By John Napolitano
WWF Smackdown debuted on Thursday August 26, 1999, in direct competition with WCW Thunder. Unlike Thunder, Smackdown would debut as a brilliantly bold, boundary-breaking B-show. It promised to showcase fresh matchups, powered by stirring star power, while Thunder lacked any entertainment value whatsoever.
Smackdown’s tenure as the combustive, combat-driven sister show to Monday Night Raw reigned well into the 21st century. It provided a platform for young, breakout stars like Brock Lesnar, Edge, and Batista to show off their skills and become top tier talents. Unfortunately, in recent years, Smackdown has transformed into Thunder.
Some WWE fanatics blame the downfall of Smackdown on the brand merger in 2013. Others claim that a blatant lack of effort on WWE Creative’s end was the ‘Blue Brand’s” undoing. Whatever error you attribute to Smackdown’s descent from decency, it’s clear that the WWE Universe would like nothing more than to see the Samckdown return to prominence. With Thursday Night Smackdown debuting on the USA Network on January 7, 2016, I contest that there is no better time than now to make Smackdown meaningful again.
Unique Commentary of the Smackdown Narrative
My first point is not a criticism, but rather an acknowledgement of a step in the right direction. WWE hit the lottery when they cast the role of the “Voice of Smackdown” to the premier combat sports broadcaster in the world, Mauro Ranallo. Debuting on Smackdown’s inaugural USA broadcast, Ranallo has fit right into the WWE family. He brings an aura of excellence to every match he calls, not to mention he actually names the moves and holds that the wrestlers execute with an energetic vibrancy all of his own. Ranallo’s professionalism and respected reputation stacks Smackdown’s hand out of the starting block, but it is also worth noting that Jerry “The King” Lawler’s change of attitude improves the quality of the “Blue Brand” as well.
Lawler’s incessant cheerleading of the babyfaces on WWE programming was becoming as tired as it was obnoxious. His subtle and contemporary heel turn combined with Mauro Ranallo’s can’t-miss calls gives Smackdown undoubtedly unique commentary. It cannot be overstated how imperative fresh narration is to WWE programming. Commentators are tasked with describing the painting that the performers are crafting in the ring. When the same voices are heard on Smackdown and Raw, it does not make Smackdown feel meaningful. It makes Smackdown taste like “Raw Lite.”
Advertised, Fresh Matchups
Promotion is the fuel that ignites World Wrestling Entertainment’s fiery success. I dare you to envision any hugely successful match in WWE’s storied history taking place without paramount promotion. Imagine Hulk Hogan vs. Andre the Giant doing battle without their encounter on Piper’s Pit. What would the Undertaker vs. Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania XXVI have accomplished, if the seeds of their rivalry had not been budding since 2007.
Hell, John Cena and The Rock announced their “Once in a Lifetime” clash at WrestleMania XXVIII a calendar year removed from the set date. Albeit, producing television is very different from promoting the main event of the biggest wrestling event of the year, but the principle is the same: If you want your audience to invest in your product, you should tell them what they can expect ahead of time. If Smackdown is to become destination programming again, fresh matches should be advertised in advance.
Infrequent Raw Rebounds
One of the “Blue Brand’s” sinister sins is its reliance on Raw Rebounds in order to kill airtime. It is one thing to recall event from Raw’s past in order to set the stage, but it seems that every week 10 to 15 minutes of air is devoted to dishing out details from Monday Night. What World Wrestling Entertainment should understand is that the loyal few who watch Smackdown are well aware of what took place on Monday Night Raw. This airtime would be much better utilized by creating new narratives or furthering established plots. Like I alluded to earlier, in order to make Smackdown feel meaningful the line between it and WWE’s flagship show should not be so blurred.
Partial Roster Exclusivity
Personally, if I could only enhance one element of Smackdown, I would see to it that WWE Superstars who regularly appear on Thursday nights are somewhat exclusive to the “Blue Brand.” I am not advocating for the return of the brand split. I enjoy the concept of all WWE Superstars being classified under one chaotic category. Those who long for the return of the brand split forget how tired it became towards the end of its tenure. The brand split can only thrive when there is so much depth and superstardom on the WWE roster that there isn’t enough time to showcase everyone’s talents on one show alone. That is certainly not the case at this juncture; however, I do subscribe to the belief that in order to make Smackdown destination television, certain characters should be mainstays of the program. If I’m a huge Dean Ambrose fan, and I know that Dean Ambrose’s best showings are on Thursday nights, I’m more inclined to tune into Smackdown. This gives more time for Dean Ambrose’s character to evolve, especially if he’s somewhat lost in the shuffle on Monday Night Raw.
Obviously, there are countless changes that could be made to Smackdown in order to enhance the quality of its programming, but these are four small, plausible, but impactful tweaks that can create a new “Blue Brand.”
What would you like to see on Smackdown? Has the “Blue Brand” already lost your vote of confidence? Are you enjoying Smackdown on USA Network? Tweet me your thoughts at @JnapsRingWrap!