By Colin McGuire, ProWrestling.net Staffer (@McGMondays)
Do you miss it? The old, bygone era when you had days of the week reserved for things like “hanging out with friends” or “going to dinner” or, I don’t know, “anything other than watching wrestling.” Do you long for it? The era when maybe two or three nights a week had televised wrestling on it, so the product didn’t consume your life. Hell, think back to 20 years ago, after WWE bought WCW, and all you had to do was know when WWE was running one of its two weeknights. It was a world where you would be free to roam the wild, rarely tied to a screen just to hear one of John Cena’s latest rap verses.
I ask if you miss it because, in the immortal words of Mariah Carey, “That’s a wrap.” Or, at least for the immediate future, it is. That’s because AEW Collision week has arrived. And with the addition of another two-hour block of televised professional wrestling kicking off on Saturday, we now officially have no off days in the pro wrestling fan season. Mondays have Raw. Tuesdays offer NXT and Dark Side of the Ring. Wednesdays, of course, provide Dynamite. Thursday spotlights Impact (and don’t you dare say a bad word about it!), plus ROH, MLW, and NJPW. Friday, we got Smackdown and AE Rampage. Saturday, AEW Collision. And Sunday … well, Sundays occasionally bring PPVs or PLEs or RBGs (RIP) or S-T-O-P (ASAP), as well as WWE content on A&E.
My point is there’s no escaping this stuff.
As a pro wrestling fan, you might think this would be a good thing. And, to some degree, it probably is. But it’d be silly not to wonder when so much content might begin to have an adverse effect on all things ‘rasslin – or, for that matter, if that adverse effect has already begun to take its toll. Look at the company at the center of the brand-new show: AEW. I was at the very first AEW Dynamite at the Capital One Arena in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 2, 2019. That debut garnered the company’s highest TV rating to date – about 1.4 million viewers. Last week’s show drew about 900,000 fans – and to be fair, that’s kind of/sort of where that number has hovered since the debut episode premiered some three and a half years ago.
That’s not to say AEW is spinning its wheels; it’s to say … are we sure we need more pro wrestling television from that company? I ask because there’s only one other example AEW has when it comes to programming another night. That example? Rampage, which on nights not already occupied by the NHL, NBA or another “Avengers” rerun, airs at 10 p.m. on the east coast on Fridays. The show got a million-plus number once upon a time (hello, CM Punk!), but sank to new lows in May of this year when it brought in about 284,000 viewers.
As someone who spent nearly a year and a half covering that program for this website, I can firmly tell you … yeah, it ain’t no good. Excuse the poor English, but when a show is bowling shoe ugly (to quote Jim Ross), it doesn’t deserve The Good English. Sure, Rampage has had its moments – and AEW smartly tied Punk’s return to one of its episodes, suggesting that this particular hour of wrestling wasn’t always meant to be an afterthought – but by and large, there hasn’t been much to write home about. It’s too ambitious to be labeled a fun low-budget production that has insider jokes and a laissez-faire atheistic, but too ignored to be labeled a quality B Show by any stretch of any imagination at this point. As such, it flails in purgatory.
The thing is, I’m not so sure it could have had a different fate. 10 p.m. Eastern time on a Friday night is something of a tough lift for fans, especially when (all tribalism be damned) fans have two other hours of wrestling from WWE on the same night. Complicating matters, those two other hours also happen to be the company’s most celebrated on a weekly basis. Friday nights used to be where television series went to die; now the wrestling space occupies it on at least some minor level. The reality is that Fridays were always going to be tough, no matter who put whatever they put on whichever channel they put it. That in mind, Rampage was most likely always going to fail sooner than it was going to be must-see TV if only because the day of the week and the time slot it occupies has historically been tricky for TV ratings.
But if you think Friday’s rough … well, wait until you get a load of Saturday.
In some ways, being on the East Coast, I thought Rampage could carve out a quirky spot in the televised wrestling landscape. 10 p.m. is late, but it’s not 1 a.m. Ring of Honor and it gives potential viewers the chance to go out, maybe have dinner, catch a movie (or do whatever requisite thing normal happy people do) and get home in time to watch at least some of the program. I’m not saying I thought it’d find a gigantic fanbase that made it must-see TV, but damn, it’s not like the third hour of Raw is setting the world on fire, either.
Instead, Rampage fell victim (and I guess continues to fall victim) to its own formula. The matches just haven’t mattered – and I write that a mere 10 days after it offered up an episode that had nothing but title matches on it. But the outcomes weren’t in doubt. And the titles weren’t particularly the most important that AEW or AAA or ROH or NJPW or any other company who sometimes appears on the show could offer. For the most part – and much like the series as a whole, the hour of wrestling amounted to one big shoulder shrug.
So, what’s Collison’s deal? Is it going to be Mega Rampage, with third tier matches from fourth-tier stars that becomes bogged down by its own formulaic approach to making television after three months? Will it get some booking love that feels meaningful? Going live should help ensure that it’s not Mega Rampage, but that also doesn’t promise it’s going to be Dynamite Part 2, either. I’ve been there for all the Rampage/Battle Of The Belts installments, and the live two-hour element didn’t necessarily turn up the heat on the Friday night proceedings. “Here’s Britt Baker vs. A Renegade Twin for the AEW Women’s Title!”
And if that’s what we get on Fridays, what’s the difference going to be on Saturdays? At least on Friday nights, potential viewers have the excuse of getting to the end of a long week, so they might not want to head out and get rowdy, and instead, they could opt for rest. Saturdays are a wild card. In the summer, people have vacations, a desire to be outside, and an overall apathy for whatever appointment television could be.
In the fall, Saturdays have major college football games almost every weekend. Get to the winter, and the NFL starts its Saturday slate. Make the turn back to spring and you have graduations, NBA and NHL playoffs, the lure of warmer weather. Saturdays, even above Fridays, feel like the toughest night of the week to try and get something off the ground in primetime TV land – and that’s with or without CM Punk.
Speaking of Punk, how do we think this is going to play out? The guy is getting boos. He’s also getting cheers. What he’s not getting, though, is the decibel level of noise he enjoyed when he initially returned. Maybe some people hate him. Maybe some people love him. But are there as many people out there who still care about him? That remains to be seen. And if Collision is ostensibly going to be the show that showcases the problem children, how’s that going to work without an official brand split?
Does MJF do double duty as the company’s world champion? Or – gasp! – let’s get really wild and say that the belt winds up in the hands of Kenny Omega or Jon Moxley or Chris Jericho or any of the other people who haven’t said the kindest things about Punk since he’s been gone. Does Punk just figure out how to have meaningful programs with people outside of the main title picture? Don’t forget: Cody Rhodes thought he could do that. Cody is now in WWE.
So, what gives? Is the decision to launch Collision a good one, a bad one or an irrelevant one? It can be any one of those three. Good, if it rises to the compelling level Dynamite so often exudes. Bad, if it turns out to be something that gives the Trustbusters a glorified two-hour block of television. Irrelevant if it fails to utilize the star power AEW has accumulated over the years. For being a show meant to tout the return of CM Punk, nobody has taken a moment to ask if CM Punk’s success will heretofore be tied to the success of Collision.
Punk, for all his pluses and minuses, doesn’t seem to do well admitting fault. If AEW really is essentially throwing its eggs into the Punk basket to carry this new two-hour block of TV, and if that two-hour block of TV doesn’t draw ratings and becomes akin to the nothing-happening nature of Rampage, it’s hard not to wonder if Punk will be out in front of it, blaming the booking, “having to work with children” or a potential reality that other stars are unwilling to work with him.
In my mind, the weight, good or bad, falls squarely on the AEW brain trust and not one singular wrestler. How can the decision-makers inspire people who tune in on Wednesdays to care about tuning in on Saturdays? Video recaps of Saturdays might help. Major plot developments in major stories on a regular basis might also do the trick. You don’t have to be sitting in front of a TV on Saturday nights from 8 to 10 p.m. Eastern these days to ultimately tune in, and that could help this show find its footing (perhaps on Sunday mornings? … Maybe?). Whichever it is, I’m a believer that if it’s any good, it’ll find its place despite the obstacles that launching a show like this currently faces. For months, it felt like AEW gave up on Rampage. So long as the crew doesn’t create that detriment, it’ll have a chance to make Collision worthwhile.
In the meantime, people like you and me will just have to figure out how to navigate through this deluge of pro wrestling television that only seems to be bulking up, rather than leaning down. On one hand, it will be only as good as us fans make it – but on the other, it’ll be only as good as the wrestling companies book it. And so it’s with that, that I say, “Welcome to the party, Collision.”
And … um … please don’t suck?