Chris Graham: Let’s bring some reality back to pro wrestling
You knew that.
You also knew that a gang of wrestlers kidnapping a rival and taking him away on the back of a truck really aren’t engaging in anything even remotely criminal, because if they were, they’d be in jail sometime after we’d get back from the next commercial break.
So why do WWE and TNA – for that matter, Top Rope – keep trying to sell us on stuff both in the ring and out when we all know that not a sliver of it is on the up-and-up?
Nod, wink … that’s our job.
I was part of the creative team at Awesome Wrestling Entertainment that put together last year’s Night of the Legends pay-per-view. Before it was a pay-per-view, it was a planned really, really big house show with Ricky Morton scheduled to be in the main event. Scanning the Internet, Marvin Ward, the head of creative for AWE, and now a part of the team here at Top Rope, had come across a decade-old shoot interview with Ricky Morton talking trash, big-time trash, on “Big Sexy” Kevin Nash.
It was me who said it out loud.
“You know, if we were able to get Kevin to go along with this, I don’t know, we might get people to think this was real.”
Nash was willing to play along, and we set up a series of video vignettes involving Nash, Morton, Ward and later Diamond Dallas Page that got people talking about what AWE was up to.
We knew we’d hit it out of the park one day when we were shooting video with Morton at my office. The phone rang, and Morton, deep in thought about a promo, directed Ward to answer. It was “one of the boys,” and I won’t say who, except to say that he’s a legend.
“What the hell are you doing answering Ricky Morton’s phone? I thought you guys were about to kill each other!” the legend said, before realizing that he’d been worked.
That’s the psychology behind this. We as fans know that it’s all a work, and yet we still want to be worked. We want to see where the story will go, basically where the people who are writing the story and bringing it to life are trying to take us.
It’s the same suspension of disbelief that we also use on ourselves when we watch a sitcom or a movie or go to see live theatre.
Just as with TV and movies and what-have-you, the more steeped in reality the story is at its core, the more we are likely to be entertained. That’s where I can buy the ref counting to five to try to get a wrestler to break an illegal hold, for example – the guy in stripes doesn’t want to disqualify a wrestler and end a match that way unless it’s just blatant, right? We didn’t pay money to see the guy from Foot Locker; we paid to see the wrestlers.
The stuff about kidnappings … eh, I think we could do without that stuff anymore. Two guys getting into a fight in the parking lot or backstage or in the middle of the ring during an interview segment? Sure. Simulated felonious activity … no, thanks, not unless you’re going to play it out all the way, and of course you can’t do that, at the risk of exposing your talent to arrests and court appearances.
The further away from reality you get with that nonsense, the quicker I am with the trigger finger on the remote. And based on a look at the ratings for WWE and TNA these days, it seems like quite a few of us have been suffering from the itchy trigger finger of late.
Think back to what got us all hot and bothered back in the mid-1990s at the height of the Monday Night Wars. Were Nash and Hall really invading WCW? Was Sting really that offended that his friends were wondering aloud what side he was on that he took a year off to hang out in the rafters? Did Stone Cold Steve Austin have a career death wish going out on TV week after week flipping off his boss and worse?
I was a “smark” back in the day, and I still let myself get caught up in what was going on, and what was going to happen next. Now that I’m on the other side, I’m trying to do what I can to create the kinds of storylines that had me, the fan, tuning in religiously, on the edge of my seat at what they were going to try to work on me this week.
Chris Graham is the president and CEO of Top Rope Pro Wrestling and a former member of the creative team at Awesome Wrestling Entertainment. More online at www.TopRopeProWrestling.com.