AEW has had some pitfalls and some issues, from the technical problems that plagued the early shows, to their current issue with the women’s division. It has also done some things extremely well, adding onto the tricks of the wrestling trade. One of the areas where AEW has really shined is the way they pump up each episode. And while they have several tricks to do this, the most obvious is by simply having a card for every episode.
In case you are unaware, AEW hypes up each episode throughout the week on Twitter by announcing what matches and segments will be on. They will put up most segments on the weekly card, from matches, to MJF’s speech, to the Jericho/OC debate. They usually will have almost the entire episode sketched out by Monday or so.
Compare this with WWE, who will usually promise one or two matches at most for the following week. For the most part, WWE is banking on the viewer already wanting to tune in. They’re not trying to sell you on what’s going to be on the next show; they just expect you to watch it. This approach (sort of) works — they have a pretty reliable viewer base and it allows them to be flexible, which announcing a card ahead of time limits. A card creates accountability of sorts, forcing a promotion to stick with what is on the card.
This lack of accountability can lead to completely off-the-wall episodes. Vince is, after all, known for being a bit out of touch with the average fan at times, and I’m sure we are all aware of how Vince is willing to rewrite shows at the last minute. However, sometimes last-minute rewrites are necessary, and can even lead to amazing episodes. Simply look at last year’s NXT invasion episode of SmackDown after the Saudi Arabia plane incident.
Another thing a cardless episode allows is it makes it easier for boring episodes to get snuck in. Ones with no real exciting match ups. If WWE advertised their entire card for the night beforehand, a good amount of people might just decide they don’t want to watch tonight. Imagine last year having to see again and again that we were just going to get another Corbin vs. Roman Reigns match. I can’t imagine it would have helped their viewership.
However, AEW doesn’t have that big of a supportive viewer base (maybe just as loud, but not as big). They do not have the benefit of simply being able to say “tune in next week”. They have to make sure that not only are the shows entertaining, but that they can promise just as exciting of a show next time. AEW operates under the mentality that they need to sell you on the next week’s episode. Thus the episodic card.
The downsides to the lack of flexibility right away are obvious. They are unable to be as flexible as WWE. If something comes up, they have to issue a correction and readjust the card, which has happened — Kris Statlander facing off against Riho for the title back in January had to be postponed due to a prior conflict. But AEW had hyped up that match anyway, and placed it on their card for the next week only to have to retract it, leading to immense blowback on Twitter. There were a lot of people (including myself) who were disappointed, even though it was just pushed back a week.
This has happened very rarely though, and the benefits of an episodic card have really paid off, greatly overshadowing the downsides so far. A card creates a sense of authenticity. It makes the show feel like an actual sporting event. I don’t tune in to a baseball game wondering who is going to play, only finding out once the actual program has started. No, there’s actually a schedule. While it’s hard to plan months worth of matches in advance for wrestling, the fact that on Wednesday morning I know who is going to be fighting really helps make it feel like an actual sport.
Sure, WWE may put on one or two matches that they had mentioned the week before, but often, more than half the matches are booked that night during the episode. On rare occasions, that can make for a sudden, fun surprise but often it just gives the impression that in kayfabe, the booker is winging it, desperately hoping someone gets in a fight. Not exactly the most realistic vibe.
An episodic card also helps give viewers something to look forward to. It makes Wednesday night really stand at as you wait eagerly for that one match you’re excited for that was announced on Sunday. It gives you something to look forward to throughout the week, which is honestly how I get through on a day by day basis.
This anticipation doesn’t just help give you something to look forward to in your otherwise depressing work week, it also makes the match seem more important. It helps build things up even if there’s little else going on surrounding the match. Being told that a matchup was just made during the commercial break doesn’t give the match the same weight as it could have if you have been waiting for it for the past week. AEW’s shows end up feeling like they mean something more because of it.
I honestly love everything about these episodic cards and would love to continue seeing them. It has especially helped me try to get my friends into wrestling since I can confidently tell them that a certain person they like will be on tonight, so they should watch. Perhaps WWE won’t change their entire programming around these episodic cards, but it would be great to at least see a couple matches/segments announced each week.
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