About eighty five percent of the Attitude Era in the World Wrestling Federation was completely lackluster at best and sucked at worst. But that point was irrelevant because the fifteen percent that was in fact written good, was in fact something that really captivated the interest of wrestling fans. A lot of sins can be forgiven elsewhere on the show if your main event scene, your top storylines, are really hot and really engaging.
Why the WWF Attitude Era Was a Success
Every attempt to replicate the WWF Attitude Era has been a critical flop, at least during the peak of what would be considered Attitude Era from 1998-1999. The second half of the Attitude Era from about late 1999-to Wrestlemania X-7 was an entirely different animal, and really had they gone on in the precise same direction as the early Attitude Era, it would have gotten stale a lot longer. Still attempts to remake it, whether it be during Vince Russo's run in WCW, in later 2001 or into 2002 on RAW, or throughout TNA Wrestling has not worked out the best.
To me there were two key problems with these shallow Attitude Era retreads. Number one, they saw something was a success and replicated it, but it came across as a pale imitation, lacking the heart of the original Attitude Era. It was all about the edginess, the shock value, much like how an eight year old attempts to be adult by saying swear words. The problem is the Attitude Era was not completely about the edginess even though it was plenty edgy. It was about casting professional wrestling and presenting it in a way that no one has ever seen it. The Attitude Era did start in essence back in WCW, with the NWO, and obviously the Attitude Era has to tip a fair bit of credit from ECW. It took promotion genius of Vince McMahon, sculpting the ideas of Vince Russo into something grand, with some borrowing from those two sources along the way.
Which lies the second problem. Russo and McMahon were the winning combination for the Attitude Era alone. McMahon has done great on his own throughout many times but his attempts to reinvent the Attitude Era without the help of Vince Russo back in 2001, 2002, were a dismal failure. And Russo without McMahon to pull on his leash, to reign him in just a little bit, to sculpt his grand ideas into something with a bit more structure. Vince Russo does deserve a miniscule credit for giving Vince McMahon bits of clay to work with, to sculpt during the Attitude Era. But Vince Russo is someone who can provide the clay, he is not a sculptor by nature and Vince McMahon tends to be unable to get the best quality clay to work for an ambitious project to this nature.
That is not to say that if Vince McMahon rehired Vince Russo tomorrow, they canned the PG rating, and created a brand new Attitude Era, things would work out for the best. The magic is gone. That in itself is another reason why the Attitude Era succeeded. The 1990s were the time of the Anti-Hero in comic books and other mediums. Venom was the Lethal Protector, Wolverine was the man, the Punisher punished the scum the city, Lobo rolled people, and the list goes on and on. In 2012, the Anti-Hero era of the 1990s is not looked on that favorably other than people who lived it during their childhood. And it wouldn't really work well today and most who watched it would see it as a pale imitation of the original era.
In the peak of the Attitude Era, 10 million fans tuned into RAW on one night that Nitro was preempted. Only slightly over a million and a half watch Impact Wrestling, which is the closest thing to the Attitude Era. Granted, TNA has its fair share of problems why people won't watch, people have long since moved on from wrestling, but the truth of the matter is that the majority of fans from the Attitude Era enjoyed it, but times have changed and they do not want a cheap imitation of what defined their youth as a wrestling fan.