On July 28, 2013, the ever expanding WWE Universe invaded the E! Network with a new reality television series, Total Divas. The show follows the lives of five veteran divas and two rookies, both in and out of the ring. The viewer not only goes backstage at live events, but gets to see the athletes train at the WWE Performance Center, travel on beautiful tour buses, balance life at home with family and pets, and interact with many of the people that are key in keeping the WWE running smoothly. The current cast of divas features Nikki and Brie Garcia-Colace (Bella), Nattie Neidhart (Natalya), Trinity and Ariane (The Funkadactyles, Cameron and Naomi), and rookie Natalie “Eva” Marie. Summer Rae replaced season one rookie Jojo at the start of season two and does not go by her real name like her castmates. The hour-long program also features many current Superstars, such as Fandango and Alicia Fox, who stick to their in-ring names.
When the show was announced, I swore I would not be tuning in. I was never a fan of the Bella Twins and assumed that this would be on par with other E! reality programming; The Kardashians meets the WWE if you will. While it does have its share of seemingly manufactured drama and comedy, it also has many moments of sincerity and vulnerability, along with fascinating looks behind the scenes. I may never enjoy seeing Stephanie McMahon on Raw, but I do appreciate seeing her human side as she interacts with the performers on Total Divas. While following Nikki Bella and boyfriend John Cena doesn’t do much for me, the relationship between Brie and Bryan Danielson (Daniel Bryan) has not only made me even more of a Bryan fan, it’s done the unthinkable and made me a fan of at least one of the Bella’s. Total Divas leaves me feeling more connected with the Superstars and more motivated to pay attention to the live shows.
As with everything, Total Divas definitely has its downside. Even if you’re not watching the show on E!, as a WWE fan you are no doubt well aware of its existence and have likely watched a clip or two against your will. The reality show is pushed on Raw and Smackdown, not just to tell viewers about premiere dates or give reminders of air times, but going as far as to comment on the drama and call the performers by their real names. Sneak previews and recaps are shown, such as the recent Slap Heard ‘Round The World that Summer delivered to Nattie, which has nothing to do with any of the storylines and serves only as a distraction from the real action (Summer is currently feuding with Layla, not Natalya). No one is tuning into Raw so they can see Eva Marie cry to her parents or watch Ariane deal with her intimacy issues. Raw, Smackdown, and pay-per-views should not be used in such a blatant way to promote the show.
There are ways promotion can be done without being a distraction, and the WWE has gone these routes a few times. Bringing Brie and Bryan’s engagement into the storyline was a smart move; it made Bryan an even more sympathetic character by having his woman at his side as he struggled to win the titles, plus it put attention back on the returning Bella’s. It was also an intelligent way to grow the Total Divas audience, as people formerly unaware of the engagement may want to tune in and hear about the wedding plans. Having then-champion AJ Lee address the Total Divas cast, burning them on the mic with CM Punk-like skill, was simply genius. It helped answer fan questions about why AJ turned down the show while forcing many to feel sympathetic towards the “useless, interchangeable women” starring on the show. The tag matches pitting Total Divas against “Real” Divas was another good call; while the matches were sometimes lacking, it shone a light on the show without breaking any illusions.
To give the audience of Raw a clip of Trinity and Jon (Jimmy Uso) discussing their sex life as Nattie drunk dials Stephanie McMahon, then go right back into a tag team match or a vicious attack by The Authority is like stopping a movie halfway through to tell the audience that Robert Downey Jr. is only pretending to be Tony Stark and he can’t actually fly around in a robotic suit. Of course we know it’s fake, but we sure as hell don’t want to be reminded of that fact when we’re trying to enjoy the show. No one would dare sit at the announce table and refer to The Undertaker as Mark as he makes his grand entrance. The same respect should be given to every Superstar on the roster, be they a big name like the Undertaker, a small blip on the radar like Yoshi Tatsu, or a female performer on or off the Total Divas cast.
As far as reality programming goes, Total Divas is one of the better ones out there and can look forward to a long future on the E! Network as long as they keep things fresh and interesting. The more this show grows, the more careful WWE Creative needs to be in keeping the separation strong between reality and fantasy. It’s fine to use Jerry Lawler as a mouthpiece for Total Divas, so long as we don’t have to listen to him speculate on whether or not Summer Rae has indeed slept with half of the men in the locker room. In order to be successful across the board, the line between live show storylines and reality television needs to be crossed as little as possible, or simply not at all.