In the summer of 1999, WWE programming was entering the most popular era of its existence. Generation-defining stars like Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Rock, and Triple H were nearing their peak, fierce competition from Ted Turner’s WCW was forcing creative to produce the best storylines the company had come up with since wrestling’s heyday in the 80s, and attention from mainstream media was drawing new eyes to professional wrestling every day. In the wake of all of this success, the company decided to launch a new show, named after one of The Rock’s ever-popular catchphrases, to bring even more WWE content into millions of homes. That show was SmackDown and it started for the same purpose as it is primarily used for today: to supplement existing storylines.
Fast forward to 2001, and WWE had purchased all the rights from then-floundering WCW. After a failed attempt at a “WCW Invasion” storyline with the intention of re-launching WCW under the WWE umbrella, the company was left with little to no competition in the wrestling marketplace. Never content with resting on his laurels, Vince ordered SmackDown to fill the void of competition, initiating a brand split that would end up bringing the show to the forefront of wrestling, as under the direction of Paul Heyman and with future legends like Rey Mysterio, Edge, Chris Benoit, Kurt Angle, and Eddie Guerrero, SmackDown quickly overtook RAW as the most must-see wrestling show on TV.
As the years passed and the brand split era came to a close, SmackDown quickly faded into B-show obscurity. But it doesn’t have to be this way. This list features 12 improvements that could easily be made by WWE to thrust the blue brand into prominence once again. No single one of these ideas will make SmackDown the number one show, but a combination might just be what WWE needs to return to the early 2000s glory of Thursday night’s wrestling extravaganza.
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12 A Clearer Focus
For years, the continued existence of SmackDown has been a bit of a mystery. There seems to be no reason to have a Thursday night show whatsoever if its primary goal seems to be to remind us what happened on Monday. Right now, SmackDown seems to exist solely to hype other other free television shows that happen to be longer-tenured, but this doesn’t need to be the case. Running storylines unassociated with RAW, or at least presenting it as a little more than an extension of it, would reinvigorate the brand and give it a much clearer sense of purpose.
11 Less Filler
The current SmackDown product is absolutely loaded with filler. Often, an entire quarter hour of the show will be dedicated exclusively to recapping what happened on Monday Night Raw, not to mention roughly one or two promo segments per show that go nowhere and set up no storylines and a litany of meaningless matches. Eliminating this filler and replacing it with actual storyline development could be huge for making the show seem more important, or at the very least less trivial.
10 Improved Advertising
The advertising for SmackDown on social media and on RAW has been fairly minimal. Sure, occasionally WWE will display a graphic hyping up the show on RAW, but for the most part, Smackdown exists as little more than an ad for Monday Night RAW itself. If WWE put a little more effort into sharing noteworthy happenings from the show on social media, as well as airing “last week on SmackDown” video packages on Monday nights, fans would be much more likely to assume Smackdown is worth watching.
9 Less Rematches
Another issue stemming from SmackDown’s existence as RAW 2.0, the show is filled with matches that already happened on Monday night. They may be given a bit more time and the matches themselves may even be better than their RAW counterparts (Styles vs Jericho 2 immediately comes to mind), but that doesn’t excuse the fact that most of the in-ring action fans see on Thursdays is regurgitated from three nights prior. Some fresh and original matchups exclusive to SmackDown would be huge for creating relevancy.
8 Establishing Relevant Storylines
In its current state, SmackDown simply exists to further storylines that were established on RAW. To boost relevance once again, WWE would do well by initiating major storylines that fans actually want to see on their “B-show.” If the company were to begin a trend of putting important occurrences that kick off big storylines on Thursday nights, the audience will quickly take notice and tune into SmackDown to make sure they don’t miss anything important.
7 A Presentation Revamp
For the past half decade or so, WWE’s two TV shows have looked exactly the same. The set is the biggest culprit, as the exact same panels are arranged in the exact same manner for both shows (as well as PPVs, but that’s a story for a different article entirely). To make SmackDown seem like more than a cheap knockoff of RAW, it has to look the part. Simply setting up the panels in a different manner, or even adopting a simpler set like that seen at Road Block, would work wonders in giving the show its own identity, which it so desperately needs to return to relevance.
6 Surprise “Big Draw” Appearances
One of SmackDown’s more pressing issues as of late has been the total lack of the surprise appearances that have come to define RAW. The show is pre-taped, so the shock value would definitely be dampened compared to if it had occurred on RAW, but the publicity WWE would achieve from the Tuesday it’s taped to the Thursday it airs would be substantial enough to make up for any loss of surprise. Having Brock Lesnar interrupt a main event or The Rock cut a surprise promo would draw in thousands of new viewers, even if it hadn’t been announced beforehand.
5 A Tonal Shift
To tug even harder on the “SmackDown is just trying to be RAW” thread, the tone of both shows is entirely too similar, to the point that they would likely feel entirely the same if not for the incredible announcing of Mauro Ranallo. Much in the same way NXT has found incredible success in setting an entirely different tone to its show, SmackDown could vastly improve its product by writing the show in a manner unlike RAW. If RAW is the more “sports entertainment” show with lots of silliness and storyline, let SmackDown be the more wrestling-heavy show where the competitors hit hard and talk less. Anything to make SmackDown stand out is something that WWE desperately needs to do at this point.
4 A Focus on the Undercard
Monday Night RAW seems, at the moment, to be entirely investing in building up the main event scene. The show is dominated by Triple H promos and Dean Ambrose/Roman Reigns matches while giving little to no time for up-and-coming undercarders like Damien Sandow or Tyler Breeze. Making SmackDown the go-to place for such superstars, where the likes of Cody Rhodes and King Barrett can demonstrate their full potential, would be an exciting prospect for thousands of fans who’d be sure to tune in to watch their underappreciated favorites rise.
3 3, Hyping Matches on RAW
WWE has made some effort into using RAW as a tool to hype SmackDown as much as SmackDown is used to hype RAW, but the work done isn’t nearly enough. WWE needs to fully commit to announcing matches for the blue show and building them up over the course of a single segment or more on Monday in order for Smackdown to feel like must-see TV. For example, if Sami Zayn cut an introductory promo on Monday only to be attacked by Rusev, and Rusev challenged him to a match that Thursday, viewership would certainly increase, as the desire to see that match would override any existing notions of SmackDown being “unimportant.”
2 Creating/Assigning a Smackdown-Specific Title
One of the biggest factors contributing to SmackDown feeling so insignificant is the lack of SmackDown-specific belts for wrestlers to fight over. Every active title in the company is either defended on primarily on RAW (Tag Team, US, Intercontinental) or usually neither (WWE World Heavyweight, Divas), giving SmackDown little to work with in terms of actual prizes. If WWE were to create a new title that is defended only on Smackdown and PPVs, or simply assign an existing one like the Intercontinental Championship, the stakes would be raised significantly, and people would tune in weekly to see if a title might change hands. While WWE has flirted with the idea in the past, they haven’t yet committed to keeping a title exclusively on SmackDown in the current era, and doing so would be huge for the show.
1 Establishing SmackDown-Specific Superstars
Yes, the most important thing SmackDown can do to regain relevancy is to, in effect, reignite the brand split, though it doesn’t necessarily need to be that drastic. All that really needs to be done is to establish a few top-tier superstars that people genuinely want to see, like Kevin Owens, AJ Styles, or a debuting Finn Balor, and make them the top face of the brand. Have them wrestle exclusively on SmackDown, forcing fans who are desperate to see their favorite wrestlers to tune into the show every Thursday to watch them compete. They can still wrestle on PPVs, have intense feuds, and be involved in major storylines, but all that can be accomplished on one show, the only change being that that show is Thursday Night SmackDown.
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