Why WWE’s Bring It To The Table is a Giant Middle Finger to the Fans
If you ever wanted to know if WWE hates smarks, just watch Bring It To The Table.
The WWE Network is home to a ridiculous amount of content, including the video library of three separate professional wrestling companies, an attempt at an adult-themed cartoon, documentary features, pre and post show accompaniments to major events, exclusive live events and much, much more. One such show being heavily featured at the moment is “Bring it to the Table” – an insider, kayfabe-be-damned panel show presented as a legitimate sports show discussion.
Hosted by Peter Rosenberg and featuring Corey Graves and JBL, it is an interesting concept that could have provided an intriguing look behind the scenes of WWE for hardcore fans looking to soak up as much wrestling news, knowledge and stories as possible. Instead, as was best highlighted by the 31/7/17 episode, it is a platform for WWE to tell us all why what they do is excellent and why the very fans the show is aimed towards are stupid and ungrateful for thinking otherwise.
Since its inception, the show has thrown kayfabe out the window for the most part and almost had the feel of your favourite wrestling podcast discussing the stories of the day. JBL and Graves would openly discuss news that had hit the dirt sheets, what wrestlers needed to do to “get over”, what characters they liked and disliked and more. It’s not the only WWE Network show to do this – in fact JBL himself was a master at it with his “Legends with JBL” show which was strangely axed despite being one of the most entertaining shows on the entire Network. If done correctly, as it was done in JBL’s solo venture, it could pull back the curtain to tell real stories from real people, all the while promoting the scripted television shows any guest appeared on. Bring it to the Table started in a similar vein; however it has now veered drastically off course.
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The first sign that the show was actually just WWE pushing their own agenda was the opening of the May 8th episode which saw Rosenberg, Graves and JBL publicly poke fun at the Mauro Ranallo situation, with the former Smackdown Live commentator having left the company shortly before.
The truth will more than likely never come to light, particularly with Ranallo now back with the company providing excellent work on NXT, but all signs pointed towards bullying issues stemming from JBL himself. This caused a brief furore of controversy, including “Fire JBL” chants at live events, but was brushed under the carpet on Bring it to the Table with Graves addressing several other controversies of the day before lingering awkwardly on JBL. The former WWE Champion then made what was intended to be a humorous quip about playing golf and the show moved on. In essence this show was the perfect channel to discuss such an issue on; instead WWE chose to make a joke of a man who may have felt he had to leave a job entirely because of the treatment he received at the hands of his co-workers. It was a sign that so long as you’re a tenured, respected veteran like JBL it doesn’t matter how you behave so long as it doesn’t make the company look too bad. It was also a sign that Bring it to the Table was simply another cog in WWE’s propaganda machine.
The latest episode at the end of July, however, took things to whole new extremes. Whilst JBL and Graves did disagree on some points, the show for the most part felt like an all out attack on fans seemingly ungrateful enough to have their own opinions. The two swept aside almost all wrestling podcasts with Graves essentially saying that most were simply people moaning and that he had no time for this. On the subject of the cancellation of Talking Smack as a weekly entity on the WWE Network, they openly said that it was a shame because wrestlers now had one less avenue to get their characters over (true) – before acting as if a war of words on Twitter between Alexa Bliss and Sasha Banks was a sign that the two legitimately “hated” each other.
The same would be done again later in the show when discussing Roman Reigns and John Cena going back and forth at each other on social media. Both would then push the company agenda by putting over both men to ridiculous levels – not long after agreeing that Jason Jordan has “future World Champion” written all over him in a desperate attempt to provide some momentum to the Jordan/Angle storyline that has already lost whatever steam it started out with. The show continually flip-flopped from insider comments (Rosenberg enquired about a dirt sheet report regarding backstage heat on Enzo Amore) to the Graves and JBL acting like marks for their own product. This hit a low point when both men decried the argument that too many good matches were being given away on free television with no build whatsoever.
WWE is a company which has openly, repeatedly and with great pleasure mocked WCW, and Eric Bischoff in particular, for giving too much away on Monday Nitro rather than building to Pay-Per-View events in an attempt to gain ratings. The key example has always been Goldberg dethroning Hollywood Hogan for the WCW World Championship in 1998. This has been laughed at on numerous documentaries and Network shows. Yet when WWE gives away Shinsuke Nakamura vs. John Cena, a dream match and potential WrestleMania main event level contest, Graves and JBL mocked fans for complaining that they are getting to see great matches. Bear in mind that this was a match which was barely promoted, gutted by an advert break and on an episode of Smackdown Live which actually saw the ratings slip from one week prior. Now there is indeed the argument that the argument that the traditional business model of using the weekly shows to build to Pay-Per-Views is null and void with the advent of the Network, but that only holds so much water.
By signing up to the Network you essentially enter into an agreement that you have bought all future Pay-Per-Views in advance at a fraction of the cost – in this sense, the build up to said PPV events doesn’t actually matter because you’ve already bought the show. This, of course, was not the case when fans were shilling out money each and every month come the day of the event. That being said, these shows still take place on the Network that WWE is trying to sell in place of such one-off PPV events. The weekly shows where WWE has recently given away Sasha Banks vs. Bayley, three quarters of its SummerSlam Fatal 4 Way main event, Kevin Owens vs. AJ Styles and the aforementioned Nakamura vs. Cena contest do not. If the company is giving away such a high calibre of matches for free but only showing miserable affairs like Fastlane, Payback and Battleground on the Network, why would anyone ever bother subscribing? Ironically the only way to watch Bring it to the Table, legally at least, is on the WWE Network – so you must subscribe to be insulted by the product you’re paying for.
The show would further mock its own very fans by discussing the “WWE Rulebook” with Rosenberg asking Graves and JBL if it is indeed true that certain terminology is banned on WWE commentary. Graves made light of the situation by saying that it is merely that they are “strongly suggested” to say other terms in place of terms deemed outdated by WWE management. This argument is not so much simply insulting as it is a sign that WWE is painfully out of touch with its own fan base. We all know that such words as “belt”, “fans”, “wrestler” and “wrestling” have been substituted for “championship”, “universe”, “superstar” and “sports-entertainment” respectively so that WWE can apply trademarks left, right and centre and claim that they invented each and every one. If these were simply “suggestions” then the former terminology would still be heard but it almost never is.
Vince McMahon and co. will repeatedly state that WWE is a “sports entertainment” company but when was the last time you asked a friend if he or she fancied coming round to watch the “sports entertainment” show that night? When the supplier and consumer can’t even agree on what the product is then there’s a big problem – and when the supplier then publicly mocks the consumer, on a platform they have already spent money on nonetheless, there’s a massive one. It’s even sadder to see Graves, formerly a refreshing voice and arguably the best commentator in the company when plying his trade on NXT, sink to this low. What’s even sadder, however, is that none of us hardcore fans will be going anywhere. Perhaps we should just stay quiet and be glad that “WrestleMania” hasn’t become “Sports Entertainment Mania” – yet.
There’s still hope that WWE can turn Bring It To The Table into an interesting show once again as it is, as already discussed, a very intriguing concept. If this latest episode is anything to go by, however, it will simply be WWE propaganda disguising itself as something else in an oversaturated year of mediocre WWE programming. And if you dare to have an opinion and speak up about it online then who knows, maybe JBL will make a sports reference that you won’t understand unless you’re from the States and Corey Graves will call you out for being wrong and ungrateful. Let the propaganda machine keep on churning.