, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Sting and Flair

Sting and Ric Flair at the final episode of ‘WCW Monday Nitro’ (1995-2001)

With the rise in on demand TV and box set binges there is still one question that TV companies are trying to answer. How to get more men to watch continuing drama. Or more basically why don’t men watch soaps?

In the UK the big beasts of the soap world, ‘Eastenders’ and ‘Coronation Street’ do periodically attempt to pull in the male audience. With storylines about gangsters, football and other things that supposed to appeal to men. Normally this results in a spike in viewers but it is never sustained. Daytime soaps fare even worse. Men who are watching TV at that time of day are more likely to watch sit-com reruns than soaps.

Both the BBC and Channel Four have announced that they will be targeting male viewers with a new ‘Eastenders’ spin off on the online BBC3 and a new download only soap for 4OD. Both of these seem doomed to fail. Men do watch soap opera it just isn’t in the form that is recognisable.

Professional Wrestling is Soap Opera. Exaggerated characters, storylines that touch on reality but expand it plus a good dose of violence and the fact that it is tough, hard athletic work. Even if we all know that the fights are pre determined and two guys who spend years feuding are normally, although not always, good friends and have the greatest of respect for each other.

The boom time for Pro Wrestling was the late 1990s. Roughly the same time when Soaps, either early evening British ones or Prime Time American ones, were at their peak. For wrestling this era is known as the Monday Night Wars. Two large companies WWF and WCW had their premier shows opposite each other on Monday Nights. The end came during the fallout from the AOL-Time Warner merger when WCW was sold at a loss to WWF. The AOL-Time Warner merger also saw the start of a decline in Prime Time soaps in the US and the rise of Sit-Coms. If you like you can go to Amazon and chose one of the 1500+ full length books that detail the catastrophic fall out of the AOL-Time Warner Deal.

Since 2001 WWF which re-branded as WWE and now just WW has been the dominant player in the US. TNA Impact, Ring of Honour and Lucha Underground are also popular. The later is a promotion using the Lucha Libre style popular in Mexico. It’s success mirrors that of Mexican and Brazilian Telenovella’s in the US.

WWE and TNA have become more like a soap opera as the years have rolled by. There is as much TV time dedicated to back stage antics, boardroom politics and even paternity suits and kidnappings than there is in ring action. This is loved by some and hated by others who prefer the pure wresting of Ring of Honour or local independent promotions.

Soaps and Wresting have been in decline since the turn of the millennium. For both the ultimate reason is the rise of reality. Reality TV takes away the traditional soap audience while Mixed Martial Arts style promotions like UFC take away wrestling fans, with real unscripted fights. In the UK the English Premier League has used the tricks of the Pro Wrestling game to build its profile ever higher. Managers now give press conferences in the same way that Wrestlers cut promos. There really isn’t much difference between a José Mourinho press conference and a ‘Broken’ Matt Hardy promo.

Ultimately creating a Soap Opera for Men is doomed to fail. Not because it is a bad idea. But because we already have them. Rather than the kitchen sink drama, police or doctors surgery setting we watch large men in tights, facepaint and crazy costumes fight undead daemons and evil businessmen in a ring while an announcer goes mad screaming everything that is happening.