It’s been a while since WWE has found itself in such a state of flux. With NXT becoming a two-hour show on the USA Network and SmackDown moving over to FOX on Friday nights—not to mention the sudden rise of some competition when it comes to weekly televised wrestling—WWE is in a state of transition. With that transition comes the opportunity to make some changes, to redefine what the WWE product is for both dedicated fans and those suddenly rediscovering their love for wrestling as WWE finds itself thrust into an even bigger mainstream spotlight.
Some changes have already been made, as WWE attempts to drive viewers to RAW and SmackDown. Pyro has finally made it back on the show, and the recent Draft was clearly an attempt to make the product feel like a big sporting event, like must-see TV where anything can happen.
That’s all great, but I have a suggestion for WWE. If you want to drive viewers to wrestling, you have to embrace everything that’s unique to wrestling. You don’t have to be more like the NFL or UFC, but rather an even larger version of yourself. There are a lot of ways you can make that happen, but one thing I’d love to see WWE do during this time of transition: bring back themed-PPVs and unique set designs, and I’d start with Halloween Havoc.
Right now, WWE certainly has the idea of themed PPVs. We’re only a few weeks removed from Hell in a Cell, where the once-rare match has now morphed into its own feud-settling PPV. Money in the Bank has a similar history, a match that now serves as its own PPV brand. But here’s the thing: These PPVs don’t really feel all that different from each other or from episodes of RAW and SmackDown. The sets look the same, the cards are largely structured the same way, and even the graphics only undergo the slightest of changes.
It’s time for WWE to once again roll out specific set designs for PPVs as a way to not only make its PPVs feel like big, important shows but as a way to signal to fans that the people crafting this product care about it. It’d be great to see things like the “Deadly Games” set from Survivor Series in 1998 repurposed in this day and age; or the location-specific themes, like the goofy but endearing casino set of 2005’s Vengeance, which took place in Las Vegas; or the mock White House set that towered over 2011’s Capitol Punishment.
WWE has moved away from these types of sets for various reasons. When I visited the WWE warehouse in Stamford, Connecticut a few years ago, one employee in charge of coordinating the sets and shipping things from show to show said that a big reason the practical, physical sets don’t get used these days is because the advent of HD television means a lot of them don’t look great. They’re too flawed, too clunky, and that will really show up on HD TVs.
That’s a good reason, but WWE’s insistence on all-digital sets that never change isn’t doing much to give the product a unique visual appeal.
At the very least, WWE should be thinking about how to set the tone for each PPV and how to make them stand out amongst a bevy of televised pro wrestling options. As mentioned above, I’d start by bringing back some old, reliable PPVs, and rebooting them for a modern audience. Halloween Havoc, the fun, silly, Halloween-themed PPV that ran in WCW, is easily one of the more memorable options, and considering that WWE isn’t shying away from supernatural gimmicks—doing their best to add legitimacy to characters like “The Demon” and “The Fiend,” including a match completely enveloped in red lighting for the latter—they should be more than game to go all-in on a Halloween-themed PPV.
The thing about pro wrestling is that it’s inherently ridiculous. It’s athleticism and strength and storytelling, sure, but it’s also camp. It’s made to be goofy and surreal, and often pro wrestling is at its best when it’s not trying to be anything other than that. You can say that something like the Halloween Havoc set, complete with tombstones, pumpkins, and a giant goblin, is too cheesy for a modern-day audience, that we’re more interested in seeing wrestling presented as akin to a sports broadcast.
I’d argue that in the age where everything is pro wrestling, where the Houston Astros carry around championship belts and fans of the New York Islanders use the “YES” chant, that wrestling needs to wholly embrace the weird stuff that makes it unique. Bring back Halloween Havoc. Bring back unique PPV sets. Make these PPVs feel big, important, and consequential. Pro wrestling is a spectacle, and the PPVs should feel like it.