Happy New Year, smarks! As 2016 met its morbid end, a new show on the WWE Network debuted following last night’s Raw. While it’s no secret that WWE has been in cahoots with ESPN and has traded some talent over the years, the new show entitled “Bring it to the Table,” is a clear mimic of ESPN’s style of programming. In an attempt to perceive WWE as a legitimate sport, we are met with the sports entertainment punditry of a sports-talk roundtable discussion complete with a rundown list of topics; many of which are honest and controversial dirt-sheet questions. They even brought in an outsider, from his popular Cheap Heat podcast, Peter Rosenberg, to shed some light on some of the WWE’s most taboo subjects. And talking with two men who aren’t afraid to speak candidly, Paul Heyman and JBL, some fans may be left wondering if the final demise in 2016 was the death of kayfabe.
But fret not, my dear wrestling geeks. Kayfabe is a living, breathing organism that has the innate ability to adapt and evolve with its environment. And if you haven’t noticed, ESPN has its fair share of pseudo-controversy and kayfabe headlines. They, too, borrow from what has worked for WWE for decades. As we are in the midst of a New Year and a New Era, the WWE Network is becoming the ESPN for WWE. With many shows that seem to produced shoot interviews, Bring it to the Table is a natural addition and step in the right direction.
There have been shows like this before: for instance, an early WWE 24/7 program, Legend’s Roundtable (which I would love to see revived), to the more recent panel discussions on Talking Smack, and its copycat, Raw Talk. Seeing the success of these Network exclusive shows, and giving at least the illusion into the behind-the-scenes workings of the WWE to fans, our inner smart mark feels satiated. I emphasize feels, as it is the equivalent of a frozen burrito. Not a lot of real nutrition, but it gets the job done.
So, there is a lot of fluff, for sure. Some of the topics discussed on Bring it to the Table were a faux-shoot, but do we really want our pro wrestling to be entirely real? At what point do you want to pull back the curtain to see that the wizard is just a silly old man? Suspension of disbelief must remain intact, and this new style of WWE Network programming pulls it off masterfully. Much like Peter Rosenberg’s popular Cheap Heat podcast, he brings the same blend of lighthearted kayfabe and genuine curiosity to the Network. The result was a fun and fairly interesting discussion.
Ideally, I would like to see someone like Paul Heyman or JBL on this show every week. They bring with them an earnest love for the business while being just transparent enough keep the audience engaged; you know, like scrambled porn. If it wasn’t fuzzy and hard to make out, you might not be as curious in the first place. But because it’s our human nature to discover what it is that’s being kept so secret from us, we have to keep watching in case the picture clears up. A part of us wants to be left in the dark. But we still want to feel involved.
Many of the topics discussed were pretty casual and in step with the storylines.How much will we see of the Undertaker? Aren’t the Bellas just wonderful? Who from NXT will we see in the Royal Rumble?
That last one was interesting to me, considering we’re bound to see at least one call-up from NXT in the Rumble. And by bringing it up on this show, they sort of admitted what our Christmas present would be, even though it was on our list anyway. They even talked about the usefulness of the element of surprise. Rosenberg played the role as a representative of the fans, saying that promotion is not as useful as surprise, leading to one of the few times I’ve disagreed with Paul Heyman. So that was at least an insightful little tidbit of truth in how WWE views surprises these days.
They also brought up other controversies. Touching on topics that WWE otherwise might want to avoid; Bret Hart’s contempt for pretty much everything, Conor McGregor’s potential involvement in WWE, and raising the question of a possible Hulk Hogan return. These are all topics I didn’t expect to hear on a show produced by WWE, so it is refreshing.
Refreshing. Like a dip in the pool on a hot Summer’s day, but not quite drowning in it. Certainly, much of this is working the work of the work. A hall of mirrors in this kayfabe carnival. But, like a magic show or a haunted house, allow yourself to be immersed in the mystery of it all, take it in, and let your imagination trick you into believing something is around the next corner. Maybe it’s there. Maybe it isn’t. But anything can still happen in the WWE. So, kayfabe isn’t dead, but it has shed itself of its mortal coil and it’s consciousness has been uploaded into a highly advanced machine called the WWE Network.