Apparently WWE saw our article on needing to fix things headed into the summer — or maybe not. But whatever the catalyst, the biggest show in town has decided to give the old brand extension another whirl. Thursday’s SmackDown broadcasts will be live going forward, starting in July. Furthermore, Raw and SmackDown will each have their own rosters, GMs and unique feel.
Will it work this time? Ehhhhhhh. We’ll see. There are definitely significant upsides to this grand experiment. But the downside is pretty steep as well.
Assuming WWE actually sticks to its plan to keep the two brands separate, this should be good news for the actual wrestlers. Too many were appearing on both Raw and SmackDown during the week, then traveling to an additional live show or two, plus a monthly pay-per-view. It’s no surprise superstars are getting injured left and right with that kind of grind.
Of course, now we just hope the powers that be don’t use this an excuse to make the wrestlers perform at even more house shows. It’s just not worth the risk.
If we’re being sincere, there’s no reason for both the Intercontinental and US championships to exist simultaneously. Such a setup muddies the title scene and doesn’t do those stuck in the midcard any favors. There needs to be one secondary title beyond the heavyweight championship.
Having one secondary title for each show makes the belts more meaningful. It also allows for non-title storylines to stand on their own, rather than everyone on the roster clamoring for a belt.
So long as all of WWE operates under one umbrella, Raw will outshine its Thursday counterpart. It’s the first show after a pay-per-view, the only one that’s regularly broadcast live, and where all the biggest storylines end up. There’s just too much history and tradition with Raw — something that Smackdown hasn’t generated in its 16-plus years of existence.
SmackDown has always been just another wrestling show, about as meaningful as a TNA broadcast. And without drastic change, that’s the way things will stay.
Unfortunately, though …
No matter how much lipstick WWE puts on this pig, it’s still going to be the "second show." There’s too much baggage to shake off, between SmackDown’s traditional tape delay, the lesser production values and the fact that all the lesser storylines live on Thursday’s show. Sure, things could turn around in the future. Nothing is set in stone today. To make SmackDown into a viable property on the level as Raw, however, will take one of two things.
Either WWE has to elevate SmackDown beyond Raw in the short-term, which Vince would never allow to happen. Raw’s his baby, after all.
Or the McMahon family has to let this play out until the two brands are able to stand alone. But building SmackDown up to Raw’s prestige could take years, and if there’s one thing WWE has never displayed, it’s patience. Do we really expect Triple H & Co. to stand idly by if things get off to a shaky start? The tendency is to tinker; that’s how we got here in the first place.
Judging by how things went last time, WWE will use its pay-per-views to bring both rosters together in a clash of the best. But why should we be invested in the outcome if there’s no build-up to the matches? You can throw out all the five-star ringwork in the world; if there are no emotional stakes, then there’s a limit on just how much we’ll care about what’s going on in the squared circle.
What’s the alternative, though? Are guys going to invade the other broadcast just to pick fights in the weeks leading up to a pay-per-view? Do you use YouTube and the WWE Network as a sort of neutral staging ground where the two broadcasts engage with one another? And if so, what’s the point in pretending the two brands are unique entities when you could instead try to fix the root causes of dwindling ratings?
Wrestling is awesome. And five-plus hours of live wrestling each week certainly sounds like a good thing. In reality, though, we’re busy people with lots of interests. Asking fans to dedicate two nights a week to keeping up with a half-dozen important storylines risks spreading people too thin. If the brands end up becoming truly distinct entities, we might end up picking our favorite and ignoring the other one.
After all, that was the fate that befell WCW. WWE could use a little competition, sure. But even if this idea works, it could drive the company as a whole further into the abyss.