Tuesday, July 19, 2016

On The Air: WWF/E Smackdown (1999)

Six years into Monday Night Raw's 1st run on USA (1993-2000), WWE Chairman (and now also CEO) Vince McMahon decided he wanted a second primetime program.

Smackdown's pilot episode aired in April 1999 on UPN. Four months later, the weekly series began, and over the course of 17 years on the air, has changed networks more than Raw has. Consider:

UPN: 1999-2006
CW: 2006-8
SyFy: 2010-5
USA Network: 2016-present

Tonight, after 6 1/2 months on USA, the series shifts to a live format on Tuesday nights, which, in turn, has started a bit of a chain reaction. Rival TNA moved Impact, currently airing on Pop TV (formerly the TV Guide Channel) to its old night on Thursdays, not that it'd mean much in the long term, since TNA is considered an inferior product.

WWE is also splitting the talent roster between the Monday & Tuesday night shows, with a "draft" taking place tonight. That won't mean much, either, since the talent will still shuffle between brands every few months, based mostly on McMahon's whims. You and I both know that. Smackdown's peak years up to now were from 2002-4, coinciding with former ECW frontman Paul Heyman, who served as a figurehead "general manager" from October 2003-April 2004, as the show's head writer. Heyman, who currently owns a marketing business when he's not cutting promos for former WWE/UFC champ Brock Lesnar, should be considered to rejoin the much maligned creative team, since what that lacks is someone who actually knows something about the wrestling business.

Currently, there is a two-tiered system of figureheads atop each brand. Shane McMahon, the prodigal son who returned to WWE in February, is the Smackdown "commissioner", while former champion Daniel Bryan (Bryan Danielson, Total Divas) is the "general manager". Over on Raw, Shane's sister, Stephanie, who served as Smackdown's 1st "general manager" from July 2002-October 2003, and was an interim "GM" on Raw from November 2008-February 2009, partially in collaboration with Shane, is now Raw's "commissioner", with former champ Mick Foley returning for a 2nd tour of duty as "general manager". He briefly held the post, shared with Eric Bischoff, in the winter of 2003-4.

Following is a montage of show opens spanning the 17 years of Smackdown's existence. See how many faces you can recognize.

Rating: B-.

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