“Parents are cautioned to exercise some care in monitoring this program and are cautioned against letting children under the age of 14 watch unattended. Programs with this rating contain intensely suggestive dialogue, strong coarse language, intense sexual situations, or intense violence.” -FCC
Many of the younger people from this generation would have heard about the Attitude Era in wrestling. They may also be old enough to remember the back end of the Ruthless Aggression Era. These times pushed the envelope on the older male demographic because WWE’s content was rated TV-14.
Up to 2008, WWE continued creating content that harkened back to its ‘Attitude’ philosophy. This was gradually phased out because WWE wanted to make the product more family-friendly. Looking to cut out the excess of what it felt was an outdated presentation, WWE “ushered in a new era of refined and compelling storytelling”. It wanted to engage us more creatively, and without having to rely on crude methods.
This would have been fine, had WWE not forgotten how to sell storylines and create genuine heat. It relied heavily on merchandise machines like John Cena, while half the audience resisted his rise. WWE struggled to create mega stars to replace the old, so it had little choice but to default to nostalgia acts for its biggest shows.
It promised to provide interesting storytelling from top to bottom, but the drop in quality began not long after the birth of the PG era. And now, 14 years later, we’re staring at the prospect of a weekly 3-hour Raw returning to what it did best. That’s not to say that having a TV-14 rating automatically makes the show better. However, we should remember that society has changed, what with political correctness, a firmer push for stronger equality, and the internet placing a larger microscope on things. The outrage of any slightly controversial content is so easily seen by anyone at the click of a few buttons.
Unlike in the past, it can’t afford to risk what it has. Reputation is important, and it’s accountable for helping communities and charities. It’s not in the business of alienating its business partners, but it also needs to change things up. With that said, let’s look at examples of how controversial WWE could get from moments and styles that infamously live on in the history books.
The one thing a TV-14 rating allows is increased violence, and we saw plenty of it back then. Many would agree it was over the top. Chair shots to the head. Insane falls. New concept matches like TLC. There was an intense desire to top what we’d seen before, and this encouraged questionable practices when WWE had no Wellness Policy or knew the dangers of repeated concussions.
Extreme displays of violence, like (for example) The Rock repeatedly smashing Mankind with a chair in an I Quit match, are unnecessary and put the health of the talent at risk. We know that the repeated use of extreme violence is detrimental. However, I have always felt that pushing the intensity of violence in wrestling makes it better in the right scenarios. For example, if a vicious heel were to destroy their babyface rival, they’ll get more heat from that.
Increased violence helps heels more, because faces rarely go over the top in that way, although they could if given justification. Pro wrestling is about simulating fighting contests, so the more brutal they can be, the closer they get to the real thing. Yet, switching to TV-14 doesn’t mean we’ll see the level of violence we did back then because wrestling companies have learned from their mistakes. There is no need for wrestlers to die young for our entertainment. We’ve gotten past the barbarity and can respect that there are limits that should never be crossed. Still, if done safely in the right moments, ramping up the intensity will help WWE’s product in a big way.
Does anyone remember Pretty Mean Sisters (PMS)? Yes, the group of women in the Attitude Era who not so subtly referenced premenstrual syndrome. Well, in one of the worst storylines of the time, Terri Runnels announced she was pregnant. She originally said Val Venis was the father, but he had a vasectomy, so that was a no-go. Her husband Dustin Rhodes was next to be assumed, but they hadn’t been together sexually for a while.
During a match, D’Lo Brown accidentally stepped toward Terri while she was on the apron. She fell off, and this allegedly caused a miscarriage. Terri used the incident to manipulate D’Lo, but it was later found that she had never been pregnant, and was just using that to play mind games. Yes, it was as bad as it sounds. Fingers crossed WWE has learned its lesson with that.
Do you want to know what else was gross? Mark Henry’s sex addiction and later getting into a relationship with Mae Young. She got pregnant and give birth to a hand. All these years later, it hasn’t gotten easier to accept. How Mark Henry survived his “Sexual Chocolate” angles remains a mystery.
Many will wonder if the return of the rating will reintroduce content that previously embarrassed the promotion. Using things like fake miscarriages, freak births, necrophilia, and other out-of-place ideas, may highlight WWE’s inability to create engaging content without poor shock value. I can’t think of anything repulsive getting over, but much like this segment, some moments are remembered if we like it or not.
Against One’s Will
Abduction was a big part of WWE back in the day. Stephanie McMahon was probably the most famous abductee, but many others were too. Then there’s blackmail and coercion, like when Vince McMahon forced Trish Stratus to get on all fours and bark like a dog. It’s difficult to say if angles that make individuals do things against their will have a place. You rarely saw this in the PG Era because WWE likely didn’t want to scare young children, but a TV-14 rating changes this. It gives WWE another outlet to garner heat, and you can make these angles a mystery to gain intrigue.
Say, for example, someone kidnapped Paul Heyman next week. Could it be Brock Lesnar? What if he proves it isn’t him? Who else could it be? And why would they do that? What is in it for them? How would Roman Reigns respond? I remember WWE using abduction angles pretty well in the Attitude Era, but it’s hard to say if it will bring them back in the same way, or at all.
I remember when Triple H abducted Stephanie McMahon and married her in Las Vegas while she was passed out. It was ridiculous, but it was funny, and it interestingly moved the rivalry between him and her father. And to bring the Trish Stratus angle up again, she got her revenge on Mr. McMahon for his mistreatment of her by turning on him at WrestleMania. Sometimes having an abduction, or making someone do things they aren’t comfortable with, can lead to some promising results if written the right way.
From bra & panties matches to Val Venis getting his pee-pee chopped off by a stereotypical Japanese gang, TV-14 featured a ton of skin and far less concern for how wrestlers’ anatomies were perceived. “Puppies” were jumping around everywhere, and we adored gimmicks like The Godfather. And with NXT 2.0 leaning toward talent’s beauty, it makes me wonder if Raw is heading down the same road. Could we see a sexier women’s division? And will Maximum Male Models take things to another level?
I’m not against having more emphasis on sex and beauty, because wrestling has been about presentation since the 1950s saw Gorgeous George paving the way. I think that, so long as it doesn’t lead to most being treated like sex objects with no respect for their in-ring abilities, then that will be positive. After all, it’s not a crime to be sexy, but we’ll regress if that ends up being the major selling point. WWE doesn’t need to take everyone down that path, nor should talent feel they have to dress provocatively to get opportunities. We’re never getting another topless Sable or Kat moment (the following video contains partial nudity), but it will be interesting to see how WWE handles this.
“Tony… cut the shit”, says Jade Cargill almost every week on AEW. Cursing has made a glorious return to wrestling on major TV because AEW’s TV-14 product doesn’t care. WWE’s PG rating has highlighted how tough it is to create heat between two superstars when they can’t adequately act out their anger. It’s like watching two posh Englishmen trade pleasantries in a manner becoming of gentlemen. How can you care if superstar A hates superstar B if they can’t get in their face and call them a massive asshole? We need heat in a story to make it engaging, and the right tone of language helps.
In saying that, it has been so long since WWE allowed colorful language it will feel incredibly out of place. Remember when Vince McMahon said the F-bomb to Shane in 2016? It had a huge reaction, not just because it had been so long, but because they had fired talents for saying less. But much like anything, cursing loses its luster if used too much. Having its use limited to when it makes sense will enhance a moment or feud. I don’t think we’ll ever hear anyone use the N-word, although Vince goes that far in the video.
It’s about time WWE tried this. For too long it has been stuck with PG limitations, and it has rarely proved favorable over TV-14. The main issue with changing the rating is that it may affect WWE’s younger audience. Parents may not be willing to let them watch it, because they may worry that the show is inappropriate. Before they could sit their child down and they could watch unattended. With TV-14, parents may feel obliged to watch it with them, and some may not want to. However, we also know that WWE likely shows an edited, pre-watershed version of the show later. It won’t completely alienate WWE’s youngest viewers, but some will be affected.
As for older fans, the product has felt dumbed down for a long time. It often insulted fan’s intelligence because it is produced with young fans in mind. WWE couldn’t tell complex stories because they wouldn’t get it, so everything was simplified and explained. With a move to TV-14, it allows more freedom to tell more thought-provoking stories. Not that I’m expecting WWE to cease holding the audience by the hand, but it may lean toward allowing us to figure things out for ourselves.
How controversial can WWE get? I think it depends on their sponsors and the network. There’s plenty of interest in this move or it wouldn’t have happened. However, I don’t think we’ll see a drastic change right away. I believe WWE will gradually make the product edgier, but there’s no chance it will be like the Attitude Era. I’m expecting it to be more like the back end of the Ruthless Aggression era, only without the Divas having stripping contests. 3 hour Raw feels like a chore (I have to watch it each week for work), but the rating change creates a level of intrigue. Give it a few months and they’ll settle on a formula, which, for their sake, and ours, will help Raw be a more unpredictable and exciting time to spend a Monday Night.
I’d very much like to hear your thoughts on the upcoming change. Do you think Raw will be any better? Would you want it to become sexier and more violent? And finally, are there any superstars who you believe will excel in an edgier environment? Please let me know your thoughts in the comments. Thanks for reading!
PS: The news of Raw becoming TV-14 on July 18th has since been redacted. The change is meant to happen later, but a date has not yet been given. Here’s the latest update.