When and Why did WWE decide to go PG?

WWE’s status as a company with PG-rated shows has been a hotly-debated issue for years.

One of the most frequently argued issues about WWE is the fact that the company is officially PG. In theory, this means that the violence is toned down, sexually-explicit imagery is pretty much nonexistent, and the general tone of the program is supposed to be ‘family friendly’.

Many have argued that this sudden direction change was a catalyst for WWE’s fall from grace, so to speak. The idea is that once you expose fans to something and then take it away from them, they’ll become unhappy and turn away from a product that’s no longer giving them what they want.

Also read: 5 Things we don’t miss about the Attitude Era

In WWE’s case, the argument suggests that by going PG and getting rid of all those ‘crude, adult-oriented themes’, fans will no longer be interested in WWE’s product because they’re no longer receiving the things that made them watch the shows in the first place.

Yet WWE still went PG despite that argument, and there’s compelling evidence to suggest it’s correct. But when and why did this happen? We’ll provide answers to these questions below.

On July 22nd, 2008, WWE released a statement announcing that all of their programming was deemed PG and that it was going to be catering to families going forward. The company’s official stance since then has been that WWE’s programs are all PG. However, this hasn’t always been true in practice.

Some wrestlers have skirted the PG label in different ways: swearing, excessive violence and blood – all of which are clearly un-PG – have still been seen on regular WWE programming. For example, Brock Lesnar called Samoa Joe a ‘punk-ass b***h’, with that third word being censored.

Even on TV-PG programming, this shouldn’t be allowed, yet Lesnar has gotten away with it. Other WWE personalities like John Cena, both Bellas, Randy Orton, Vince McMahon, and even the Undertaker, have all said things that are decidedly un-PG, which shows that the rating isn’t taken as seriously as some might believe.

As to why they made this transition, there are actually multiple explanations:

A change in sponsor attitudes:

WWE has far more sponsors now than they did during the Attitude Era, and it’s likely these sponsors wanted a change in WWE’s presentation so that they could maximise their own profits.

A company that uses WWE’s airtime to promote its product isn’t likely to think ‘let me put my product on a show in which men make their female employees strip down to their underwear on live TV and make them bark like dogs’. Most companies want their products to be on something ‘safe and reliable’, which are two words that couldn’t be used to describe ‘the old WWE’.

These companies want their products to be on shows that cater to a wider demographic audience, which wasn’t the case with WWE when it was TV-14. Back then, WWE catered mostly to adult men between the ages of 18 and 49, while offering little for women or children. Since WWE has become PG, the audience has become more varied, with more women and children

Demographic and cultural shift:

When WWE was TV-14, it was that way because there was a massive demographic shift going on. More and more teenagers and adults were into ‘edgier’ programming on TV, owing to the success of such boundary-pushing shows as South Park. In general, the attitudes around this period were politically incorrect and more willing to push extremes in order to present wrestling programming as ‘shock value’ TV.

Since then, there has been a massive change in overall attitudes towards general TV programming. Shows these days are more, shall we say, ‘sanitized’ and rarely does something offensive or suggestive make its way onto any primetime television, including WWE.

Moreover, WWE has also noted that children are the largest consumers of WWE’s merchandise, which wasn’t the case when the show was TV-14. Thanks to a TV-PG rating, WWE was able to create a merchandise empire around family-friendly characters (especially John Cena), whose white-bread, smiling, never-say-die superhero babyface has turned him into a hero for children everywhere, while making families happy.

Thus, to keep the stream of loyal young fans (and their families) happy, WWE made their programming PG. That way, these kids can watch WWE programming without much of a risk of them being exposed to something raunchy or ‘inappropriate’ for their age, and parents don't have to worry about their kids watching these shows and buying WWE merchandise.

The need for good PR in the wake of high-profile tragedies:

WWE doesn’t want impressionable young viewers to copy moves they see in the ring.

WWE going PG could be interpreted as another way for the company to minimise future incidents of wrestlers getting hurt or dying due to their actions in the ring. If you recall, chair-shots to the head and extreme violence were widespread in WWE when it was TV-14.

Since moving to TV-PG, those chair-shots have been banned, and the company has taken more of a ‘safety-first’ approach to wrestling. Because WWE didn’t want another Chris Benoit incident, the company took as many steps as they could to mitigate the chances of a wrestler being in a situation where they could cause long-term damage to the company and themselves.

By going PG, the actual moves seen on a regular basis are wildly different from those of yesteryear. Moves are safer in terms of bumps and which parts of the body take the most damage. Moves targeting the head aren’t seen as often; weapon shots almost always go towards the back, and even the biggest and most dangerous spots are designed for a wrestler to take most of the damage on a relatively ‘safe’ part of the body.

This makes the actual in-ring action safer and the wrestlers healthier, while also discouraging some fans from trying particularly-dangerous moves for themselves.

As an example, consider Seth Rollins’ Curb Stomp ban. This move could have been copied by younger viewers because it looked cool, so WWE avoided a potential lawsuit or bad PR by doing away with a move that could have caused serious damage when performed by someone without the necessary training.

Linda McMahon’s Senate run:

Vince’s wife has tried to distance herself from WWE many times.

This is more of a conspiracy theory, but it’s one that people have been repeating many times. The argument suggests that WWE went from being TV-14 to TV-PG so that Vince McMahon’s wife Linda – who had stepped away from WWE after many years – could run for public office.

To try and make her into a more convincing and ‘proper’ candidate, it’s believed WWE went PG officially so that they’d look better as a company in the face of critics. Furthermore, by presenting the current product (at the time) as PG, Linda and her campaigners could make the argument that the worst and most inappropriate aspects of the Attitude Era were part of an older product that’s no longer circulating on the live broadcasts.

These arguments backfired for Linda as both her attempts to run for public office failed. Yet, in an ironic twist, Linda is now the Administrator of the Small Business Administration under President Donald Trump’s Administration.

Is WWE more successful as a TV-PG product? Depends on your definition of success. On the one hand, the wrestling’s safer for the wrestlers, they cater to a wider demographic, and the company enjoys relative mainstream success. On the other hand, much of the in-ring action is repetitive and void of uniqueness, the storylines are often lazy and uninspiring, and the insistence on pandering to the lowest common denominator hasn’t helped WWE attract more casual fans.

Do you think WWE is better off PG, or do you think there should be some changes done to make the product more enjoyable?

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Edited by Staff Editor
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