When Shawn Michaels took over for his long-time DX partner Paul “Triple H” Levesque as the leader of NXT, he was given the unenviable task of getting more eyes on WWE's developmental product.
On paper, the challenge was trickier than it might have seemed, as, despite having a solid spot on the USA Network, the promotion had lost many of the top stars that made the show compelling in the past, with Adam Cole, Keith Lee, Kyle O'Reilly, and Swerve Strickland all calling AEW home for one reason or another.
Discussing the interest surrounding NXT both now and into the future in the lead-up to No Mercy on its media call, HBK explained why, in his opinion, his show is a sleeping giant that is about to blow up in a big way.
“Obviously, where I’m at now, is different than where I was at the beginning. At the beginning, you look at those ratings every week. I’m not a numbers guy, by any stretch, but I’ve learned more about numbers…the two times I was focused on ratings is when you’re the champion and holding the belt, and when you’re the guy running the show to get those ratings. At the beginning, I did, I focused on them quite a bit. Now, I understand the long game and understand the goal. Obviously, we’re thrilled when they go up. Right now, we have been trending up and trending up in those demographics that everyone speaks of, significantly. We’re talking 26% in 18 to 49 and 61% in 18 to 34,” Shawn Michaels said via Fightful.
“When I first stepped in for Hunter and eventually took over, the conversation I had with Vince [McMahon] is him wanting me to focus on that 18 to 34. Despite other stories that are out there, it was never being compared to anybody else, it was just him wanting us to focus on 18 to 34 because he wanted us to have a younger demographic. That’s the one that I scroll significantly in these last two years. We’re very proud of that and trending upwards. That’s always the strategy. This is a television business, the strategy is always to get those numbers. Obviously, the main roster integration helps us with that.
“An analogy I’d like to share; we feel like the main roster for us is like a trojan horse. We come in with the main roster first and then out of the trojan horse comes all these NXT stars and we’re hoping, when a Becky Lynch comes in and gives us a well over 800 [800,000] and into the millions, we hope is that we expose a number of NXT talent to them that a percentage of those people come back and they see something they enjoy our product, they see our show and go, ‘they do a lot of different stuff and do stuff unlike anybody else. They have so many spaces and environments for their talent, it’s not just in the back of a building, there is so much variety to what they do. There is humor, fun, great wrestling.’ That’s what we hope happens in this process, each time we use a main roster talent, that will obviously give us viewers we didn’t have before that a certain segment continue to watch our product and enjoy. As of right now, that’s been working quite successfully. I don’t want toot my own horn, it’s been going well for us.”
Thus far, it's hard to see many examples of NXT performers capturing the hearts and imaginations of the WWE Universe to the degree at which they could move the numbers on their own, as even the biggest recent success story of WWE developmental, Gunther, did the brunt of his work in the UK. Still, if Becky Lynch fans fall in love with Wes Lee because they want to watch “The Man” in NXT, the real winner is, well, everyone.
Shawn Michaels believes NXT has that Wild West Attitude Era spirit.
A few moments later on his No Mercy media call, Shawn Michaels discussed what NXT is doing on television and how it compares to the glory days of WWE.
Though some fans may laugh at the idea of NXT being like the Attitude Era, HBK believes the comp is just.
“I feel like NXT has got a buzz right now, and I feel like we’re the hottest thing going right now in the wrestling business. We have a fun show. Ours is the closest thing to the Attitude Era you’re going to get, and I know a lot of people want to roll their eyes at that, but we have a wild west stuff going on and there is always something new happening. It’s very different,” Michaels said. “We have a number of different reasons for being in storylines. If you ask me, every other show out there, they all wrestle each other because they are all angry at each other. ‘I’m angry at this guy, we’re going to fight about it.’ If you watch NXT, there are different reasons and different stakes on why people get into wrestling matches on our show. I’m very proud of our show and what we’ve accomplished over the last several months.”
Is HBK on the money? Is NXT the next Attitude Era, with an outlaw mindset that gets fans hooked? I mean, probably not, as NXT is aggressively corporate even compared to RAW and SmackDown, but hey, good on Mr. Michaels for standing up for his wrestlers.