There were a number of times where TNA shows would have a lot of solid to good to great wrestling in the past, but it felt like the performers were often working to over-achieve due to the creative direction and booking hampering what they could naturally achieve themselves. Sometimes, they would succeeded and sometimes, the audience was left feeling empty by an un-needed run-in, interference or screwy finish.
When you think about it, that pretty much defines last night's Battleground PPV, especially the main event featuring Daniel Bryan vs. Randy Orton, which ended with both men laid out by Big Show, who then celebrated to the tune of his theme music as if he had accomplished this great milestone - as opposed to being the avatar for WWE management pulling the rug out from under paying customers and two hard working wrestlers, who were forced to work hard to overachieve physically in advance of the finish cutting the legs out from the audience's enjoyment of their work.
Instead of getting some sort of vindication or resolution, viewers were left empty and shaking their heads. The amount of negative email following the show was staggering, almost at the level of the most angry in years - but they weren't angry at who won or loss, but at the idea that they had wasted their time.
I usually write about what works, what doesn't and what we learned. This time, I am about to write about what worries me. The finish to the Daniel Bryan vs. Randy Orton was a frightening, needless finish to a PPV - that type that doesn't serve to elevate anyone as a hero or as a villain, or even enhances a storyline, much less moving it forward.
It was the type of finish that leads to fans angry in the wrong way. It doesn't piss them off because their hero was wronged and they want to see him get his comeuppance. It doesn't piss them off because the dastardly villain somehow made it out by the seat of his pants again, unscathed. It doesn't even get heat on the evil puppet-masters running the promotion.
Instead, it pisses off an audience that invested, at the very least $44.95 and three hours of their time and emotional interest on a show that once again, for the second month in a row, featured a PPV that at the end of the day, was meaningless and meant nothing.
It was the type of show that makes an audience say "F*** this" and not want to spend their money going further. It's the same sort of mistake that WCW made a lot of during the latter end of the Monday Night Wars, where fans would pay to see a title change or the culmination of something important to them and by the next day, the belt was switched back, the moment of vindication was gone and they were off to the next angle in an endless race to capture the next quarter hour rating.
In the end, WCW was dead - not just for that reason, but for many others, but at least a big part of those reasons was that the company wasn't making any money: in part, because they had run their audience off.
Sure, WWE is in far stronger shape today than WCW was during that era, but they just reduced their earnings outlook and their money-making machine, John Cena, is out for at least a few more months while he's rehabilitating his injuries. I cannot envision a worse time to show the audience - two months in a ROW no less (I can forgive the Summerslam cash-in since it was teased and PPVs have ended with the cash-in title change before) - that their PPV expenditures were money and time wasted.
It's almost as if WWE crafted the finish specifically as a middle finger to fans who called asking for a refund after Night of Champions because the last show was rendering meaningless 24 hours later. One hopes that isn't the case, but you have to wonder.
Sure, all of this will lead to a Hell in A Cell showdown for Daniel Bryan and Randy Orton - perhaps with Big Show outside the cage to tease where his loyalties will truly, finally lie - but what paying fan, in his right mind, in this current strained economy, is willing to chance yet another PPV purchase after being burned not once, but twice in a row by creative decisions that serve to do nothing but piss on the audience?
Fool me one, shame on me. Fool me twice, shame on you. Now, maybe you want to fool me three times? To note a much-overused phrase of late, this is "Good for business" HOW?
WWE really owes their audience an apology.
Leave the cliffhanger endings for Monday Night Raw - or make the PPVs free cable broadcasts, WWE Network or not. PPVs should not be part of a regular, episodic cycle. They are meant to be special. If they are not, just stop producing them and focus on getting the Network off the ground already, so at least they can run the blanket excuse of "It's just another TV show."
PPVs are not meant to be another show. They are meant to be the spectacle, the big show that is the modern day equivalent of what a Madison Square Garden card used to be monthly in the 1970s. Not every show has to end with a decisive, clean finish - it's pro wrestling. But every show has to have an actual, you know, ENDING!
No one pays to see a movie where the ending just goes to black. TV viewers don't want to invest in a series where the series ends in an unfulfilled way (Sopranos backlash, anyone?).
Wrestling fans, sports fans, theater fans, comic book fans - fans of any genre of entertainment want to see three things: a reason to be emotionally invested, a reason to spend their money and the feeling with those investments, it was time and money well spent.
WWE failed on all three fronts last night.
Mike Johnson can be reached at MikeJohnsonPWInsider@gmail.com.
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