Two speeches, 21 years apart. The “Attitude Era” was officially born Then, but how will the speech given Now affect the company Forever?
By Michael Melchor,Executive Editor
The views and opinions herein are those solely of the author and may not necessarily reflect those of the rest of the human race.
This is a conscious effort on our part to open the creative envelope, so to speak, in order to entertain you in a more contemporary manner. We also think that you’re tired of the same old simplistic theory of ‘good guys vs. bad guys.’ Surely the era of the superhero urging you to say your prayers and take your vitamins is definitely passe. One of the reasons for that longevity is: As the times have changed, so have we.
A little more than a month after Vince McMahon exposed the wrestling business in a way no one thought they would ever see in Montreal, the chairman of what was then the World Wrestling Federation uttered those prophetic words on the company’s flagship show.
McMahon had grown tired of World Championship Wrestling getting the upper hand on his company week in and week out. Seeing an opportunity after the controversy that erupted after the Survivor Series that year, McMahon informed his audience that the company would be moving in a bold, new creative direction.
No one predicted at the time what we know now: that McMahon’s speech would signify the beginning of the “Attitude Era” that saw the company grow to new heights, both critically and commercially.
In fact, the company grew to the point that it became publicly traded. With stockholders and sponsors came new responsibilities, and the “Attitude” launched with those now-famous words would slowly dwindle and morph into a more family-friendly, “PG” show.
Soon, those that remained viewers throughout the “Attitude” and “PG” eras felt that World Wrestling Entertainment (a name adopted to both settle a legal grievance and signify what the company felt was a better representation) was becoming stale. Predictable. Boring. McMahon felt it was time once again to declare a change in direction.
One of the reasons for our success is that we change with the times. Despite one man’s brilliance, creativity and vision, I can’t do it all by myself anymore. As long as we give you less of what you don’t want and more of what you do, WWE will always be then, now and forever.
Nearly 21 years to the day that the “Attitude Era” was officially born, McMahon – flanked by his family – told his audience it was time once again for the company to change with the times.
But will this declaration of change yield the benefits and return to glory that resulted the last time such a proclamation was made?
In reality, the “Attitude Era” was happening long before Vince McMahon made the official announcement of a change in creative direction. Nearly a year and a half earlier, the formula was already being tweaked as McMahon’s company was already fighting from underneath. WCW Monday Nitro introduced a more compelling, reality-based show and the (then-)WWF was struggling to maintain the audience they once had while they were on top. Once the “Ringmaster” persona and Ted DIbiase both were shed, Steve Austin was already the anti-hero that began to turn the tide for WWF. His speech after winning the 1996 King of the Ring tournament could be pointed to as the beginning of the “Attitude Era” just as much as the December 15, 1997 declaration from McMahon.
However, there was no gradual build to this latest instance. The opening to the December 17, 2018 episode of Raw was a reaction to the growing malaise fans had toward WWE’s primary show. Fans were growing tired of the same, boring tropes on Monday nights and were also growing vocal about it. It’s not like this sort of thing never happened before, but the company decided now that they were going to do something about it (or at least tell the audience they were).
It has to be noted that SmackDown was largely spared this criticism, yet McMahon decided that the creative shift would affect that program as well. Both shows have seen a gradual change. Nothing as radical as declaring all titles vacant and starting over has been done, but some changes were immediate.More call-ups from NXT were announced (though, as of this writing, have yet to appear). “Acting Raw General Manager” Baron Corbin has seen his role shift back to a regular competitor. Same for Paige, who was quickly removed as “SmackDown General Manager” almost in passing. Mustafa Ali, a mainstay from 205 Live, is now a SmackDown competitor. This past Monday, the door was shut (in more ways than one) on the mired storyline involving Drew McIntyre and Dolph Ziggler.
Much of the newest “creative change” can be attributed to competition, just like it was nearly 20 years ago. Whereas WCW was the main impetus in 1997, WWE now faces competition from smaller companies making more noise and grabbing bigger shares of the market. Ratings were dwindling once again with fans noticing there were other, better alternatives out there. Impact Wrestling, Ring of Honor, New Japan Pro Wrestling, Major League Wrestling, the reborn National Wrestling Alliance, and several others were being discovered by fans that wanted a better representation of the art form they enjoyed watching. The competition is about to become stiffer with the official announcement of All Elite Wrestling, headed by a group of fan favorite performers that fans are clamoring to watch and support.
Speculation has also made the rounds for years now that, once Vince McMahon is no longer running World Wrestling Entertainment, his son-in-law Paul Levesque will be the one in command. The projects that Triple-H has already had hands-on control of – mainly NXT – have been widely hailed as better than the “main roster” shows widely viewed on cable television. The implication behind McMahon “not being able to do it alone” could mark a period of control transition from McMahon to Levesque. While fans are looking more at what lies on the surface, the matter of what’s going on behind the scenes may have been the impetus for the McMahon family switching gears.
With all of this in play, WWE has once again declared that they are “changing with the times” like they did 21 years ago. While wrestling fans know what the first change brought in hindsight, it will be interesting to see how this latest speech is seen once history has separated Now from Then. It will be more interesting how this change affects the company Forever.