Saturday 20 September 2014

Expanding NXT

On Friday the official WWE Twitter account sent out a message saying that people had waited long enough and that ‘The Next Generation’ should be prepared for. That was followed by the (Americanised) abbreviated date for Monday. While this could be a deliberately misleading way of saying that there’s a video game announcement coming (something they’ve done before with a Sting video) it seems more likely that it will have something to do with NXT stars appearing on RAW again. Adrian Neville and Sami Zayn versus Tyson Kidd and Tyler Breeze took place on the September 1 RAW and The Ascension debuted in the main event of… erm… Main Event , while Triple H has announced a desire to grow the NXT brand into something akin to WCW. Assuming Neville and the gang have a presence on Monday’s RAW it looks like NXT’s expansion is something WWE are serious about.

What seems likeliest to me is that Neville, Breeze, Zayn and Kidd, or a combination from that group, will be put out in front of the RAW crowd in the usually uneventful second hour. That’s generally where the lengthier, more enjoyable matches with no particular storyline motive for happening get put. The audience have been sitting around for a while by that point and need to be perked up to stop them from dying a death before the final, action-packed hour of John Cena, Authority and-or Paul Heyman plus hatever the main event is.

Is this guy coming to a RAW near you?
Any combo from amongst that four can have a great match and would fit snugly into the hour two approach. The Ascension could have a good showing too, either against a pairing of Neville and Zayn or an established jobber tandem from the big boy roster. The NXT guys actually have storylines to develop, carried over from NXT, which gives them an edge on the likes of Kofi Kingston, Fandango and Slater Gator. Given a backstage interview segment and-or a brief in-ring promo and they could actually make people care about their match and encourage interest in their brand.

The decision to give a batch of guys a call-up, instead of bringing them up individually over a course of months, is a nice change of pace from WWE. Four of the six guys come in with a readymade feud while The Ascension have an easy to understand gimmick and a rough ‘n’ ready style that isn’t especially common in WWE and will help them stand out. The influx of new talent will highlight to people unaware of NXT that it’s worth watching for quality wrestling and engaging, uncomplicated plots. That in turn may convince a few people to sign up to the Network to check the show out, which I’m sure is one of WWE’s reasons for taking this approach.

But the talk of making NXT the next WCW feels a step too far. It implies a level of expansion that could remove what makes NXT so enjoyable: specifically touring and an extended running time. Right now NXT runs live events in small venues around the state of Florida and returns to Full Sail University to tape television every four weeks or so, with a pattern of two hour live supershows every three months having emerged since the launch of the WWE Network. It’s a pace that works very well for the smaller, more wrestling-focused league and one WWE should be wary of tampering with too much.

An expanded touring schedule would be nice to see (especially an overseas one taking in small venues in southern England – just saying) but tapings outside of Full Sail would run the risk of robbing the televised product of a crowd familiar with and passionate about the entire roster. That’s a problem that could be overcome by finding another town that consistently attracts a similarly enthusiastic and positive crowd. But that shouldn’t be rushed into, especially with the regular NXT audience being so good.

The prospect of NXT gaining more TV time is more of a concern. A large part of why it’s as enjoyable as it is is its one hour running time, perfected over the last two years to the point where the writing team understand how to best use the minutes they have to expose the key members of their roster on a mostly weekly basis while integrating lesser acts at suitable intervals. Going to two hours would require an alternate approach, immediately ruining part of the existing appeal and risking the show feeling bloated. With the NXT TV show less is certainly more.

This said it is positive that Triple H is so passionate about the developmental show. And the talk of it becoming its own brand is nice to hear. It’s just the idea of expanding it beyond its means that concerns me. Had he stopped at drawing a parallel with ECW I’d feel far more confident, because ECW operated on a scale more in line with NXT than did WCW. Also, ECW primarily went out of business because of one man’s inability to manage finances whilst WCW went out of business because it became a toxic brand nobody with money wanted to associate with.

Back to NXT. Breeze, Neville, and Zayn (and maybe The Ascension) getting regular exposure on RAW while still being officially assigned to NXT is interesting and something I think will work well. Viewers can get used to the new guys gradually, rather than being expected to take them as they’re thrust into a feud with a longstanding mid-card no-hoper nobody has any reason to care about. But expanding NXT as a whole is something WWE shouldn’t rush into. And the WCW comparisons should definitely be avoided in future.

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