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Posted in: Doctor's Orders
Doctor's Orders: The Cult of Personalities
By The Doc
May 29, 2013 - 12:28:51 AM

Question of the Day: What do you think of the WWE's current method of character development?"

Spend 10-minutes to read one of my columns over the last few years and you have likely noticed that a common issue that I have with the WWE is in the character development department. It has not always been explicitly stated. Sometimes, I have taken to creative writing to express it by giving an example of a story that could be realistically told. Yet, in this current era of the WWE product, there are a lot of bland personalities. Most of them are babyfaces like John Cena, Randy Orton, and Sheamus. While the internet has often taken to blaming blandness on the "PG" TV rating, the problem is much more a lack of motivation on the WWE's part. They seem complacent.

I wrote a column a few months ago about the business of Wrestlemania and how it has changed the WWE's fiscal model to one that relies on stars of the past to create opportunity for stars of the present. CM Punk is the shining example of how it can be a successful enterprise. He has seized the opportunity and used the last two Wrestlemania seasons to round himself into one of the most interesting personas that WWE has produced in quite some time. Unfortunately, one of the greatest pitfalls of their revised plan is that they seemingly have missed the step where they develop everyone else. Making the decision to go on a one month WWE hiatus was easy because of the fact that there are so few characters even being presented as worth investing in.

My buddy, Shane, who rejoined the main page (check out "One Man Hype Band"), wrote recently about the various layers of the personalities on the TNA roster. He has studied it extensively with intense viewing habits since 2011. I have studied the WWE roster extensively with intense viewing for ten straight years...there are a very few personas that have much depth right now. Everyone is black and white. I tuned into TNA IMPACT last week for the first time in a very long time and saw that their main-event was basically all about adding shades of grey to AJ Styles (one of my favorites from a TNA era long since past). Conversely, John Cena is about as deep as a tiny puddle of water after a Florida afternoon rainstorm unless he's feuding with CM Punk or The Rock. That whole thing he did with stating that "Rock didn't beat him" but rather "he beat himself"? That was one of the primary reasons why I loved that storyline and why I loved that match when so many did not. It added a theme that was not seemingly plucked off the five-spoke wheel that creative uses these days and gave me something in which to sink my analytical teeth. Sheamus and Orton, two other primary talents, have been straightforward as can be throughout 2012 and several months into 2013. They do not progress. Much like Cena, even when they're vulnerable, they do not show it. They get beat up and they sell it, but physical punishment is supposed to happen during the match between two characters whose emotional qualities have locked me in.

Oddly, as I was watching TNA, I may have stumbled upon one of the guys that started this problem: Ken Kennedy. Mr. K was part of a class of rising main-event stars that was famous for untimely injuries, poor judgment, and flaming out. In 2007, Kennedy, Bobby Lashley, and Jeff Hardy looked to be one of those bridge-gapping groups of headliners that would give some of the established guys some fresh blood to work with. With Cena, Orton, Batista, Edge, and Rey Mysterio, the WWE had a heck of 2005/2006 class and were on a roll with recently elevated stars. When Kennedy shot his mouth off on a sensitive subject and eventually got released, Lashley got injured, cried "racist," and eventually quit, and Hardy got suspended and eventually quit, the WWE was forced to rely on aging stars like HBK, Undertaker, and Triple H. Other than the emergence of CM Punk to elite status, no other new headlining act has stuck in a consistently prominent position since then. Subsequently, the WWE has continued to rely on stars from the past in key situations. Elevation of new stars has been timid.

Compounding the timidness is that the brands that once acted as "Raw roster" developmentals are gone or are essentially gone. ECW was a minimal exposure program, but a really nice learning environment. Smackdown allowed the WWE to take chances on new characters. Look at Cody Rhodes from 2011 as a good (fairly) recent example. They let the chains off of him and he blossomed into an excellent psychopath heel. A key Mania victory over Mysterio that year should and could have propelled him to the next level, but there was no longer a willingness to take a risk on the main "Raw" roster. It was puzzling when you consider that Rhodes had already gotten great exposure as a part of Orton's stable in 2009 on Raw. Smackdown as it was before the "Raw Super Show" era took full hold is sorely missed. Now, SD is merely a glorified Raw recap. By the way, I do not believe it to be a coincidence that part of the reason why Rhodes has been able to get a silly mustache over with the crowds is because of the respect that the general viewership has for the ability that he showed two years ago with his evolution from "Dashing" to "disfigured." What did he show? Character development.

I caught a YouTube clip of the Paul Heyman-Chris Jericho segment from last night's Raw and was amazed that, even via three minutes of his name being dropped, CM Punk was the most engaging character in the WWE. That was the most interesting television segment since April 8th; the show has been sorely lacking his character depth since that night where we saw him just stand there a week after Wrestlemania and say nothing. He gets such a reaction when he's merely being talked about without hope of an appearance and it has a lot to do with him being given the chance to evolve. He is the one new star in the last two years that has been given consistent chances to progress himself. Is it any wonder that he's so over? Is it any wonder that the other new star of the last two years that actually got an opportunity to develop a personality - Daniel Bryan - is the second most over non-Cena star?

Character progression is the single greatest problem facing the WWE today. I have been shocked by the WWE's lack of faith in giving Dolph Ziggler the ball prior to his injury and allowing him the chance to blossom. He's basically still a mid-card holding a bigger, shinier belt. Ryback went from black and white babyface to black and white heel pretty quickly. Alberto Del Rio has always lacked depth. Fandango and Damien Sandow are whitewashed gimmick heels. Antonio Cesaro may not actually have anything interesting to say. Wade Barrett could develop, but he's standing in quicksand. The Miz has the potential, but is a great example of the WWE being scared to take a real risk (he was there; all they had to do was follow through and they didn't). Big Show is probably as well-developed a character as there is on the roster, but he's been around so long that very few seem to care. He's like Dr. Richard Weber from Grey's Anatomy in that you know he contributes, but you've seen most of what he's got to give in so many different ways already that you wouldn't be disappointed if they killed off his character soon.

If you look back at the top WWE matches of the last two years, ask yourself what they all have in common. If you ask me, I would say that the common denominator has been engaging personalities; and I do not just mean established personalities. Triple H and Undertaker's storyline was great because it was more than "legend vs. legend." CM Punk vs. Chris Jericho had the element of Punk's family dynamic. The Rock vs. John Cena had a mutual respect but genuine dislike going for it. Punk vs. Cena was two legitimate culture clashes. The WWE is soon going to run out of wrestlers who they feel comfortable allowing to develop into stars if the recent track record is any indication. This is the time of year to take risks.

My hope is that this NXT group down in Florida keeps recruiting personalities from the indies like Dean Ambrose and developing talents as well as they have with Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns, both of whom are far further along than originally advertised. Whatever is going on down there at Full Sail University seems to be working. Kassius Ohno has been drawing rave reviews from down there, as well, from what little I've read. I have heard nothing but good things about Bray Wyatt. That vignette from Raw showed me precisely the kind of character that the WWE needs right now. He's not cookie cutter. I hope that they can translate that to live TV.

In an industry so driven throughout history by dynamic personalities, it is amazing to sit back, especially after a week and counting away from watching WWE TV, and reflect on how there are so few dynamic personalities in the WWE right now. Last week, I presented a column looking back on 2005. Well, that was a year full of emerging dynamic personas. Good Lord, it's time for another year like that.


"The Doctor is in" will soon be hitting the airwaves as a part of LOP Radio. I will be taking questions from my column readers to be answered and expounded upon in a podcast. If you wish to submit a question, go right ahead in any of the available avenues.

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