On mid-match commercial breaks

K Sawyer Paul responds to Matt at the Wrestling Journal, about the annoyance of commercial breaks during long TV matches:

Other sports don’t have this problem. No sport with any popularity can play an entire game between commercials, and fans understand that. Other sports also have believable lull periods: time-outs, half-times, infield-outfield changes, etc., where it makes sense to place a commercial. But wrestling matches can last anywhere from 18 seconds to over an hour.

Airing commercials during matches is really only a problem if wrestling is still viewed through the lens of sports and competition.

Seeing wrestling an art in the medium of television, I see no other alternative to having commercial breaks in the middle of a match. On any given episode of Raw, the narrative progresses more so out of the ring than in it, and the important parts of the matches we missed are replayed anyway.

I’ve gotten used to the timing of the commercial break during the first featured match on any Monday Night Raw: always on the first “act” of the match, one of the wrestlers (usually the heel) gets thrown outside the ring, presenting the image of the other being the dominant competitor in the match. Once the show returns from commercials, the previously dominant wrestler is trapped in a submission hold (usually a chinlock), with the tide having turned during the break. The move that caused the shift is then shown to us in a “double-action” replay.

I have a theory: mid-match commercial breaks are much more grating now because of the commentary. Michael Cole (or, his character) has always placed more value in WWE storytelling and corporate line-toeing than in the importance of whatever match is taking place, so when he throws us to commercial break by emphasizing the uncertainty of wrestling competition, it feels like he’s insulting our intelligence.

As lovers of wrestling matches, we’ve probably gotten used to tuning out the asinine commentary on Monday Night Raw, so it can get quite jarring when commercial breaks take place–we get forced to “un-tune-out”.

When it was Jim Ross (or Joey Styles, or anyone who places more value in in-ring action than stupid things like Twitter Trending Topics) on lead announcing duties, the commentary added a narrative layer to the action, which we, as wrestling fans, accepted. So when he threw us to the commercials, we accepted the suspense they were portraying on-screen. It didn’t feel insulting.

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