If you are a fan of wrestling, you probably complain about WWE creative. It's natural and it's easy and it's mostly deserved with things like John Cena dumping crap on AJ and Dolph Zigggler happening all the time. Complaining about WWE creative comes as naturally to fans as cheering for Daniel Bryan or having a man crush on Ricardo Rodriguez. I have friends who used to watch WWE religiously that have since quit watching because of the state of WWE creative. They don't understand how I can still watch a show that isn't very good most of the time. There have been times when I've skipped the show for weeks at a time or simply turned off Raw for the night, but I don't think I could ever quit watching Raw. Just like I never quit watching Weeds after Nancy burned down the house, LOST in the later seasons or How I Met Your Mother after it pulls the Ted/Robin card for the 800th time. I like the characters on the show, I like the idea of the show and I've come this far so I don't know how to quit now and maybe it'll get better.
The question of how to get better is a topic of much discussion among fans and those in the wrestling business. The square of the blame falls on the shoulders of the writers who, according to internet lore, are mostly "failed soap opera writers with no sense of the wrestling business." While I'm sure that this can often be the case, I have my doubts.
For one, a failed soap opera would be someone who used to work on a soap opera. Anyone with a basic understanding of screenwriting knows that screenwriting jobs, even soap opera writing jobs, are extremely hard to come by and it is a highly competitive industry. You need to have some basic understanding of storytelling (and if you ever look at WWE's creative writer job postings, they do ask you to have a BA or BS in film, drama or related studies) and you need to be creative. Second, while we'd all love for WWE to be written like Mad Men or Breaking Bad that is not going to happen or maybe even what should happen. A soap opera is the closest equivalent to what WWE does creatively, both in writing turnaround and in their episodic nature, so if anything soap opera experience should be considered a positive. Look again at the job listing at WWE's site and you'll see them also asking for "three to five years experience" in TV. Truly "failed" writers don't make it three to five years. They make it one season and then they are done, the word gets out on them and they can't get another job. Finally, if you ever listened to Dave Lagana's old Formerly Creative podcast you would have heard that guys who don't get wrestling, don't last and that guys who actually like wrestling last a little longer. So this whole idea that the state of WWE creative is due to crappy soap opera writers seems like crap to me. I am not saying they are all great writers with great ideas that don't get through, but I do think they are more than a white board with "John Cena" written on one side and "poop" written on the other.
So what is the problem? To me, it is the show runners. A show like Buffy the Vampire Slayer had good writers, but what made it great was Joss Whedon as the show runner guiding the writers to his vision. The last two seasons of the show arguably had the most talented staff of writers, but some of its worst storytelling. Why? Whedon wasn't around that much and Marti Noxon running things just wasn't the same. The writers on LOST got better as the years went on, but the show didn't. Was it the writers fault? Or does that fall into the hands of Cuse and Lindleof? The quality level of The Office based on who the show runner is another great example. (Greg Daniels is great. Toby is terrible.) Sons of Anarchy is what it is for better or worse because of Kurt Sutter, not because of some writer. Same with Graham Yost at Justified and Mike Schur at Parks and Rec. On and on it goes and WWE or TNA should be no different.
For whatever reason, Vince McMahon only really seems to care between Royal Rumble and Wrestlemania. He doesn't care for continuity because some study showed that new fans show up every couple of months and "who cares if Sheamus and Cena are supposed to hate each other? They are both good guys now." His heir apparent Triple H isn't much better. He likes his stories to be about THIS BUSINESS and that worked shoot stuff that was only cool when I was 15. They like their good guys to be childish dicks and their bad guys to be hate YOU PEOPLE even though they are right all the time. They have little to no interest in long term storytelling. There are exceptions to these rules, but for the most part these are their ways and they are set in them. They do some things very well (setting up big matches) and some things very bad (building likable good guys, comedy), but you can't ever say you are honestly surprised by what happens on the show.
(TNA faces similar issues with the Hogan/Bischoff brain trust being obsessed with "that's a shoot, brotha" interviews and swervez.)
Good, creative things still get through, but the good things never become truly great things because of these show runners and their bad habits. (See: Punk, post-pipebomb or AJ's love life for examples.) For things to ever become great on a national level again we need some better direction. It's hard to say that Vince McMahon needs to delegate more because we know he never will or that we need Stephanie and Triple H to take charge more because that doesn't sound that appealing either, but what the storytelling needs now more than ever is a clear direction. A white board in the back that lists every pay-per-view from now until Wrestlemania 30 with a clear goal of what that show's main event is going to be and how they will get there. Things may change along the way, but you'll never get from Point A to Point B unless you know what Point B is.
I don't think Raw can ever be as creatively satisfying as Breaking Bad, but I do believe it could take me on a journey. I do believe they could build characters who interact with each other in logical ways and have conflicts based on who they are. I think wrestling can reward you for continuing to watch it and understanding it's rich history. I think it can be better than it is and all it takes is a little more direction. WWE has all the money in the world and as far as wrestling goes they have the very best of everything you could possibly imagine. From live events to wrestlers to production to video games to marketing, WWE is the best. So why can't it be the best at storytelling too?