A friend of mine sent me this incredibly entertaining Rolling Stone piece called “The Slow Death of the Great Wrestling Promo“. You should read it.
Of course, you didn’t take your mother’s advice to eat your vegetables when you were growing up, so I doubt you’ll take my advice now. Here’s a two-part summary with a my comments in italics…followed by my real point, which is only tangentially connected to Rolling Stone’s point:
- Wrestling promos need to connect emotionally with the audience, and there are several ways they can do that. Yep, this is Showbiz 101, and wrestling is showbiz.
- Eventually, wrestling shows started featuring more promos than actual wrestling. Red alert!!! The promos were more entertaining than the purported “real content” of wrestling shows…wrestling. The wrestling folks were smart enough to figure that out, so they started featuring their most compelling content above their purported featured content. Are you doing that?
The low hanging fruit here would be to point out that teasing is important. Your response would (hopefully) be, “No kidding, Sherlock.” Again, if you want to see some incredibly entertaining examples of great teasing, go look at the article, which has some awesome videos embedded in it.
Now, let’s talk about two more subtle points.
- First and foremost, don’t mistake your brand for what you claim it is. Wrestling folks are smart enough to know that their content is not wrestling. It’s a soap opera – a male-targeted soap opera. Nothing more. Nothing less. In actual sports, the key storyline is always, “Who’s going to win the championship?” While wrestling certainly mimics that, its actual plot centers around the rivalries and relationships that create emotional reactions. (Oh, and for a hilarious commentary on that reality, check out South Park’s wrestling parody, in which the kids over-the-top sendup of wrestling storylines is greeting by adults talking about the “great wrestling” they’re watching.)
- Second, your best content should always predominate. When the nice people at WWE realized that their promos were more riveting than the “actual” wrestling, they pivoted to show more of them. Oh, and of course, the promos are more compelling than the wrestling; the promos are where their characters can address the storylines than develop both inside and outside the ropes.
Again, that second point is low-hanging fruit (though lots of entertainers don’t focus on their best content. Let’s talk about the first point: knowing what your product is.
Even when your best content is comedy, your overall product becomes, over time, drama. Human drama.
Think I’m kidding? Let’s try a thought experiment. Name the three biggest television sitcoms of the last few decades. I’d go with Cheers, Friends, and Big Bang Theory.
At a certain, fairly early point in each series’ run, the show’s main thrust pivoted, becoming primarily focused on the romantic fates of its characters (and not just the leads). Cheers evolved (or devolved, your choice) to the telling of Sam’s various attempts to move on from Diane but also focused on the relationships of Woody & Kelly, Frazier & Lilith, Rebecca & Whoever, and so on. Friends went past Ross & Rachel to Monica & Chandler, Phoebe & Mike, etc. If you watch Big Bang Theory, you can see the writers struggling to keep things fresh in Season Ten with three of the four male characters now deeply ensconced in relationships and the fourth, previously undateable character suddenly possessing a plethora of failed ex-partners, a necessity given the romantic status of the other three. If the show renews for two more seasons, you can almost smell one of the others having a change in relationship status. They’ll need that story arc to make it through 44 more episodes.
For extended success in showbiz, you win by making your content about the one thing that no one else has: you. (Oh sure, you’d better be interesting enough to make content about, but that’s another story.) If you’re doing TV comedy (or sci fi), at some point, your plots pivot toward character development. If you’re doing radio, you can only go so far talking about the same topical subjects that everyone else is talking about; your show has to, in the end, be about you. If you’re doing sports, your focus is on the characters, both as teams and as individuals.
And if you’re doing wrestling, well, you’re really doing over-the-top über-male drama, and drama is always about characters.
You may have the funniest plot and performers in the world. You may have a signature morning show bit so funny that listeners will repeat it back to you verbatim and a national syndicator will send it across the country.
Take it from someone who’s had that: those things aren’t your show. The big idea gives you something to riff off of. The signature bit brings in audience, but it won’t hold them for long past when the bit ends.
Your real product – your brand – is you.
And your story is a soap opera.