Is The Role Of The Authority Figure Still ‘Best For Business?’
Week after week, wrestling power couple Triple H and Stephanie McMahon make their presence felt on WWE programming by laying down the law and brandishing their own style of corporate justice, all in the name of doing what’s ‘best for business.’
Yet in 2014, are on-screen decision makers really what pro wrestling needs? Or has the tired role of the Authority Figure truly had it’s day?
If you’ll indulge me for a moment, I’d like to play the role of the cynical old fan who firmly believes that things were much better ‘back in the day.’
In this writer’s case, we’re talking about the days of Canadian promoter Jack Tunney and his run as on-air Über Lord of the World Wrestling Federation.
For 10 full years, Tunney was involved in some of the biggest storylines in the company. He was there to strip Ted Dibiase of the title after The Million Dollar Man bought it from Andre the Giant. He was there to take the same title from around the waist of Hulk Hogan following This Tuesday in Texas, and he was there to prevent Jake Roberts from bringing any more snakes to ringside around the same time period.
The rest of the time, Tunney wasn’t there at all or, if he was, it was only in the form of his name being mentioned to facilitate some crucial plot-point, (‘This match will take place because Jack Tunney said so.‘) with no physical appearance from the Toronto-based promoter.
And when Tunney wasn’t there, nobody missed him. The weird and wonderful world of the WWF went on regardless, and, in hindsight, was probably all the better without someone who wasn’t an active wrestler hogging up TV time.
His lack of regular appearances also added the benefit of making the times when he did show up all the more special. Back then, you knew something really big was going on if President Jack Tunney had to get involved.
Fast forward many years later, couldn’t the modern WWE product benefit from booking its authority roles in a similar fashion?
Could the product benefit by doing away with long in-ring segments in which McMahon and Helmsley throw their weight around, and instead informing fans of their decisions via Michael Cole and his broadcast colleagues?
This writer certainly thinks so.
Limiting The Authority’s presence on our screens not only frees up more time to develop new stars and interesting storylines (if there’s one thing that the current Authority angle certainly isn’t, it’s interesting), but also makes it all the more important when Mr. & Mrs. H do show up.
Sure, you could argue that WWE are already doing exactly this with Vince McMahon, in that you know the proverbial has really hit the fan when The Chairman rolls into town, but there’s no reason why it couldn’t work equally as well for the heirs to the throne.
If nothing else, it would certainly make things a lot easier to follow.
Revisiting our old friend, President Tunney, long-time fans may recall that, when it came down to it, he never really took sides. Sure, the bad guys often bore the brunt of his decisions, yet Tunney had no problem making a ruling against golden boy Hulk Hogan if it was the right and fair thing to do.
Not throwing his lot in entirely with either side of the heel/face divide worked for Tunney as an infrequently character used primarily as a plot device. It works less well for Hunter and Steph as major on-screen characters.
As each week goes by, The Authority only seem to further confuse the audience as to where their loyalties lie. Though on first appearances they come across as your archetypal pro wrestling antagonists, they are often equally at odds with the company’s primary evil doer, Randy Orton as they are with leading fan favourites Daniel Bryan and John Cena. This is all, of course, in the name of doing ‘what’s best for business.’
Still, there’s an argument that this isn’t what’s best for WWE’s business given their current target demographic.
Sure, the shades of grey approach to storytelling has its proponents (Hi, Russo), but even still, pro wrestling audiences respond better when they’re presented with characters they can emotionally invest in.
By one minute making life difficult for Bryan and the next getting into it with Orton, The Authority neither lend themselves well to being revered or reviled.
Again, this worked for Tunney when all he had to do was pop up, make a decision and fly back to Toronto. When the same approach is being taken with characters who get major screen time, it only serves to suck much of the enjoyment out of their segments on WWE television.
Take them off TV, bring them out only on big occasions and you solve this problem while at the same time restoring some much needed credibility to the role of the wrestling government.
By its very definition, the role of The Authority Figure is one which should command a certain kind of respect. It should be played a figure who exudes a certain kind of power, a character who fans can buy into as being in charge.
In the wake of Jack Tunney’s departure from the WWF, the group got this dead on by replacing him with none other than Gorilla Monsoon. Has there ever been a man more universally respected in pro wrestling than Mr. External Occipital Protuberance?
Following Monsoon, we got Sgt. Slaughter. Ok, so maybe Sarge wasn’t quite at Gorilla’s level but, thanks to the gimmick he’d played throughout his career, not to mention his status as a legend even back in the late-90s, fans were able to buy the former WWF Champion in his newly-appointed role as Commissioner.
In 1998, Slaughter was replaced by Shawn Michaels. There could have been worse choices, sure, but there could also have been many better ones.
Since Michaels, the standing of WWE Authority Figures has certainly seen better days. Sure, we’ve enjoyed memorable turns from the likes of William Regal and Mick Foley in the role, but let’s not forget that the role of decision maker has been played by the likes of Mike Adamle, AJ Lee, Jonathan Coachman and Armando Estrada, hardly names which command the greatest amount of fear and respect.
This only adds further fuel to the argument that the authority figure role has long since had it’s day, and that’s before we even get into ‘secondary’ power roles such as those currently played by Kane and Brad Maddox.
What do you think, dear readers? Is it time to revert back to a simpler approach of booking authority roles, or is the current Authority story really what’s best for business? Comment below.
Chris Skoyles is a writer and wrestling fan who once met Davey Boy Smith in his local Chinese takeaway. He tweets about wrestling at @Allpwrestling