His poignant but underwhelming return points up the dangers of hype, says Mike Flaherty
Triple H
Credit: Triple H: Rich Freeda/WWF

Triple H rejoins the WWF

The WWF’s return to New York’s Madison Square Garden on this week’s ”RAW” (Mondays, 9 p.m., TNN) was funny, bloody, unpredictable, and momentous. Unfortunately, the event that Mr. McMahon and Co. wanted us to be excited about — the return, after eight long months, of Triple H — was not one of them.

One reason for that disappointment is that the show had already been stolen long before the Game hit the stage at 10:55. The night’s opening segment, with Vince McMahon’s hilarious imitation then pummeling of Ric Flair, was an instant classic. In addition, we saw William Regal return to lay a nasty beating on Edge; Spike and hometown boy Tazz snag the tag titles from the Dudleys; and Austin and Undertaker announce their inclusion in the upcoming Royal Rumble.

But the night’s funniest — and most telling — highlight came courtesy of Kurt Angle, who, in a motormouthed backstage tirade with Christian, questioned why Triple H’s return was such a big deal, downplaying the seriousness of the quadricep injury that kept the Game out of action for eight months. He then proceeded to mock the cloying ”Beautiful Day” promos the WWF had been using to plug his return.

It immediately seemed Angle was speaking what a lot of fans had been thinking, as the ponderous U2 spots, along with the WWF’s relentless hyping of Triple H’s return for weeks on end had become more of an annoyance than an enticement. Not surprisingly, then, viewers had been led to expect a cataclysmic event, a grappling moment they would remember forever. Instead, he showed up, he preened, he posed, and engaged in a (very) brief scuffle with Angle to end the show, and left millions of fans thinking, Was that it?

Too bad that the WWF has, since ”Smackdown”’s August 1999 premiere (at least), behaved increasingly like the hype-addicted purveyors of conventional network TV, who feel compelled to alert viewers ad nauseum to celebrity guest stars, ”very special episodes,” and shocking plot surprises in order to goose ratings. It’s understood that the WWF could use a ratings jolt, and that the world of prime-time TV grows more competitive every day, but there’s a danger to hyping presumably big events so excessively.

I’m sure lots of people tuned in last night, but I’m just as sure that a lot of them came away disappointed, and they may pay a lot less attention to future promotional assaults that seem designed to cause a brief Nielsen blip but risk long-term disillusionment. Now, that’s something the WWF can’t afford these days.

What do you think?

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