By Colin McGuire, ProWrestling.net Staffer (@McGMondays)
Or, well, that was until episode 101 came out. And then 102. And then 103. And then … well, yeah. Episode 200 was released this past April and there’s no signs of it ceasing to exist anytime soon.
Still, the series ultimately paved the way for independent wrestlers (or, for that matter, wrestlers not shackled to the WWE machine) to shoot their own shots in the Internet television world. In fact, the road was paved so smooth that these days, the phenomenon of A Wrestler’s Internet Television Series has become everything from watered-down to over-saturated, to just plain annoying.
How many shows can “reveal another side” of our beloved professional wrestlers before that other side becomes the only side we know? Or, perhaps more importantly, how many times can we have that “other side” shoved down our collective throats before it begins to overshadow the wrestling itself and the obsession with “brand” gets more love than the reason we even know who these people are in the first place?
Such are the questions I asked when I was shuffling through Twitter recently to find …
… The debut of “The Kip And Sammy Show.” Indeed, it was just last week when Kip Sabian and Sammy Guevara announced the arrival of the first episode of their brand new series … which isn’t not like Sammy Guevara’s own vlog … which isn’t not like most any episode of “Being The Elite.” It’s bros doing bro things, attempting to be funny in a self-referential way that combines a meta mindset and very low production quality in order to let us all know how down to earth (yet interesting!) they all are.
OK, forgive the cynicism if you must, but when is enough enough? Especially in AEW? There’s “The Multiverse of Matt Hardy,” which began a month ago. “Wrestlers On The Road Ordering Room Service,” which sort of came and went last year. “A Shot of Brandi,” which constantly walks the line between compelling in a messy way and messy in a boring way. “The Road To” series, which is supposed to be a little less “hey, look at me!” and a little more “remember, we wrestle, too!” even if it doesn’t always accomplish it as well as it would like.
And while AEW might be the leader in the clubhouse for these types of things, none of this is to suggest WWE hasn’t tried its hand at the content game either. Sheamus has his “Celtic Workout” series, Xavier Woods has “Up Up Down Down,” and the company’s podcast surge has been prominent, beginning with Corey Graves’ “After The Bell,” The New Day’s “Feel The Power Podcast,” and Alexa Bliss’s “Uncool” series. Even Isaiah “Swerve” Scott has his own “Swerve City Podcast,” and who could have ever thunk that a guy who spends half his time on a show nobody watches would strike the fancy of enough people at WWE to get his own weekly talk show?
Don’t forget these companies’ official all-encompassing series, either. WWE has “The Bump.” AEW has “Unrestricted.” Ring Of Honor has the “ROH Strong” podcast (not to mention “Technique Tuesdays with Joe Hendry” or “Old School In Session” with Gary Juster). NWA has “What’s Causin’ Aldis” and “The Eli Drake Show,” as well as the dearly departed “Carnyland,” whatever the hell that was. And, of course, don’t ever forget the Talk-N-Shop crew, which at this point, is as tied to Impact as Hornswoggle is to AJ Styles.
And this is only the tip of the iceberg, a quick gathering of content off the top of my immediate head. I’m positive I missed a million more, but you get the point. So, what’s the problem?
Glad you asked. If we are to throw criticism and blame onto someone like Vince McMahon for constantly living through the “If one is good, two is great and three is amazing,” lens (what’s up, Doink, Dink and Dunk?), why can’t that apply to everyone else? The truth is that “Being The Elite” used to be novel in its portrayal of what it’s like to be a marginally successful wrestler in today’s world. Plus, some gags were funny, and as long as the people behind it are worth getting to know a little more, the level of content that is produced can be justified by mere entertainment value alone.
But not everyone — or anyone — is as funny or interesting as he or she thinks he or she is. It’s the equivalent of a 23-year-old writing a memoir because he got dumped at his senior prom and getting into his dream college was a struggle. At 23, he thinks he’s faced enough adversity in life to make his story interesting, but what he doesn’t know is that if he just waits another 23 years, his book could be infinitely more readable.
And even then, a 46-year-old’s memoir isn’t always worth it anyway. But I digress.
To say these series are hit and miss would be a graciously wild understatement. Sure, if you train to be a wrestler on the big stage, you have to be willing to perform well in front of thousands of people at a time. And, without question, you better know how to keep people’s attention for longer than three minutes if you want to reach the top of this industry’s manic mountain.
But selling a wrist-lock isn’t anything like selling yourself. Or, well, selling yourself as a comedian, or a talk show host, or a great interviewer, or … the list is endless. Perhaps it’s the ego of the young successful wrestler, or perhaps it’s the knowledge that you can’t break through into people’s timelines unless you have all social media platforms activated and the well of content you are willing to produce is never-ending.
Or, maybe, just maybe …
MODERATION IS A GOOD THING
… It’s a product of popular culture in the year 2020. It doesn’t matter how stupid you look. It doesn’t matter how incessant you sound. The more you put yourself out there, the more likely you are to be known. And that, to be fair, isn’t something new in any walk of entertainment. But in the professional wrestling world, putting yourself out there has historically been at the top of things not to do whenever you aren’t in your trunks, ready to land a dropkick at a moment’s notice.
The minute the word “kayfabe” left the locker rooms and became a part of every fan’s vernacular was the minute that the wrestling business left an era that could never and will never be reproduced. The problem? Just because you love to throw chocolate chips into your carton of ice cream doesn’t mean you need to throw them into the carton every time you take it out of the freezer. Insert your own “too much of a good thing” cliche here, of course, but the reality is that the one thing nobody invests as much in anymore is aura, mystique, or even heroism when it comes to this business.
Were those things taken too far in certain eras? Probably. Even as a kid, I knew The Undertaker wasn’t actually burying people alive, but damn it if I wasn’t just a little bit worried that Mark Calaway might be standing outside my bedroom window at 2 a.m. with a body bag. There was no way Scott Hall would be allowed on WCW television if he wasn’t actually a part of the WCW roster, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t question if his arrival, and the subsequent formation of the NWO, was happening in real life.
These days? If The Undertaker debuted at this year’s Survivor Series, we’d get a full 60-minute interview with him on “After The Bell,” describing how they came up with the way the character would look. If AJ Styles decided to jump to AEW, the shine would be off the moment before it even began because hints would be dropped on “Being The Elite” four weeks before he walked through the curtain.
That in mind, the question should be asked: What’s the biggest casualty?
BLURRING THE LINE
I don’t know about you, but as far as I’m concerned, professional wrestling is at its best when you aren’t quite sure if what you’re seeing is scripted. The moments that make us all question what’s actually going on are the moments that keep us tuning in each week. Does the wrestling look athletic? Does it look real? Could that person actually be hurt for real? Did that guy really just mean what he said? Actually, wait. Is he even allowed to say that on WWE television?
Those moments are the lifeblood of this industry, which is why the art of selling in the ring is just that — an art. But when you have so many different avenues from which to choose when it comes to consuming content from any of today’s professional wrestlers, how often can those questionable moments actually happen? I’m not going to think the Dark Order is actually a demonic cult when on Wednesdays, I see them beating up vulnerable superstars, but on Mondays, I see them playing ping-pong with the same superstars somewhere backstage on YouTube.
I understand the need to find other avenues to make money — please notice how I’m leaving Twitch streams and Cameo appearances out of this. If your prerogative is to pay 10 bucks a month to watch Rusev play “Call of Duty” every now and then, God bless. And there is certainly money to be made from loading up Instagram and Tik-Tok accounts with supermodel poses, string bikinis and funny dances that will always and forever turn a certain demographic’s head. Some of these people want to be actors someday while others are preparing for life after wrestling, which is more than fair, considering how fickle a life in wrestling can be.
But, at what cost does that come? A critic would argue that these web series ruined the business. A defender would argue that the business is evolving. The truth, as always, is most likely somewhere in the middle. Where that middle is, however, appears to be unknown. I understand how some fans live for more and more content every second of every day they can get it. But is that approach a band aid, a referendum on today’s popular culture lexicon without taking into consideration how precious the professional wrestling world’s history is? Or will there be a course correct once someone figures out the nuances of social media, bringing us all back down to earth and reminding the world that we actually don’t need to know what kind of toothpaste everyone is using on a daily basis?
My guess: Once the snakes are out of the box, you aren’t getting them back in. People will have to consider alternative platforms and content consumption when they dip their toe into any section of the entertainment world, and that includes professional wrestling. Will it kill the pro wrestling business? No. Will it change it? Yes. But will it ever be the same?
Still, that doesn’t mean I have much of any desire to see Kip Sabian and Sammy Guevara make silly faces and put together a series of half-assed inside jokes that beg for a laugh track. Nor does it mean I want to see Orange Cassidy stay in half-character while making chicken with Brandi Rhodes or Sheamus bench-press 20,000 pounds with Cesaro in an unnamed gym (though I will admit that watching Asuka’s weird shopping/traveling videos is oddly mesmerizing in their own bizarre ways).
If anything, it makes me nervous for the inevitable Retribution videos that will probably leak out someday. Because despite your position on how good or bad these pro wrestling web series are, “How To Manage Money with Mace” is something the wrestling world never asked for — nor does it need.