Chris Graham: Is PG killing WWE?

wrestling-ring2John Cena, on a conference call promoting the upcoming “Tribute to the Troops” specials on USA and NBC, is a fan of the post-Attitude WWE.

“I think our programming has made a turn for the better, into more of a PG environment,” said Cena, the babyface poster boy of the new, less-watched WWE.

Much is made in the wrestling blogosphere about ratings for WWE’s flagship program, “Raw,” which is struggling to get out of the mid-twos in the Nielsens after hitting as high as the low-eights at the height of the Monday Night Wars.

The decline in the ratings tracks Cena’s career, coincidentally. Cena started in WWE in 2002, at the tail end of the Attitude Era, when the ratings were still in the high-fours, but that year ended with an episode of Raw scoring a 2.8.

The ratings had been hovering in the threes and fours since, before an extended decline in the second half of 2012.

There has been plenty of handwringing in the blogosphere about the decline. The general focus of the bloggers has been on the basic unwatchability of the product. As edgy as WWE was in the Attitude Era, it’s perhaps even more watered-down today. Vince McMahon won the Monday Night Wars by building stars from the scrap heap (turning Rocky Maivia into The Rock, transforming “Stunning” Steve Austin into “Stone Cold,” etc.). Now his WWE is losing viewers by the minute of “Raw” and “Smackdown” by making our eyes bleed with the talentless Cena and the smaller-than-life WWE champion C.M. Punk.

Way, way too much time is spent on TV tracking the exploits of the likes of on-air authority figures Vickie Guerrero, Teddy Long and Booker T, none of whom should ever be allowed near a live mic, much less handed multiple segments on multiple platforms to shrink the WWE Universe even more.

But is it all lack of edge? Look across the dial to TNA, which is all-edge, all-the-time, with Knockouts wearing barely anything interacting with biker gangs who kidnap rivals and former champions whose signature move includes breaking a beer bottle over opponents’ heads.

So, yeah, TNA is edgy. And also eminently unwatchable, and also very much unwatched, with ratings hovering on either side of one for time immemorial.

And it’s not that TNA is lacking for top-shelf talent, with superstars like Kurt Angle, Rob Van Dam, Jeff Hardy, Sting, and the list goes on.

TNA is as TV-14 as WWE was at the height of the Attitude Era, and its rating are barely a third of WWE’s at its nadir post-Attitude.

There’s something wrong with pro wrestling, but it’s not PG. Not necessarily, anyway.

Chris Graham is the president and CEO of Top Rope Pro Wrestling, whose debut show, New Year’s Chaos, is set for Saturday, Jan. 5, 2013 at the Virginia Horse Center in Lexington, Va. More online at www.TopRopeProWrestling.com.

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