Earlier this morning, WWE formally announced on its Twitter page:
“BREAKING NEWS: @WWE #SmackDown is going LIVE on Tuesday nights on @USA_Network, starting July 19!”
In a move that will put smiles on even the most critical faces of wrestling fans, the company has finally decided to ditch its weekly pre-taped ritual for live airings every Tuesday night. While stunning, it’s a decision that the WWE Universe has clamored for in hopes that the program will no longer be labeled as the “B Show” to Monday Night Raw. Potentially, this will be the latest and greatest shakeup for SmackDown since moving to the USA Network earlier in the year.
— WWE (@WWE) May 25, 2016
Post-confirmation, WWE.com continued with another bombshell announcement:
“This bold move will have major ramifications for all of WWE and exemplify the New Era, as both Raw and SmackDown will each feature their own unique rosters and rivalries following an imminent Superstar draft.”
Following the 2001 purchase of WCW (and eventually, ECW), World Wrestling Entertainment (then-Federation) became the largest wrestling promotion in the world. Along with acquiring its competition, the company would take on the contracts of the many stars of WCW that would soon be integrated in the “Invasion” angle. In March 2002, the WWE decided to initiate the first ever “Brand Extension” to split the outsized roster into two functioning brands. On the March 25th, 2002 episode of Monday Night Raw (refer to the WWE Network), the draft commenced with each brand selecting the top stars in the company.
The WWE Brand Extension was innovative as it brought an element of professional sports that many thought we would never witness on a television/entertainment program. Eventually, the WWE Draft would be held every year to “shake-up” the rosters which would create interesting scenarios, rivalries, and overall story-telling. In 2011, the brand extension was ended.
Although WWE superstars are now featured on both shows, two major problems have risen. Since its a pre-taped program, SmackDown had lost the only thing that made the brand unique: its exclusive roster. Thanks to the creatures of the IWC (Internet Wrestling Community for future reference), anyone can find the results of the Thursday night telecast – two days in advance. Regardless, fans would watch SmackDown because it was the only way to see some of the company’s major superstars perform on free television. John Cena was certainly the staple of Raw, but it doesn’t discount guys like Batista, Edge, Rey Mysterio, and Randy Orton who were SmackDown exclusives for long stretches. The future brand extension will usher more fans to tune into the show simply based on the performers.
As of 2016, WWE arguably has its deepest and most talented roster of superstars that are now pioneering the “New Era”. Roman Reigns. Seth Rollins. Cesaro. Kevin Owens. Dean Ambrose. Bray Wyatt. Finn Balor. The list of names is impeccable. Since the revitalization of WWE’s developmental system and the dawning of NXT, the company has given birth to some very intriguing characters. Triple H, who has donned the role of Executive Vice President of Talent, is credited with signing some of the hottest names in pro-wrestling that fans thought we would never see listed on a WWE match card. AJ Styles, Samoa Joe, and Shinsuke Nakamura have already made an impact on the main roster and NXT, respectively. Although a positive, the second major issue stems from having way too much talent on a solitary roster.
By means of a brand extension, WWE can once again separate its roster and give more superstars a chance to claim the spotlight. Although more superstar releases are rumored, the creative writing and production teams of WWE will be able to offer better opportunities for the company’s more understated male and female athletes.
WWE’s groundbreaking announcement will not only open the door for the company’s next biggest stars, but will ultimately make SmackDown a legitimate counterpart to the “longest-running weekly-episodic television show in history” and therefore shed the “B Show” label.
The “New Era” has begun.