Friday 3 February 2012

The ECW Network

WWE’s need for original programming for their Network, now due to launch (apparently) sometime in the autumn (or “Fall” for the colonists among you), is no secret. Neither is the difficulty the company seems to be having dreaming this new content up. With that in mind here’s a free idea for Vince McMahon and the relevant cronies:

Bring back Extreme Championship Wrestling.

I don’t mean show repeats of the original product (which WWE has owned the rights to for a decade). I’ve advocated that move before, and still do. I mean put on live events and film a TV show branded as ECW, then air it on the WWE Network. Done right, it could be a massive success.

The key words there are “done right.” I’m sure most of us have nasty memories of the horrendous attempt WWE made to bring the Extreme outfit back in 2006. Even with Paul Heyman at the helm it was largely a failure. There were a few highlights: the debuts of stars Kofi Kingston, Sheamus, Evan Bourne and, most notably, current WWE champion CM Punk all occurred in WWECW, and there were a handful of creative successes in the ring (a ladder match between Rob Van Dam and Sabu fairly on in the show’s run stands out as a particular highlight). But mostly it was a dismal effort to recreate something nobody in a position of power understood or approved of.

The trouble is that even with Heyman (the man almost always created as the number one reason the original ECW succeeded to the extent that it did) running things the product faltered. There didn’t seem to be a clear vision for what ECW should be. It started off with its own live event schedule and TV venues but was lumped together with SmackDown after just few months. ECW stars quickly started working only in preliminary matches, leaving the main event (on a ECW show!) spot for guys like the Undertaker, Ric Flair and Batista. The creative direction was a muddl: people were added to and taken from the roster at a moment’s notice, which made booking difficult for those in charge and watching difficult for viewers.

Doing it right would mean putting someone in charge and leaving them alone for a set period of time, only bothering them after that time had elapsed if they hadn’t met agreed goals regarding TV ratings, pay-per-view buy rates, merchandise sales, live event attendance, or some other logical factor.

Obviously the natural choice for the man in charge of any ECW revival is Paul Heyman. WWE should extend an offer to him, with the above assurances about being left alone, and be prepared to negotiate in order to get him to work on the project, in any capacity (i.e. consultant). Realistically that’s unlikely though: Heyman has stated on numerous occasions he has no interest in working in wrestling anymore and has enough other work that he’s not going to be wooed back easily.

WWE could do a lot worse than hiring a fan of the original ECW who understands the theory of piecing together a wrestling show along with the spirit of the ECW product. Teamed up with one or two of the knowledgeable veterans at WWE’s disposal (Jim Ross, Pat Patterson, there are dozens who could fill that role) a weekly hour-long show could be scripted very effectively.

There are more than enough “ECW Originals” out there that could be signed back, on short term deals, in order to add the necessary authenticity to the show. Among them are Sabu, Sandman, Rhino, Raven, Super Crazy, Yoshihiro Tajiri, and Little Guido. Rob Van Dam’s TNA contract expires soon and he’s said to be interested in a return to WWE. The Dudley Boys would probably be interested in a one way ticket out of the IMPACT Zone too. Mick Foley and Joey Styles are already under contract and would make an enjoyable commentary team (or Styles could just work solo).

The rest of the roster could be bulked up with guys who are currently killing time on WWE’s undercard (Tyson Kidd, Yoshi Tatsu, Ezekiel Jackson, Michael McGillicutty, the entire NXT cast... take your pick) and a smattering of specifically signed independent stars.

Main roster stars could be shuffled into ECW as and when necessary, giving the brand some star power and allowing the main roster’s creative team to come up with new ideas for them. This could be particularly useful for a guy like Evan Bourne, who will return to TV (if he returns at all) from two high profile Wellness suspensions. That’s something that can’t really be mentioned on RAW but could be exploited and turned into a storyline in ECW.

That ECW would be broadcast on the WWE Network may cause concern for some but I think it would actually provide a perfect lead storyline. It’s easy to imagine a heel authority figure representing “the parent company” being a big heel in Extreme Championship Wrestling. It’s a simple way of introducing WWE’s superstars and could provide the impetus for tonnes of heel heat. David Otunga would be perfect for the role.

WWE would be foolish not to at least try this: with the right people in charge and the current writing team kept a safe distance away they could successfully present their own competition and reap the benefit financially. The venues that ECW would need to run are far cheaper than those used for RAW and SmackDown events, and production values would be lower for an ECW TV show too. It would all add to the air of authenticity: ECW was never known for being the slickest operation around. It would be perfect for a late night, mid-week slot on the WWE Network.

Vince, if you want me to book I can be reached through Twitter.

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