Watching TNA iMPACT! this week I was reminded of a comment that former WWE wrestler Lance Storm made several months ago. Storm opined that there is a difference between wrestling angles and storylines. Storm’s comment was in reference to something that WWE was doing at the time, but it applies to all wrestling promotions.
Storylines vs. Angles
The concept is actually quite simple. A storyline is a series of events that occurs between two or more characters over the course of several shows. A wrestling angle on the other hand builds directly to a climax in the wrestling ring.
The difference may seem very minor, but it comes hugely significant when you see how both WWE and TNA have approached their storylines recently.
Both companies are guilty of running storylines in the last few months which cannot ever result in a real wrestling match. The most obvious example right now would be TNA’s use of Earl Hebner in a storyline where he is feuding with Larry Zbyszko and Slick Johnson. None of the three participants in this story are active wrestlers so there is no possibility of a satisfactory conclusion to the angle.
The problem stems I think from the re-definition of wrestling in to Sports Entertainment, an action triggered by Vince McMahon and his then World Wrestling Federation. McMahon has gone to great lengths to differentiate the product he presents from old-fashioned wrestling federations.
As the dominant force in the wrestling industry, WWE’s re-branding has had inevitable knock-on effect on every other wrestling promotion. In order to compete with WWE’s populist approach to the sport, their competitors have been forced to adopt some of the same elements that seem to have made WWE so successful.
With no one left trying to pull things back to a more traditional sports event based format, the result had been a continual slide further towards televised drama and away from presenting wrestling matches.
Soap Opera For Men
Over the last decade this situation has reached some sort of tipping point where the whole focus of the shows has changed. Less and less matches are presented as more and more time is spent presenting us with a “soap opera for men”.
The result is that less and less time is spent on wrestling angles (in fact many of the matches we do get seem more like a backdrop to the storyline rather than the exclamation point). That lack of attention on the core product (call it whatever you want, but it’s a wrestling show) has its costs.
Many reviewers have pointed out the lack of sizzle (for want of a better term) for recent WWE and TNA PPVs. Even when the announced matches seem like they ought to be a big deal, the presentation of them just doesn’t bring that home.
When the final show down between two wrestlers is no longer the climax of weeks of booking, but rather just a short pause before they go back to exchanging witty repartee, why would anyone pay to actually watch that match?