What do AJ Lee, AJ Styles, Billy Gunn, Brandi Rhodes, Bret Hart, Brian Pillman, Chris Jericho, CM Punk, Cody Rhodes, Dixie Carter, The Dudley Boyz, Edge, Eric Bischoff, Goldberg, Hulk Hogan, Jeff Jarrett, Jim Ross, Joey Styles, John Cena, Kevin Nash, Matt Hardy, Michael Cole, The Miz, MJF, Paul Heyman, Raven, Ric Flair, Road Dogg, Roman Reigns, Scott Hall, Shawn Michaels, Triple H, Vince McMahon, Vince Russo and X-Pac all have in common?
At one point or another, they've attempted to blur the lines between fact and fiction in such a way that wrestling audiences (at least partially) questioned whether that was supposed to happen on the program.
MJF was the latest to give a so-called "worked shoot" promo on the June 1 edition of AEW Dynamite and thanks to his delivery, passion and subject matter, it was a grand slam home run of a segment. The ratings reflected it, fan interest reflected it, and MJF's personal brand has never been higher than it is now.
So what's the problem?
Is the problem that fans are forced to suspend their disbelief while the promo is being cut? Not at all. That's half the fun for many; planting a small seed of doubt in their minds that a wrestler went on an international wrestling broadcast and talked about something he or she wasn't supposed to.
Sure, they may look back at it later and determine that something that explosive didn't happen without the permission of the show's producer. They may look online to see what the general consensus was or ask their friends for opinions. But wrestling is very much enjoyed "in the moment" these days; it's the reason why weeks of taped television no longer succeeds the way it did 20 or 30 years ago. People want to believe that anything can happen on live television.
So that's not the problem....
Is the problem that fans will get upset by the attempt at manipulation? Not really. Think of all the instances listed above and people still came back to see what would happen next. In some instances, it actually increased an audience because the buzz was so strong - think back to Scott Hall's Nitro debut as a shining example of that.
What about how many times these "pipe bombs" have been dropped? Nah -- they're not done all that often and typically feel unique and fresh enough to work.
What about the concept that some of the "boys in the back" get angry because they've kept in the dark? That's certainly not ideal, but so long as it's done sparingly.
So if it's not, then what exactly is the problem?
The problem is that if the audience is trained to think a Worked Shoot is real... then what it does it say about the rest of the people on your wrestling show? When MJF "breaks kayfabe" on live television, there are no real consequences to his actions. Sure, they may tease suspensions or some such as this story progresses... but let's not forget what brought about this angle in the first place - the guy legit no-showed a fan event and he didn't receive any punishment for that. So why would in storyline terms would he be suspended NOW?
But beyond that, if MJF can get away with swearing and burying his boss... why wouldn't Wardlow, Britt Baker, Jon Moxley and everyone on the show do the exact same thing? Remember, you can do whatever you want and there are no consequences. There's a real-life reason they won't the same thing -- MJF's promo will no longer seem unique -- but what does that say about everyone else?
Sure, they've advanced MJF's position in the company (and truly, the industry) with this promo, but they've made everyone else on the roster look "less than." And it's certainly not an indictment on this one AEW segment. Go back to the Montreal Screwjob, CM Punk's pipebomb, Brian Pillman shooting in WCW and then showing up in ECW, or any number of other worked shoots. The people who broke the rules come across as stars, while everyone else on the roster are positioned as saps who can't break the fourth wall.
And that's a pretty big problem, and one that's tough to overcome.