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Cook: Should Excalibur Be Cancelled?

Excalibur was missing from AEW Dynamite this week–should AEW be done with their masked commentator?

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Excalibur AEW Chairshot Edit

Excalibur was missing from AEW Dynamite this week–should AEW be done with their masked commentator?

Something felt a bit off with this week’s AEW Dynamite. No disrespect to the wrestlers involved, or the matches & skits produced. Most of the show was perfectly fine in my book. However, there was one ingredient missing, one that’s been a big part of most AEW television presentations since its debut.

Where the heck was Excalibur?

Our favorite masked commentator was conspicuous by his absence Wednesday night, replaced at the announce table by Taz. Taz is a fine analyst, but this led to Jim Ross doing more of the play by play than he has been doing since Dynamite began, and more JR old man rants. Excalibur is usually tasked with keeping JR on topic, I figure that’s because Tony Schiavone finds JR’s ranting & raving amusing.

Excalibur’s absence wasn’t mentioned on the show, and I wasn’t aware of why he would be absent. If it was a coronavirus-related issue it would have been mentioned. So what was the deal?

Silly me, I didn’t check Wrestling Twitter. Had I done so, I would have known that the controversy of the day involved Excalibur using racial slurs on a PWG show in 2003. Kevin Owens was involved as well, but his role wasn’t exactly played up by the people reporting on Excalibur. The video is easy enough to find on Twitter that I won’t link it here.

The gist of the situation is this: Excalibur & Steen were in the entrance way addressing Human Tornado & El Generico, who I believe were known as “2 Skinny Black Guys” at the time. Excalibur referred to Tornado with the N-word, and Generico with a word starting with B sometimes used to describe Mexicans. Steen yells out the N-word as well before the video cuts off.

It’s a pretty bad look, no doubt. Steen & Excalibur have both discussed it in the past & regret their involvement in it. As it turns out, the usage of the N-word was the idea of Human Tornado. He thought it would get the feud more heat, which it did, but obviously there were undesirable side effects. Like having to explain it to your employer seventeen years later. Tornado has been very pro-Excalibur on Twitter & doesn’t think he should be punished.

AEW is in a little bit of a pickle here.

A lot of it is their doing, unfortunately. When you try to set standards for morality, people are going to look for the first time you don’t live up to them. A sizable number of wrestling fans are calling for Excalibur’s head for various reasons. I’m sure some of them are legitimate, but many of them fall into one of the below categories:

-WWE fans that aren’t happy with AEW trying to be better citizens than WWE, which admittedly shouldn’t be too difficult.

-Hulk Hogan fans still mad that the Hulkster has been banned from AEW by Tony Khan for using the N-word on a sex tape.

To be fair, Khan kind of made his own bed on that one. As silly as I find Hogan fans that still whine about that whole situation and defend the old coot because they liked him 40 years ago, there was no reason for Khan to say anything about Hulk Hogan in a public forum. Except to dunk on his ex-wife saying racist stuff on Twitter, which is kinda iffy reasoning. Was anybody ever expecting Hulk Hogan to play any type of a role in AEW? He’s a 66 year old man that can’t wrestle anymore, and he’s lost most of the name value he once had thanks to said sex tape & other misadventures over the years. Maybe this movie coming out about him increases his viability, and there’s a certain audience that was never offended by anything Hogan did, but I just don’t see the value there.

There never has been a legitimate reason to think AEW would be interested in bringing Hogan in, and other than a paycheck there’s no reason to think Hogan would be interested in going to AEW. His legacy’s tied up in WWE, and I think his time with TNA took care of any need he felt to shape the next generation of wrestling.

So, while Hulk Hogan fans getting all mad over his banishment from AEW is needless nonsense, Tony Khan still enabled it. You don’t have to have an opinion on everything, unless your job is to have an opinion on everything. When you start floating your non-ancillary opinions out there, people are going to look at you closely.

People have noticed the lack of comment from AEW regarding Excalibur’s status. My bet was that something would come out on Friday as a classic news dump. That didn’t happen, though some scuttlebutt was reported that Excalibur took himself off the show as to not be a distraction. I would guess a suspension and that Excalibur will be back sometime around All Out in September, if not the taping before. I could be completely wrong, that’s happened once or twice in the past.

I keep coming back to the idea that it happened seventeen years ago and it’s been apologized for before. Maybe I’m a big softie, but that’s good enough for me. I don’t need any heads on platters. Unless we find out Excalibur is spending his time off from AEW at Klan meetings, I think a brief suspension is fine.

Until then, let’s just hope JR’s old man rants becoming more & more unhinged without somebody keeping him in check works with the 50+ demographic.


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Opinion

Three Important Things AEW Needs to Get Right in 2022

With 2021 coming to a close, Tommy decides to look ahead and throw out some ideas on AEW’s course of action in 2022.

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As the year winds down and wrestling fans begin to construct their obligatory 2022 Predictions List for Wrestling, All Elite Wrestling will certainly be amongst those ongoing discussions.  AEW has seen many drastic company changes in a short two-year timestamp, and while those changes have substantially improved the quality of the product in various categories (mainstream growth and finances to be specific), there are still a few major particulars that need to be given proper attention in the coming year.  The following list draws attention to some of those issues, although they are not exclusive to this list.

Roster Prioritization & Cutting Deadweight 

One incremental shift that we have seen in the last two years with AEW is their approach to their roster construction.  Whether discussing the accumulation of more household names like CM Punk, Bryan Danielson, or Adam Cole or analyzing the rotation of whom is being featured in more prominent roles, it is hard to argue against the idea that as it stands in 2021, AEW has crafted its most successful and star-studded roster since 2019.  However, along with the accumulation of recognizable and established names, AEW has also immensely increased its roster size since 2019.  And while there are multiple benefits to be had out of the roster growth, AEW has struggled to gain consistent ground with being able to effectively feature a hand-selected number of talents over extended periods of time.  Moreover, it is impossible.

Hence, we have seen them try to make up for this by pairing and grouping talents together in clustered factions in order to give them more “camera time.”  It has proven to be more of a recipe for disaster than actual constructive booking, as it paints them in a corner of having too many people on screen at a given time; the end result is that no one is actually being effectively spotlighted.  And if AEW is going to restrain from adopting a “brand split” between Dynamite and Rampage, the solution really comes down to using an old-school territorial roster booking approach.  In other words, they should ideally select between ten and fifteen wrestlers to primarily feature on their premiere shows in a two or three month timeframe in the lead-ins to TV specials or PPVs; the end goal is to build up several key programs and strictly focus on those important programs with everything and everyone else taking a backseat temporarily.

Meanwhile, they can use AEW Dark and YouTube shows to begin eventual methodical character progression before rotating their roster to new programs.  The other attention to detail within this booking formula is to ensure that they are only allotting TV time to proficient, ready talent and cutting back on the spotlighting of heavily “green,” inexperienced talent.  This is not to say that they can not feature lesser experienced talent, but they should abstain from focusing too much time and attention to them until their ring ability, promo work, and character development are ready for primetime television.

To this day, AEW’s greatest dilemma with their current roster is generating a cohesive talent pool to makeup for their ongoing J.A.G. (Just Another Guy) Syndrome.  The cold, hard truth  is that, given the depth of the current talent pool, it is extraordinarily difficult to assemble a roster of one-hundred plus wrestlers without falling into a pit of having a handful of those J.A.G. names in some capacity.  The issue is that AEW has too many J.A.G.S. at the moment, and until they cutback on the deadweight talent and prioritize on a selected few talent to prominently feature each week, this problematic pattern will continue in 2022.

AEW needs to remember the cliche phrase, “When you try to spotlight everyone, you end up spotlighting no one.”

Market & Brand to Mainstream Audiences

It is evident that AEW’s target appeal is for their primary demographic (males 18-49).  However, if AEW is looking to grow and succeed as a company in the next five to ten years, there needs to be a concerted effort to branch out and reach new viewers and new audiences.  One issue that AEW continues to struggle with is their assumption that everyone that watches their product understands and follows the inner workings of all storylines and angles.  While the “internet, hardcore fan base” may be privy to the intricate details of most AEW stories and characters, it is a poor business model to assume that everyone knows what is going on at all times.  AEW has been extraordinary hit and miss with its consistent presentation of stories and characters to an expansive audience.

For example, hardcore fans that follow New Japan Pro Wrestling may be knowledgable as to whom Tomohiro Ishii is and the significance of his affiliation with Orange Cassidy and the Best Friends.  However, a casual AEW fan who does not follow New Japan may not understand the nooks and crannies of that alliance.  And when AEW coldly throws them out to work a tag match on television with no video pretape or package to provide back-story, it assumes that everyone already understands what is going on.  Regardless of whether or not it seems redundant, it is always better to dumb stories down for the audience by some off-chance that a fan needs context or reason behind a given match or story.

Attention to Formatting

Angles in professional wrestling have been a constant part of the art form since its inception, but something fans forget a lot of the time is that wrestling angles also used to be special and unique.  When you watch an episode of NWA World Championship Wrestling from 1985 on the TBS Superstation, you may get one “angle” on the entire show, whether it was an afterbirth heel beat down or a verbal confrontation at the interview booth.  The point being that, it would standout as something special on the show, while the rest of the program consists of squash matches and brief promos.  While fans like to reminisce about the greatness of the Attitude Era period of wrestling in the late 90s, there is a valid case to be made that the Attitude Era helped to kill the value of professional wrestling angles.

Due to the nature of the business by that point and the ongoing battle between WCW and WWF for fan admiration and viewership, the concept of “Crash TV Angles” became second nature to what fans would come to expect on a given show.  Many matches and segments on Nitro and Raw shows included run-ins, interference, mass brawls and beat downs, and chaotic scenes, sometimes to the detriment of both products.  And while it may have worked for the time, it has also left a stain on the business in years to follow where other companies have tried to adopt that same Crash TV booking approach with the belief that it would carry weight in a much different period of wrestling.  Looking back through modern lens, would it be wrong to assert that it may have been “too much?”

The evolution of the “smart” wrestling fan can find it difficult to settle on matches with multiple run-ins, shenanigans, and angles without feeling overwhelmed and gypped if it does not feel warranted.  For AEW, this is still an area where they struggle to find a balance.  Again, this reverts back to the previous discussion of trying to book and spotlight too many wrestlers on a show at a given time.  Thus, AEW may find it crucial to get these wrestlers involved with interference and afterbirth angles just to “give them something to do.”  However, when AEW has three or four of these kinds of matches booked on a given show, it can be become problematic; the same can be said about booking backstage interviews that end in mass brawls multiple times throughout the show.  The end result is that nothing ever feels like it has any consequence or meaning.  The other dilemma is that it comes off as WWE Lite.

Again, AEW would greatly benefit from modeling the format of their matches and promos from a territorial standpoint.  Instead of implementing Crash TV booking for multiple matches and segments on a given show, they should limit this to one or two at the most.  This way, angles feel special, they have time to breathe, and the announcers can spend more time discussing the significance of said angles without needlessly forgetting about them the minute they end.

Conclusion:

AEW has improved the quality of their product in a lot of areas, but there is always room for improvement.  And while there certainly can be more additives to this list of things AEW need to focus on in 2022, these are some of the more apparent and essential ones.  Thoughts?


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Ratings Talk is Back!

Rob always brings logical insight to any topic, regardless of how often it’s brought up in the IWC. Sit back and give this a read, they don’t call Rob a genius for the t-shirts.

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OK, I know, I know, I’ve been saying it over and over for a very long time, ratings talk is dumb.  So why on Earth am I bringing it back?  Because now that some, ahem, developments have transpired I think I have a better case to make.  I don’t expect any of you who are obsessed with the subject to let it go, but you should at least hear me out here.  Now that the worm has turned a little, maybe the things that I and others have been saying all along will sink in a bit.

What am I talking about?  In short, AEW’s live audience numbers have taken a bit of a dip over the past couple of months, and this week even Dave Meltzer couldn’t say anything other than it was disappointing.  They haven’t gone over a million viewers for Dynamite in almost two months and Rampage slipped under five hundred thousand last week.  If this kind of thing was happening on the other side of the street then there would be some hot takes flying for sure.  So, are we going to get some of those now?  You know what I mean, things like:

  • AEW in the mud!
  • Worst ratings since (pick whatever date works for you)!
  • At what point does TNT start making demands on how the show is booked?
  • The ratings are obviously going down because the shows are unwatchable now!!
  • (Insert name here) is not a draw!
  • That title match in two weeks is hotshot booking to pop a rating!

Sound familiar?  We’re gonna see these soon, right?  No?  Why is that?  Are you trying to tell me that wrestling media doesn’t call this stuff the same on both sides of the street?  Seriously though, here are some other familiar things for you to chew on:

  • Dynamite is the highest rated non-NBA show on TNT, and it’s not close
  • Even on a disappointing night, it finished third in the ratings on cable
  • Rampage is the next highest rated and watched show on TNT after Dynamite
  • Fewer people watch TV now than before

Those are the kind of things a lot of us would say every week after people on the internet waxed doom and gloom about Monday Night Raw, of course.  And we were summarily dismissed as E drones or whatever.  But now that the falling numbers have struck AEW, the same rationalizations have begun.  But here’s the truth in both cases:

Everyone is doing fine.  RAW, Smackdown, NXT, Dynamite, and Rampage are all leading their respective channels for the day they air.  They all are among the top shows for their respective channels, even the much maligned (for their live audience numbers) NXT and Rampage.  There is literally nothing to see here folks as none of these shows are in any danger of getting cancelled.  No one is actually in the mud, guys.  The networks all know that Nielsen is suspect at best when it comes to measuring audience numbers, and they act accordingly.  There is no reason to rush to Shobuzz Daily every day at 4:30 unless you are just a numbers nerd like me but even then save the pontificating, ok? The numbers exist and that’s about it.  They serve no purpose for us as fans beyond goofy talking points.

But doesn’t it mean SOMETHING?

Well no, it doesn’t.  There are things you can derive from looking at the patterns over time but trust me when I tell you that your entire  narrative can be blown up in a matter of two weeks.  So don’t bother.  As I and many others have said before, a good rating does not mean a good show and vice versa.  There was a lot of trying to figure it out in the replies to Meltzer’s ‘disappointment’ tweet, and while there were reasonable takes there was also a lot of nonsense.  Which has been par for the course with RAW since like…….2002 at least.

So why do we keep doing this thing?

Well, it was a talking point that Eric Bischoff used to show how he was kicking the WWF’s butt over those 83 weeks.  But once that ended it became less and less relevant over time.  And then once TV viewership made the shift to streaming and DVRs it’s relevance was all but dead.  And it should have ended entirely once WWE signed two $1 billion TV deals in the face of nonstop ‘what about teh ratingz?’ talk on the internet.  That should have totally killed the conversation, but your friends Meltzer and company kept it going even though they (should) know better.  And they did it for traffic.

‘Fed bad’, ‘Fed down’, and ‘Fed in the mud’ has been selling Observer subscriptions for almost 40 years now while it has spawned a whole cottage industry of podcasts, YouTube channels, and websites over the last decade.  There is little to no truth to what any of these people are telling you when it comes to ratings, because if there was then they would be firing off the same takes about AEW that they’ve been using about WWE right now.  But they aren’t and that should be a tell.  If you ever needed proof that it was nonsense the last two months should be it.

Here’s a dose of reality for you:  Nielsen numbers are not accurate.  Several networks have already announced that they aren’t relying on them, Nielsen itself has lost it’s accreditation as an information gathering service, and the company itself has begun a shift to overall impressions from traditional audience measuring via Nielsen boxes.  What you read every day at 4:30 or on some wrestling website is by all accounts an inaccurate at best and dishonest at worst representation of how many people are watching these shows.  And the recent reporting of Fast Nationals, aka Overnights has only made it worse because those are a hastily gathered version of an already inaccurate report.

Here’s some more reality for you.  Regardless of what Nielsen says the live numbers are both WWE and AEW are going to get a nice bump in TV rights fees when they negotiate their new TV deals.  Other sports with smaller audiences just got more, and the NFL and NBA continue to get price hikes even as their numbers aren’t what they once were.  And your favorite internet loudmouths will continue to spout the same factually challenged gibberish that they’ve been saying for decades now.  None of it will matter unless you guys keep giving them money and traffic every month.

I’m going to make a bold statement here:  there is not a single thing that ratings talk has done to help the fan experience and in fact it’s only made things worse.  But it has made money for a lot of bad faith actors out there, many of whom want us to treat them as if they are reporting on Watergate or the Civil Rights Movement while they spout off takes based a change up or down of 100,000 people watching a wrestling show on TV.  At this point anyone writing serious essays or going on rants about ratings is not someone you should take seriously.  Just go do what you should have always been doing.  Watch the shows, enjoy the shows, go to the shows, talk reasonably about them with your friends, etc.  Anything else is just dumb.


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