Contradicting reports earlier this week that WWE would tape a month's worth of shows including Money in the Bank next week, it looks like the company has reversed course and will instead broadcast live each week. The report comes from former TMZ reporter Ryan Satin at Pro Wrestling Sheet, who is on WWE's payroll. Satin writes that "Raw, Friday Night SmackDown, and NXT will once again resume taping their shows live from the Performance Center starting next week." Satin says the decision happened on Friday, reversing course from the previous plans.
The move is surprising, considering WrestleMania 36, which was taped in advanced and allowed heavy editing of the matches as well as the application of special effects to two matches filmed cinematically, was widely praised as better than expected. Perhaps it's because expectations for WWE programming are at a rock bottom currently, but WWE exceeded those expectations and produced a two-night event where the lack of an audience and the lack of the big spectacle customary for WrestleMania were barely noticeable. In particular, the cinematic matches, including John Cena vs. Bray Wyatt in a Firefly Funhouse match and Undertaker vs. AJ Styles in a Boneyard Brawl, were very well received.
WWE Finds Itself at the Mercy of Vince McMahon's Whims
So why has Vince McMahon suddenly decided to change things up? Could it be because viewership numbers are lower than normal, according to a report from Dave Meltzer's Wrestling Observer Newsletter? That's to be expected, considering we're in the middle of a pandemic that has literally shut down large parts of the entire world. Is Vince upset that Meltzer refused to give the WrestleMania matches star ratings because they were pre-taped? Is it part of McMahon's famed infuriation with sneezes because they represent a lack of control? How long before Vince McMahon faces the coronavirus in a tag team match like he once did God himself?
At F4WOnline, Meltzer has a theory about all of this. Meltzer says that WWE's television contracts limit the number of shows which can be pretaped and that there may be worries that by continuing to tape shows, networks could have the legal standing to change or cancel the contracts. Because ratings are down during the pandemic, even if they had been dwindling for years anyway, the contractual discrepancies could be used as an excuse to get out of paying WWE big money. And that money is all that's keeping WWE afloat right now since they can't put on live shows, WWE Network subscriptions are likely down due to the lower interest in WrestleMania, and all of that will translate to lower merch sales as well. Unfortunately, it's WWE's wrestlers who will have to pay the price for all of this, as they're the ones who will need to continue to travel to weekly tapings and who will need to unnecessarily perform dangerous stunts that could otherwise be made safer through crash pads and editing.