Lutz's Blog: The New It Factor in WWE
By Jeffrey Lutz
When Cody Rhodes showed up on last Monday's Raw with an odd growth of hair above his upper lip usually reserved for a fireman or an adult-film star, my thoughts were probably shared by many others: Why?
When a chant of "Cody's mustache" began reverberating throughout the crowd, I had my answer. The mustache was a heat magnet.
Like his fellow performers, Rhodes appears to be looking for the one thing - a catchphrase, a new move or a breakout moment - that he can use to get himself over. It's a wise strategy. A mustache won't give Rhodes long-term staying power, and the taunts he earned last Monday might not last another week, but at least he's trying.
Too many performers are leaving their careers in the hands of writers who don't share the same sense of urgency or the long-term investment in characters as the performers themselves. A writing staff that is spread too thin will provide little help in wrestlers earning significant fan reactions. The best way for a WWE wrestler to get over is to do it himself.
We've seen several wrestlers get over on their own merits recently. Daniel Bryan's "YES!" catch phrase had him on the path toward becoming a major star, Zack Ryder's YouTube show made him a household name even while he was (and is) serving mostly as a jobber, and Dolph Ziggler's following has developed along with his rapidly improving verbal skills.
Problems occur when writers grab a hold of the natural elements that allowed characters succeed and make those aspects feel forced. The main issue isn't that producing six or more hours of television every week invites lazy or short-sighted booking - though it does - it's that writing for so many characters and so many hours keeps writers from getting to know the traits that make each performer unique, then developing those.
Many WWE characters look, act and talk the same as they did a year ago or five years ago, and while consistency is never a drawback, complacency and repetition are. With so little time to spend on individual characters, the onus falls on the performer to find a niche that connects with the audience.
Under those circumstances, the complex characters progress more rapidly and the less-imaginative ones become stale quickly. Antonio Cesaro hates America, and there's not much a writer or a performer can do with that to make the character more broad, but Damien Sandow is a cocky intellectual who can get those traits across in a variety of ways.
The characters that succeed are the ones that possess complexity and are attached to performers who have an understanding of what motivates their character. Sandow seems to be on his way toward accomplishing that. C.M. Punk already has, just like Chris Jericho and Steve Austin, among many others, did before him.
Understanding your character is the new "It" factor. Antonio Cesaro can work and The Miz has charisma and desire, but they and many others will be stuck in a holding pattern away from the top of the card until they find - or are given the opportunity to find - something that connects with the fans. It's their responsibility, not that of the writers.
That said, eliminating or even significantly scaling back on writers isn't the answer. Austin came up with a catchphrase that made him and the company loads of money, but his run at the top wasn't a solo effort. The Rock's innate abilities were and are supplemented by a writer, Brian Gewirtz, who helps the character evolve.
The best option is a collaboration between the talent and writers to cultivate characters who are unique, motivated and an extension of the people playing them. In a constantly moving WWE environment with little time for care and precision, that's easier said than done.
Jeff Lutz has written for the Wichita Eagle newspaper in Kansas for over a decade and debuted with Prowrestling.net on November 4, 2012. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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