to win and someone had to lose. What happened when Nitro lost? Twenty years of stagnation, that’s what happened. Sure, WWE prospered as a monopoly but creatively the company has never been as good as it was when it was motivated to “beat” WCW. Put AEW against WWE, McMahon’s money against Khan’s money, and someone is going to crack. When that happens, wrestling fans will suffer all over again.
However, if you spread things out, keep it a battle for overall market share more than weekly viewers, fans will see all of the benefits and none of the drawbacks. We’ll get two companies determined to be seen as the best product, without any of the worry of one show swallowing up the other, ala 2001.
You want NXT? Watch it. Ready for something new? AEW is here. Happy with both? You can do that too. You have all the power now, wrestling fan.
If that’s not a good thing, I don’t know what is.