Man, it’s been a while.
I mean it’s been a long time since WWE programming featured anything approaching a must-see angle, the kind of thing that makes you want to call your friends or have you waiting anxiously to discuss it the next morning with co-workers. A bunch of longtime fans I know had pretty much given up hope that it was even possible given the promotion’s focus on “PG” programming.
Yet somehow the WWE has managed to weave a bunch of rookies and Bret Hart into one of the most compelling storylines it’s presented in years. Just from the reaction it’s garnered over the past two weeks, the NXT assault on the federation has justified the cancellation of the floundering ECW show and its replacement with NXT.
Sure, wrestling history is full of previous invasion angles, so this one is hardly revolutionary in concept alone. But add the basic theme to its unexpected nature – hard to pull off in the age of increasingly abundant and speedy information – and the feeling that there are more twists and turns to come, and you’ve got yourself a winner.
Who knows if this was the plan for NXT all along or something the creative team came up with along the way? It hardly matters now, as the WWE has a successful springboard to make a whole group of new wrestlers into household names all at once.
That’s not an insignificant point. The fed’s problem in developing young stars over the last decade or so has been well documented, but it’s been more of a failure to find ways to present young talent than one of recruiting and training it. Please recall the Spirit Squad if you need a reminder.
So at least in this fan’s mind, it’s great to have a reason to get excited about Raw again. I just have to remind myself not to get too carried away until we see if this thing has some legs.
The reason for that is pretty simple: the WWE has made several attempts to break out of the usual “faces versus heels” box before and make it more of an us (meaning the whole WWE) versus them deal. And its track record in such endeavors is not good.
Exhibit A would be the invasion angle that sprang from the purchase of WCW in 2001. It started strong with Shane McMahon’s appearance on the final episode of Nitro and it offered a wealth of possibilities for future plotlines.
Fans certainly felt strongly about it for a time, as I can attest from the reaction I got by wearing a WCW t-shirt to the InVasion pay-per-view in Cleveland that summer. But if you ask people about that angle today, I bet most of them would tell you that it was a failure, or at least one that failed to live up to its huge potential.
The very next year, the WWE made another attempt to give its Superstars a common foe by resurrecting the nWo, with Vince McMahon specifically stating that his goal was to have it kill the federation. That idea fell by the wayside even faster than the WCW invasion, and if anything, is probably held in even lighter regard by wrestling fans.
I realize I’m not comparing apples to apples here, but the fact remains that previous efforts to branch out from simply investing energy to get fans to cheer the good guys and boo the bad guys have not ended well. At a time of simpler, less controversial feuds than we got even a few years back, the risks of stepping outside the box may be even greater.
Then again, it’s the contrast to the same old, same old that’s made the NXT story seem so fresh. If even a fraction of the theories that are floating around about where the angle may head from here – like, say, Michael Cole being the mastermind behind the whole thing – it will be so much better than the repetitive fare we’ve been getting on a regular basis.
Hopefully, the WWE won’t squander the opportunity it’s created to manufacture some new stars. Wade Barrett and David Otunga, in particular, appear to have big time potential (and Daniel Bryan, provided his release turns out to be a work), and the NXT angle definitely could be the vehicle to help them on their way.
My heart says to get excited, while my brain, backed by recent history, says to be wary. My guess is that by the end of the summer, I’ll know which one of them was right.