WWE announcing that they were going to have a fresh start several weeks ago on RAW is definitely not the first time that the company has announced a change in direction. Below are some other notable reboots, with our rating of how they ended up faring:
New Generation Era
Coming out of the Golden Era/Rock n' Wrestling period, WWE found itself in a state of flux. Its biggest star of all time, Hulk Hogan, had just jumped shipped to Hollywood (who can forget smash hit "Thunder in Paradise"?), and Vince McMahon himself was under fire for accusations of distributing steroids to his wrestlers. McMahon's solution? First, he gives his wife Linda control of WWF. Then, at WrestleMania 10, he kicks off what's commonly known as the New Generation Era with the crowning of Bret Hart - a leaner, less-juiced-looking athlete. To quote McMahon's closing remarks:
"We are witnessing, ladies and gentlemen, a brand new era. We are witnessing the blastoff of the next decade in the World Wrestling Federation."
How successful was it? Well, it skyrocketed the careers of Bret Hart, Kevin Nash, Razor Ramon, Shawn Michaels, "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, and countless others, to heights beforehand thought unimaginable. It also introduced edgier match types like Hell in a Cell, which debuted at 1997's Badd Blood. Creatively, though, the company still struggled to find it's footing for a couple of years.
Reboot Rating: (C+) - Looked at on its own, the short-lived reboot felt more like a dress-rehearsal for the much more successful reboot to follow.
When a McMahon teases rebooting their company, this is what every fan hopes for - a bold move into uncharted new territories both creatively and popularity-wise. While WWF was mostly building on the (few) successes of the short-lived New Generation Era, it also leaned heavily into the soap-opera elements that were still new to the biz, thus allowing professional wrestling to capture the mid-90's zeitgeist.
So much has already been written about the stars of the era, the record-breaking television ratings (consider: WWE almost doubled its audience in just a year), and the crash-tv style booking. And all for good reasons. But also, don't forget - this era created a stigma around "pro wrasslin'" that the industry would have a hard time shedding for years.
Reboot Rating: (A) - The true pro wrestling boom period, and arguable the biggest era in the industry's entire history... but the wrestling kinda sucked.
WCW 2000 Reboot
In the waning days of WCW the company tried almost anything to make up lost ground against WWE. This culminated in mid-2000, when Vince Russo and Eric Bischoff (who had both been booted from the company prior) were reinstated and made a big deal about reinventing WCW into something more modern and mainstream. Their first act was a total reboot - literally. They stripped everybody of their belts (including, heh, reigning World Champ Sid Vicious), halted every ongoing storyline, and kicked off a New Blood vs Millionaire's Club, rookies against legends story line that was meant to finally give the fans what they wanted.
Unfortunately, the ensuing months saw old-timers like Hulk Hogan and Kevin Nash treated more like the baby faces than the younger, hipper Billy Kidman's and Booker T's of the word. So much so that fans ultimately rejected the story and the company was sold almost exactly a year later.
Reboot Rating: (D+) - Good idea, awful execution. Did I mention it featured Russo and Bischoff working *together*?
Brand Extension Era
Most experts agree the Attitude Era concluded at WrestleMania X-Seven. This widely-loved pay-per-view (Dave Melzer awarded it "Best Major Show for 2001") came only a week after Vince McMahon purchased WCW, and featured the era's biggest star, Stone Cold Steve Austin, turning heel in a moment the rattlesnake himself has since claimed he regrets.
However, in the ensuing months, the company struggled to find itself creatively. Sure, there was a failed WCW revival, a hotshot McMahon children vs McMahon senior storyline for control of the entire industry, the return of Ric Flair, and the WWE debut of the original NWO. Still - nothing felt like the logical next chapter.
But exactly one year later, RAW and SmackDown officially took on separate rosters and kicked-off the WWE's first-ever brand extension. This all led to new championships, the return of the "Big Gold Belt," Eric Bischoff's shocking debut in WWE, and a tangible difference in show styles between the Monday night ratings juggernaut and the Thursday night blue brand.
Reboot Rating: (A+) - This fundamentally changed how the business was run. WWE pitting itself against itself (kinda), while giving a platform to a plethora of new talent and styles, was a brand new idea. And it worked!
Monday Night RAW Guest Host-a-Mania
Although this was technically part of WWE's PG Era, it's such an odd anecdote that I couldn't leave it off of this list. On a then-mammoth three-hour edition of RAW, Vince McMahon himself introduced Apprentice superstar and future present Donald J. Trump as the brand new owner of RAW. Trump promised, "I'm going to do stuff that's never been done before. Never been seen before."
But this is where things got weird. Investors panicked - partially because USA Network and WWE sent out an actual press release for a fake business transaction - and WWE stock plummeted 7%. WWE then had to issue a second press release telling everybody that the first one was just part of a storyline. Vince McMahon subsequently "fired" Donald Trump the next week on TV.
Still, one of Trump's campaign-like promises did come to RAW - that being a special guest host every week. Big names like Hugh Jackman, Snoop Dogg, former WWE writer Freddie Prinze Jr., William Shatner, and more, all took over as GM for a night. At the time, Stephanie McMahon famously compared WWE RAW to Saturday Night Live. We even got a Bob Barker-hosted Price is Right-themed RAW!
Reboot Rating: (D-) - This was WWE in peak tailspin situation. Every week the show was more about the guests hosts than building any sort of investment in the storylines or superstars themselves. Sure, there were some great moments that still look great in WWE's video package branding machine (and the wrestling world finally got a sense of closure around David Arquette). But some of these shows were tough to stomach.
NXT Version 1.0/NEXUS
Vince McMahon's game show-style, reality TV wannabe NXT promised to be "groundbreaking… innovative…" and "the future" when it debuted on SyFy in 2010. It paired eight rookies with eight WWE veterans in a competition to see who could survive and make it to the main roster. It was also the WWE Universe's first glimpse of future veterans like Daniel Bryan and… uh… Ryback?
While the show itself was more of a casual curiosity than true competition, it led to one of the most shocking moments in WWE history: when all of the contestants, led by the show's winner Wade Barrett, attacked the main-event of Monday Night RAW and literally tore the place apart.
Unfortunately, Daniel Bryan was fired the next day, and the whole NEXUS faction eventually had to be reset twice due to injuries and general audience apathy. They kept the "game show" alive for 5 more seasons before it transformed into the NXT we know and love today.
Reboot Rating: (F)* - That Nexus debut was pretty cool. Everything else about this (including WWE's head-scratching inability to capitalize on the immensely-talented Wade Barrett), not so much.
* Obviously, though, I'd give modern NXT an A+++ rating. So hold the hate mail and pitchforks, please.