In 2005, the WWE held the “Judgment Day” pay-per-view, of which the main event between John Cena and JBL is considered one of the bloodiest, most violent matches in history. In 2010, up-and-coming wrestler Bryan Danielson was released from the company for being too violent during an episode of Monday Night Raw. Professional wrestling has been described as a “macho soap opera” and therefore it is fitting that the story of the WWE’s journey from bloodbaths to the land of TV-PG is one of tragedy, greed, and politics.
The WWE’s transformation began after the 2007 murder-suicide involving wrestler Chris Benoit. The company took considerable negative publicity for the crime and soon began to make their televised programming less violent. Violent matches were relegated to PPV events and, in June 2008, all of the WWE’s programming became TV-PG.
On the June 7, 2010 episode of Raw, the cast of the WWE’s NXT interrupted the main event, destroyed set pieces, and, beginning at 0:27 in the clip, Bryan Danielson choked the announcer with his necktie. The attack continued for several minutes, but it would be these five seconds that would cost Danielson his job. Danielson had been the main focus of the fledgling NXT program and was believed to be destined for stardom, making his release all the more shocking.
The violence of the act was the cited reason for his release, but other factors may have played a role. Linda McMahon, former WWE CEO and wife of Vince, is a current Republican candidate for Senate and is likely reluctant to give her opponents any easy targets. Furthermore, keeping a TV-PG rating translates into a different pool of sponsors, ones more likely to abandon the company should another scandal arise. The elements once synonymous with the WWE -- profanity, the objectification of women, and offensive storylines -- have also been curtailed in an effort to keep the TV-PG rating. Those fans looking for a “mature” product have an alternative in the TV-14 TNA, which garners only a fourth of the viewership of the WWE.
As the WWE gears up for SummerSlam, Danielson has returned to the independent wrestling circuit, where fans greet him with showers of neckties as a show of support. He is, to date, the only casualty of the WWE’s effort to offer a more family-friendly product; an honorable goal but also one with considerable financial and political benefits.