It’s been almost three months since WWE dropped the bombshell it had hired Paul Heyman and Eric Bischoff to serve as the Executive Directors of Raw and SmackDown, respectively. Wrestling media’s more reliable sources agree it was Heyman who took on a bigger role more quickly, which makes sense since he’d already been a part of the backstage scene. And we’re just coming off an episode where he was reportedly running creative without Vince McMahon or Triple H over his shoulder.
Seems like a good time to check in on things.
These things are subjective, of course. Opinions being like @$$holes and all that. But I rarely find myself in totally disagreement with reviewer extraordinaire Alex Briggs. So I went back and looked at his grades for the 12 weeks of shows since Heyman allegedly began exerting more influence on the product (July 1), and the 12 weeks prior to that show - which conveniently took us back to the WrestleMania 35 fallout edition.
Using the College Board’s scale for converting letter grades to a 4.0 grade point average scale, the three months BP (before Paul) averaged a 2.33, or C+.
The three months AP (after Paul, natch)? They got a 2.75, or B-.
I think that attempt at quantifying the difference Heyman may or may not be making does tell us something. Namely, Raw is a big ship and - especially with Admiral McMahon at the head of the whole fleet - nobody’s going to turn it around quickly.
From my perspective, there are two changes we’ve seen since July 1.
1) They’re making more use of the entire roster. This has been happening on SmackDown, too. It’s probably (hopefully?) a sign the roster split will be more strictly enforced after the draft next month, so both shows will need to use more of the own toys instead of the whole collection. Some of this has been accomplished by the other change...
2) An embracing of over-the-top, melodramatic or pulpy stories. The example that jumps to mind, naturally, is the Maria Kanellis paternity angle - which started on the first Heyman show and was taken to another level on last week’s episode where, again, the former ECW impressario was said to be running the writer’s room by himself. But Sasha Banks has also been trash-talking Natalya’s dead father and referencing gossip in promos since her return, and the Roman Reigns mystery has occasionally played out on Monday nights too, so it’s possibly Paul E.’s fingerprints are on that.
Neither of those are good or bad things, in and of themselves. Using more of the roster is great, if it leads to better characters, feuds, and matches. There’s certainly room for trashy ridiculousness in pro wrestling - lots of room, in fact. But it has to be entertaining, not detract from the overall show, and make it clear we’re all in on the fun together and not being laughed at or pandered to (too much, anyway).
And truly, while we can speculate based on unsourced reports, we can’t use either of those changes to praise or slam Heyman as Executive Director, because we don’t really know how much of them are his vision.
The next two quarters will probably give us a better indication. The next three months because they’ll include the shows after SmackDown moves and both shows presumably stay in their own sandbox. The three after that because they’ll be leading up to and include the launch of XFL 2.0’s first season, and that will likely have McMahon’s attention more than Raw.
In the meantime, what’s your grade for the first three month AP?