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2.25.2008

What Should Be Done With ECW?

ECW had promise when it returned under the WWE umbrella in the fall of 2006. With the fed’s budget, I truly believed it could have been better than the original. Keep in mind, though, that I’m not a big fan of the original ECW - but, no doubt, it was an influential promotion with a loyal audience, and the company had success in the PPV and house show markets (which is something TNA hasn’t been able to accomplish). The reincarnated ECW had a solid pool of talent: Kurt Angle, Big Show, RVD, Sabu, C.M. Punk, as well as other ECW originals. And Paul Heyman was writing the show (at least at the beginning). As such, much of that old ECW audience were interested in the new product.

The one-hour timeslot was a perfect format for ECW to establish a distinctive brand, different from Raw and Smackdown. They could have emphasized wrestling and the championships; guaranteed an extreme rules match on every show; and implemented controversial storylines, even if they weren’t allowed to go as far as the original did at pushing the envelope. I’ve always been a mark for WCW’s TV title and its 10 minute time limit stipulation. It would have worked great for the new ECW to have a title that was defended exclusively on TV since they only had one PPV planned - the infamous December to Dismember, which I’ve tried to erase from my memory.

As discussed on last week’s radio show, Heyman is an overrated booker. Hardcore match after hardcore match, with no restrictions, desensitizes an audience over time. But he did come up with some creative, compelling storylines, and the freedom he gave the workers on the mic is something sorely lacking on Raw and Smackdown these days. Wrestlers should be given bullet points and then get the chance to sink or swim based on their own merits and creativity. How can a worker improve his mic skills and blossom creatively by memorizing words that someone else has written?

In essence, ECW on Sci-Fi could have been an exciting one-hour program with solid wrestling and storylines - much of ECW’s old audience was tuning in, and the potential for viewer growth was real because of the WWE’s worldwide fanbase. One could argue they have surpassed Heyman’s ECW as far as audience numbers are concerned, but even if its current rating on Sci-Fi is marginally higher than the number they were garnering on TNN, their overall impact on the wrestling business isn’t even close. ECW has turned into a watered down version of Raw and Smackdown - it has a weaker roster and only contributes one match per PPV. If the fact that Chavo Guerrero, the ECW Champion, was in the Royal Rumble match isn’t a clear message that ECW and its heavyweight title doesn’t matter, I don’t know what is.

To be fair, ECW experienced a lot of setbacks in the beginning. Angle was addicted to drugs and burnt-out; subsequently, he was released. Big Show was burnt-out too and refused to sign a contract extension, leaving the WWE until this past Sunday. RVD (the ECW champion at the time) and Sabu were busted for marijuana possession, and the champ took the fall. But Bobby Lashley’s entire reign as ECW Champion, including his feud with Vince, was a disaster, and there’s no one to blame for that besides creative and Lashley himself. His win in the Elimination Chamber at December to Dismember was the beginning of the end for ECW. No one exemplifies the clueless, bodybuilder-type of worker who is rushed through developmental better than Lashley - essentially, he was the epitome of the WWE, and there was nothing “ECW” about him.

In addition, everyone could see his run as ECW champion was just an attempt to get him over before his inevitable jump to one of the other brands. It was all about Lashley, not ECW. Now the dude’s gone - that’s what you get, WWE, when you push a guy who doesn’t have what it takes and knows nothing about the wrestling business. Then, when Chris Benoit was set to win the ECW title after Lashley was drafted to Raw, he . . . well, you know what happened with Benoit. So Johnny Nitro took his place as champ. A BIG step backwards.

So let’s go back to the question in the title of the column: what should be done with ECW? In an ideal world, Tommy Dreamer would replace Armando Estrada as a face GM (a role which Heyman should have occupied from the beginning), the brand would get an influx of talent from developmental and other brands, and some of the ideas I mentioned earlier would be implemented (i.e., re-instated ECW TV title, more frequent extreme rules matches, etc.). But that’s not going to happen. Vince is adamant ECW will continue as is until it’s end. And that’s what I think should happen: it’s time to end ECW.

Realistically, WWE doesn’t need to produce 5 hrs of programming every week. The best shows on TV are only an hour or half an hour in length, and their writing staffs and talent get breaks for re-runs and off-seasons (note: the topic of an off-season if something I’ll address in a later column). Arguably, the beginning of the end for WCW was when Turner demanded two additional hours of programming on Thursday nights, in the form of Thunder. And the WWE stretched its creative staff even further with the debut of Smackdown - Vince Russo credits the launch of Smackdown as one of the reasons why he left the fed for WCW.

Really, if the WWE wanted to be at its creative best, it would concentrate on 2 hours of programming per week. Raw would have a stacked roster, and the creative staff could focus on one show. But I don’t want to see that happen (and Vince doesn’t want to lose the TV dollars). People would lose their jobs and there would be even less opportunity for aspiring wrestlers. Plus, I believe the WWE has enough staff and talent to produce 2 quality shows per week, but not 3, especially if the third has no distinguishable qualities. And even though this week’s episode of ECW was a particularly good one, it’ll be back to normal in no time - and the fed will always view it as third rate.

So here are two options for how ECW could be put to rest:

1. Smackdown could simply absorb the ECW roster, since they already have a talent exchange agreement. ECW is pretty much Smackdown-junior at this point anyways, so why not make CM Punk, Shelton Benjamin, Elijah Burke and others permanent fixtures on Smackdown?

2. This year’s Draft could be centred around ECW, with the two remaining brands acquiring ECW talent instead of each other’s. It would be a worked version of what the fed did in 2001 to the old ECW roster. Sure, it would probably decrease the perceived importance of the Draft, but it’s become a joke at this point anyways, with wrestlers from any brand showing up on the other shows for no particular reason.

The writing’s on the wall for ECW. If CW network isn’t renewing Smackdown, which more than doubles ECW’s numbers, Sci-Fi almost certainly won’t renew the show past its current agreement. When that agreement ends, so should the WWE’s version of ECW. Do it sooner if possible. At the very least, it’ll save poor D.J.B. from having to sit through, and then report on the mediocre show every Tuesday night.

As always, O-sters, I encourage feedback. What would you do with ECW? Should it be put out of its misery . . . or can it be saved?


3 comments: on "What Should Be Done With ECW?"

D.J.B. said...

ECW is fine where it is. CW and "SmackDown!" have basically already parted ways and "SmackDown!" will continue on on MyNetworkTV, WGN, or some other network. ECW already had it's deal renewed and will go through at least late this year, and with the deal between WWE and NBCUniversal ECW probably wont go anywhere, and if it does it'll be to a different timeslot and/or a different network.

As far as me covering it, yeah it gets old and boring, but it gives guys who would be lost in the shuffle elsewhere a place to shine. Punk is ready to go to SD or "Raw" and M'n'M 2.0 is, whatever you want to percieve them as.

The roster can't be absorbed because "Raw" is already too full, and "SmackDown!" would be full if it added more than 5 or 6 guys.

The E has pretty muched backed itself into a corner, but we shouldn't take ECW for anything other than what it is, OVW...oops, FCW on TV with a better production value.

I get some entertainment out of it, but yeah, most of the time it irritates me because the right guys aren't getting the time and the rub. That's why I was drooling on myself because Flair was on ECW putting over Benjamin, Burke and Punk. Benjamin and Burke didn't need to win to be put over.

What needs to be done with ECW is this, FIRE EVERY WRITER ON STAFF! Hire writers that know what the hell they are doing and have a wrestling BACKGROUND, not a foreground, but a solid understanding of the business. Better yet, a true love for the business farther than ratings and a paycheck.

If they hired writers who loved the product the ratings would follow.

Good article, and it isn't far from my beliefs, but I dont want to see ECW go because that would mean ALOT of guys would be out of a job, and while that would beef up the indies, it would also hurt them, because alot of these guys know the WWE style, which isn't the indy style.

BigDaddy said...

End ECW.

Anonymous said...

I'm afraid ECW has become a pail shadow of former glories. ECW stood out from the crowd, like a tearaway little brother who wouldn't behave.

The main problem is that it is very difficult for the brand to get it's own identity when there are so many Smackdown wrestlers coming over for the odd show and vice versa.

However the main reason is the E part. Extreme!!!?? Not at all, whats extreme about it apart from the extremerly excruciating storylines. The obvious problem is it stemming from the same tapings as Smackdown. That's your family friendly brand, the audience I believe consisting of more under 18's than a Raw audience. The crowd have come to see the likes of Rey Mysterio 2008 rather than Rey Mysterio 1995. You cannot film extreme infront of the same crowd as Smackdown, thus the Extreme Rules matches are generally very weak for the genre.

If it is to continue in this vein then I for one say it should not continue at all. Let smackdown and ECW merge as one, there is plenty of room in a 2 hour show for the ECW guys, especially when the likes of Khali and Big Daddy V take up TV time