Making a good wrestling stable is hard. The idea of throwing superstars together is simple, but the execution needs to be handled with a deft touch in order to keep story lines flowing and the audience invested. At best, the result is a long-running series of matches that elevate a story line, keeping weekly television compelling. At worst, it's a short-term distraction that nobody cares about.
So ... what's a stable?
Everyone's idea of a stable might be a little different, so lets define our terms here. In this case I'm speaking specifically about a group of superstars united under a single gimmick. Each individual can have their own personality, but their characters have the serve the stable.
Superstars might get additional microphone time to promote their agenda, the leader could be an old star or manager. The key conceit is that every member is unified under a single banner. The crowd always needs to be invested in the idea that these superstars are a package deal.
Number of superstars doesn't play a huge role here; neither does competition. Everyone in the stable could be a single competitor, but they always appear as a group when it comes time to cut extended promos.
The Golden Age
The stable concept has always been around, but was executed best at the height of the Attitude Era. WWE had groups so dominant and held with such reverence that Road Dogg and Billy Gunn can still ride their Degeneration-X gimmick 15 years after it's start. Not only does it work, it flourishes, as crowds continue to repeat every word of their "Ladies and gentlemen" introduction. It's also important to remember that the Monday Night Wars were fueled on the back of arguably the greatest stable there has ever been, the nWo.
Then the candle was blown out.
In the last decade there have been only a few great stables. The rest have been dumping groups for low-level guys on the roster used as a collective to mass individuals together who didn't have a place. Remember when Finlay and Regal were a part of "King Booker's Court"? Yeah, us either.
Herein lies the problem with a lot of stables from the mid-2000s. None of them had purpose, and few gave any reason to become invested. Throwing a group of over-the-hill superstars together to force interest is a cheap pop at best, quickly falling to earth when the audience realizes there's nothing left in the tank.
Things are different now. The Wyatts, the Shield and to a lesser extent, Evolution are proving there's still a place for the stable, provided the concept can follow a few basic tenets.
Rules of a great stable
1. Have a single superstar at the center and make sure the audience knows who it is
At the height of DX, the focal point was Triple H. He not only led the stable, but he brought legitimacy through osmosis. Charisma was DX's calling card, but the group was kept afloat through him constantly breaking the gimmick's constraints to push for a title -- this brought legitimacy.
There always needs to be the one superstar you know will break out on their own. Why? It creates tension. Fans love when the curtain is lifted and watching one person rise above the ranks consistently creates internal drama that keep people tuning in. When will they leave? Where will the push come from? It makes people care, not only about what happens to that individual, but how it will define the group.
One of WrestleMania XXX's best moments came when Cesaro defined himself and stepped away from The Real Americans. It was something everyone knew was coming after his appearance in the Elimination Chamber, but it was a matter of how and when.
Who led The Corre?
What about The Spirit Squad?
Nobody remembers; nobody cares.
The Shield will always be Roman Reigns' launching pad, so too The Wyatts for Bray.
2. Make sure everyone in the stable is actually good
It seems like a no-brainer, but it really helps when each member is a good superstar in their own right. Sure you need a few hype guys to elevate the top stars around them, but too often a good idea is ruined by diluting the mixture.
Look at The Ministry of Darkness. The idea of having The Undertaker lead a stable is a great premise and the idea of him having a cult-like following is sound, but they put trash around him. Mideon and Viscera were a terrible tag team and while The Acolytes were good, they only seemed tangentially linked to 'Taker. It just didn't make any real sense.
It lasted four months before the WWE realized there wasn't enough individual talent to keep the idea afloat, but arrested to the idea they took it a step further by creating "The Corporate Ministry". It's was one of the most non-nonsensical unions in recent memory that attempted to fuse a successful dominant entity with an ugly vestigial tail. Three months later it was over.
3. Know when the party's over
Breaking a stable is just as important as forming one. The key to keeping a group in the public's favor is never having it overstay its welcome. If that's achieved you can bring them back over and over again without consequence, done poorly you have the short-lived nWo era in the WWE post-purchase that makes the audience feel like they're being tricked in order to buy more T-shirts.
The Nation of Domination is a great example. Its early incarnation was great. Sure it was
a little extremely divisive, but ostensibly being the Black Panthers in sports entertainment drew huge heat. Farooq was the perfect leader and the transition in leadership to The Rock pushed him into the stratosphere, but the WWE continued to beat the dead horse after Rock got his push to main event status.
Nobody remembers the final days of "The Nation" nor should they, Owen Hart led the group for some unknown reason and finally it was just D'Lo Brown and Mark Henry -- which was exactly as appealing as it sounds.
Remember the Four Horsemen? Yeah, their final iteration in 1999 was Ric Flair, Chris Benoit, Dean Malenko (all okay) ... then referee Charles Robinson and David Flair. Woof.
Things to avoid
1. Being weird is a shitty premise for a stable
This is a well the WWE keeps trying to draw water from and it's proven to be a cess pool. Time and time again we've seen the concept of weirdos try and form a stable and it just doesn't work.
There's a key difference between being counter-culture like Degeneration X and carnival freaks like The Oddities. People want to be a part of the former, because that's cool -- nobody wants to be in the second. It's like the difference between laughing with someone and at someone, too often that's confused.
The Brood is a classic example of being weird for weird's sake, although they had larger issues dealing with the fact they were basically riding the wave of popularity from the movie Blade and Gangrel was awful. What about the MIA in WCW? A group of weird gimmicks layered on top of a military theme? How the heck didn't that work!?
This is the primary concern for Adam Rose entering the WWE. Vignettes have been running for weeks on Raw about his "party time" persona and it's far too easy to transition that into leading a stable of furries and jobbers that will hurt his potential.
2. Heath Slater is wrestling stable polio
This goes back to the idea that sometimes you have a guy you just don't know what to do with. Slater is a superstar the WWE desperately needs because he's a great jobber and sells things well without complaint, but sticking him in a stable just brings a bunch of suck to anyone he's with.
Herein lies the problem: We all know he's a jobber. Fans are too smart these days to have the wool pulled over their eyes and when you make him leader of a stable it immediately brings the assumption that everyone with him is a jobber.
Regardless of whatever locker room politics are behind Drew McIntyre disappearing, being saddled with Slater isn't helping him. Perhaps Vince's pet project will never be what Mr. McMahon thought he would be, but there is no use pushing him while part of 3MB.
3. Don't spin stables off of stables
When a promotion tries to splinter a stable to double-up on success it's not smart, it's greed. The endless run of nWo offshoots killed the premise in WCW. It's not a "world order" when you have five different groups fighting each other.
This applies to cross-promotion hi-jinks too. It's not a threat anymore thanks to WWE monopolizing the business, but groups like The Filthy Animals were formed only to be WCW's answer to Degeneration X. If the group can't get over on their own, drop it. It looks dumb otherwise and fans are too smart.