“Starting tonight, each and every week, the third hour of RAW is about to get downright mean and nasty. A little bit dirty.” — Mick Foley, 20 May 2019
Wait, what? Did we hear that correctly? During the introduction of the atrocious 24/7 Championship, Mick Foley dropped a quiet bomb. Could the War Zone, or something like it, be returning?
Here’s a crash course in WWE Marketing. There was a time, perhaps a better time, when WWE’s longest-running main roster show, RAW, was only two hours long. The first hour, known as RAW is WAR, was generally more family-friendly material. But the second hour, War Zone, was usually home to more violent, adult-oriented stuff. Bloody fights, naughty humor, foul language. This was during the Attitude Era, and things like that were to be expected. But if you wanted to witness the stuff everyone would be talking about the next day, you watched War Zone.
Those days are gone, though, and WWE has long been mired in a TV-PG environment. This decision has brought us matches that were cut short at the first sight of blood, plenty of in-ring talk show segments (we miss you, Mitch), and Natalya’s infamous farting gimmick. It was childish humor for a juvenile audience. If it kept Snickers happy, then all was well.
There are two reasons why WWE could be considering revamping their third hour. Traditionally the time for main event matches, the two hours preceding the show’s inevitable cliffhanger ending can be a slog to get through. Viewers need a reason to stay tuned in until the show ends.
Right now, they’re not.
Ratings for RAW have been in the toilet for weeks now. Not only is the Creative team scrambling for new ideas, like the 24/7 Championship, but company owner Vince McMahon has to be getting nervous. There’s a lot on the line here for WWE. Losing their contract with USA/NBC Universal due to poor ratings would be a huge blow to not just Vince’s bottom line, but his ego. RAW‘s cancellation would be nothing less than failure and embarrassment.
The competition is also heating up. All Elite Wrestling, the promotion started by Cody [Redacted] and the Young Bucks, has secured a weekly television deal with TNT. AEW has already announced that their Memorial Day pay-per-view, All or Nothing, will be rated PG-14. If their weekly product follows suit, RAW could be in real trouble. There’s also a karmic factor to AEW showing up on TNT. WWE’s biggest rival to date, WCW, also found a home with Turner Broadcasting. While it may not be the Monday Night Wars all over again, there’s no doubt that AEW is going to draw tons of viewers, at least at the beginning of their run. It’s the kind of competition Vince hasn’t had to confront in about twenty years.
That’s what makes Foley’s announcement so potentially important. If we’re lucky, and I mean really lucky, the third hour of RAW might be undergoing a radical change. Could we be getting steel cage matches? Competitors bleeding their own blood? Trash talking that doesn’t sound like a Little House on the Prairie playground squabble? All of these elements could boost ratings.
Hearkening to the Attitude Era isn’t precisely the answer. Go look at some of that stuff. It doesn’t hold up. A lot of it is intensely cringeworthy under modern standards. But if we’re still in the Reality Era, then taking that to the next level is a great idea. The audience is ready for fights that look like fights. We’re ready for beefs between Superstars that feel real. The WWE Universe is ready for a reason to watch besides blind brand royalty.
If the WWE can replace innuendo with intensity in their third hour, then that will really put some butts in seats. The War Zone is dead. Long live the War Zone.