What’s The AEW Reality?

When Cody Rhodes left AEW a few months ago and went on to return to WWE at Wrestlemania in a stellar match with Seth Rollins, it put a brand new coat of paint on the American Nightmare after the core All Elite audience began to reject him after it seemed that being a TV star became more important than being a pro wrestler. Granted, Cody quite literally lit himself on fire for the AEW audience, and it goes without saying that the launch of the company as a whole wouldn’t have been possible without Rhodes’ role as the “leader of the revolution” of the promotion at its start. Still, the narrative among the diehard fan base was that Cody’s propriety wasn’t the revolution any longer, but rather to establish himself and Brandi as television stars.

Truthfully, only Cody knows what his true intentions were with appearances on the Go Big Show competition show or the ill-rated Rhodes To the Top reality project. Was Cody there to expand the exposure for the All Elite brand? Establish himself as a reality star outside of wrestling? The answer is probably both, but the bottom line is, his exit from AEW came at the right time because the All Elite crowds weren’t going to embrace the rally promos anymore.

That’s why options and competition in the industry remain the most important aspect of success for everyone. Instead of an athlete without a direction and stalled momentum in AEW, Cody returned to WWE and looks to be on the path to the main event level that he always thought he had the ability to reach. As Jim Cornette often cites when discussing exits in the history of the business, “how can we miss you if you won’t go away?” Cody’s time away from WWE allowed for a truly national organization to emerge among the wrestling landscape, and it ultimately set the stage for his return to the WWE as a much bigger star than he was before.

However, you have to wonder, would the trajectory of all that have changed if Cody had kept his focus strictly on wrestling instead of a reality show with Brandi?

When Rhodes left, there was a void in the AEW brand. How big of a void depends on who you ask, but a spot on the roster wasn’t the only aspect of All Elite programming left blank after his departure. When Cody’s renegotiation of a new contract didn’t materialize and Tony Khan decided not to exercise the option of his deal for an additional year, it allowed Rhodes to leave on rather short notice. For whatever reason, TBS executives already renewed Rhodes To the Top for a second season, despite its sluggish numbers.

There’s a place for AEW programming on the TBS line-up, and The Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer reported that the slot will be used for a reality show based around All Elite Wrestling as a promotion instead. I can’t say this enough, this is a completely misguided concept with very little benefit and a major downside as far as the perception of the company.

First and most importantly, while it’s blatantly exposed that professional wrestling is a scripted performance, that doesn’t mean that any major organization should throw it in the viewer’s face that everything they’ve seen is based on manipulation. In fact, the counter argument could be made that at a time when fans think they know everything, it might be just a little easy to keep them guessing as to where the line of reality is at any given point during a show. Is MJF really that much of a jerk in real life? Surely, he can’t be because heels aren’t actually mean people, right? Or maybe he is that much of a jerk because he knows that people pay money to see him perform without knowing where the con ends. Truthfully, isn’t it more fun not knowing? If you see a video of Max helping an elderly lady across the street, would his work as a villain still have the same impact?

The problem with another wrestling reality show is two-fold. As mentioned, the first time viewers see something behind the scenes that doesn’t gel with the presentation of what they’ve seen on Dynamite or pay-per-view, it dilutes the effectiveness of the segment. CM Punk and MJF might’ve hugged after their dog collar match, but after the master piece of a contest, where the gritty baby face defeated the dastardly heel, do you really want to see complete confirmation that these guys were really friends all along?

Don’t get me wrong, the horse is out of the barn, you can’t make an American audience believe that everything they see at a pro wrestling show is real, but you can definitely make them believe that something is real. QT Marshall probably had coffee with Serpentico before one of their matches on the Youtube shows and it wouldn’t hinder either of them if the fans saw a picture of that online before a broadcast, but if the fans believe that Eddie Kingston has legitimate animosity toward CM Punk then they will be willing to order the show to watch their match on pay-per-view. There’s a completely different atmosphere around a storyline or a match-up when there’s some level of believability involved. There’s a reason everyone shook their head when WWE tried to portray that Randy Orton burned Bray Wyatt alive or that actual zombies attacked during a pay-per-view. On the flip side, Roman Reigns as the dominate Samoan champion is a much more logical presentation for the audience.

Regardless of if it’s a sports entertainment approach or a pro wrestling show, logic is always key to how something can connect with an audience.

This is where an AEW reality show has many more pitfalls than benefits. Aside from diluting its own angles, the company has to be very careful with how it presents itself to its core audience. When it appeared that Cody’s focus wasn’t on the revolution anymore, it created a level of hostility. Tony Khan also has to make sure that this reality show doesn’t seem like simply a vanity project to either put himself on television or put himself over because it could have a similar effect to the Rhodes’ situation. Obviously, there are already critics of Tony Khan that will claim that he started a wrestling company to mark out for himself, but there was always going to be some level of that chatter based on how All Elite started. Plus, even Vince McMahon booked himself as WWF champion once so having fun with your own company is one of the perks of the job. That being said, because the existence of All Elite sparked the industry with the previously mentioned competition, the organization has a certain level of good will with the fans. The other side of the coin is that for whatever reason, WWE has often portrayed the representatives of the company as heels. So, it’s wise for Tony to build upon that good will with the rally speeches before live tapings, but there’s a fine line between passion for the industry and someone trying to play the next Vince McMahon.

It might sound like an odd comparison, but Khan’s acquisition of ROH and a seemingly endless list of wrestlers is somewhat comparable to when McMahon bought WCW over two decades ago. If Tony Khan is perceived to be on an ego trip on this reality show, even if that’s not the actual reality of the situation, it could damage the level of good will the company has with the audience.

So, I don’t think a reality show will be benefit to All Elite Wrestling or a project that will generate numbers based on the amount of other content already on television, but it’s certainly ironic that a reality show is more of a work than pro wrestling.

What do you think? Comment below with your thoughts, opinions, feedback and anything else that was raised.

Until next week
-Jim LaMotta

E mail drwrestlingallpro@yahoo.com | You can follow me on Twitter @jimlamotta