Monday, 3 December 2012

Did going live have an Impact on TNA?

Welcome to my first blog here on TUW. I've known Mark for a wee while now, so when the chance came up to do some blogs for him, I couldn't refuse, so first, here's a little background on me. I've been a wrestling fan for over 20 years and you might have stumbled across some of my writing before. I’m quite opinionated and not afraid to stir things up, so if that’s the kind of thing you’re into, then good stuff! It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, watch out! Haha…

Let’s get down to business. For my first blog, I wasn’t sure what to write about, but then I stumbled across the results of four week’s worth of Impact tapings, which suggests to me that the live Impact deal is over. I didn’t see any announcement about it, but I’ve been busy over the last few weeks! A writer’s life is hectic ya know! Since it appears that live Impacts are a thing of the past, at least for the time being, I figured that this was as good an opportunity as any to reflect on the impact that live TV tapings have had on TNA (see what I did there)!

When TNA announced earlier this year that they were going to be taking Impact live throughout the summer, I thought it was an outstanding idea. There’s something completely different about a live show compared to one that’s taped. Let’s be honest, in terms of WWE, who actually sits down and watches Smackdown? It’s probably less than half of the people who watch Raw. The fact that fans can go on dirt sheets and get spoilers for the show probably has an effect on that. If something good happens, they might tune in. If not, they won’t.

TNA needed to do something different to try to get a larger audience to their product, so they figured going live was the way to do it. A lot of people were sceptical about their ability to pull off a live show. Wrestling forums and fans on Twitter blasted their decision as stupid before they’d even seen a live episode. I’ll be honest and say that usually, I’d have been one of those fans, but this time, I wanted to wait and see what the quality of the first few shows was like before I formed my opinion. Maybe that’s a sign of me mellowing in my old age, I dunno.

For those of you who don’t know, here in the UK, we get Impact 3 days after it airs in the States, regardless of whether it’s live or taped in America. For the first few live Impacts, I stayed up and watched them live. Don’t ask me how. You probably know. I just didn’t want to feel that I’d missed out on anything. It’s been a long time since I felt like that about a wrestling show.

Almost immediately, you could sense that there was a difference in the overall feel of the show. It felt fresh. It felt like every single TNA employee went out there to prove that they could provide an alternative to the stale WWE product and for my money, they succeeded. I’ll run through a quick list of successes, as well as the things that I didn’t like, to show you what I mean.

Nobody can argue that over the last year or so, but especially when Impact was live, the quality of the wrestling on show was top-class on a consistent basis. Men like Austin Aries, Zema Ion, Bobby Roode, James Storm, Kurt Angle, AJ Styles, Christopher Daniels, Kazarian, Samoa Joe, Magnus and Bully Ray among others had amazing TV matches throughout the summer, regardless of who they were in the ring with. It felt like they were out there to tell a story in the ring, instead of being there just to fill time.

Another thing that stood out during the live Impacts was that TNA listened to their fans. I know that some of you might think “yeah, but other companies listen to their fans as well”. To a certain extent that’s true, but TNA took that one step further when they pushed Austin Aries to the main-event this summer. Aries has been consistently amazing since returning to TNA last summer (2011) and there’s no doubt that he’s one of the most talented wrestlers on the planet, but I just never thought that he’d get the chance to become a main-event player.

Without going out of their way to push him, Aries got over with the crowd. More often than not, as well as having the best match of the night, Aries was getting the best reaction of the night too. I honestly believe that going into the live Impacts, TNA’s plan for Bound for Glory was set in stone: Bobby Roode would walk in to Bound for Glory as TNA Champion and James Storm, courtesy of winning the BFG Series, would challenge him for the title.

All of a sudden, there was this massive groundswell of support for Austin Aries and TNA had to do something: either listen to their fans and give him a shot, or keep him down. TNA took a hell of a brave decision and listened to the fans. They gave the Impact Zone what it wanted and I’ll wholeheartedly admit that when Austin Aries won the TNA World Heavyweight Championship at Destination X, I marked out like I was a child again. That’s the loudest that I’ve heard the Impact Zone for years.

For what it’s worth, I think TNA made the right decision by putting the belt on Aries and they showed that they weren’t scared to listen to their fans and give them what they want. Some other wrestling companies would do well to do the same thing once in a while and give us something unexpected.

The other thing that really stood out to me was the crowd reactions and involvement on the live Impacts. It goes without saying that when TNA tapes a month’s worth of Impact shows, they generally do two shows in a day. From what I’ve read, when it’s being pre-recorded, TNA tape two episodes on a Monday and two on a Tuesday. That’s four hours of wrestling that those fans in the Impact Zone have to sit through live. It’d have an effect on anyone, never mind someone that’s trailed around Universal Studios for a day beforehand! I’ve been to Orlando around this time of year before and it’s pretty warm and the theme park itself is MASSIVE, so the crowds aren’t the best when the show is pre-taped. Having said that, there was a noticeable change in the crowds for the live shows and the wrestlers fed off the crowd. Everyone involved played their part and helped to make the show come across as more polished and professional.

It’s fair to say that not everything worked out. There was that cluster-fuck of a storyline between AJ Styles and Claire Lynch. Whoever thought of that storyline should be fired. It made no sense. The actress was awful, AJ looked disinterested and uncomfortable and if it wasn’t for Kaz and Daniels rescuing the whole thing with their excellent promos, it could’ve done more damage than it did.

There was also the ridiculous decision to get Mizz Hogan involved with the Knockouts Division. How she got a genuine role within the Knockouts Division is beyond me? Yes, I know her father is Hulk Hogan, but what does that prove? What has she brought to the show? I’ll tell you in my own particular Scottish style: she’s brought hee-haw to the show. Fuck all. Nobody would notice if she wasn’t there. She looks like a drag queen, her acting is more painful to watch than Claire Lynch’s was and if I have to hear her say “Hey girl” to a Knockout one more time I swear I might kill someone.

I feel quite bad for bringing this next bit up, but it’s about Hulk Hogan. Now, I understand that the man is a bona-fide legend in the business and without him, we might not be watching wrestling today. I can’t argue with that. I was never his biggest fan, but I respect everything he’s done in the wrestling business. However, there is no part of me that wants to see another Hulk Hogan promo in my life, whether it’s pre-taped backstage or live in the ring. I don’t want to see Hogan take an hour and a half to walk to the ring and ramble on for 15 minutes saying “brotherrrrr” 40 times when he gets there. I just don’t believe anything he says. I don’t think he’s even got a clue what’s going on half the time. I’m not saying that TNA should get rid of Hulk Hogan, far from it. I just think there are other ways he can be involved with the company which don’t involve him being a full-time on-air performer.

One thing I haven’t mentioned here is TV ratings. I couldn’t put them as a success or a failure. Here’s why. Newsflash: the ratings of TNA Impact are irrelevant. Wrestling is completely different to what it was back during the boom period 15 years ago. Society’s different. We watch TV in different ways because technology has got to the point where you don’t have to sit down at a specific time to watch wrestling. You can sit down at your own convenience to watch your favourite wrestling show.

Some of you might say “how can you call the live shows a success when TNA haven’t caught up to WWE”. That’s a fair question, but it’s pretty redundant. NOBODY should have expected TNA to make a dent in WWE’s market share. As a company, TNA are nowhere near the size of WWE and don’t have the same mainstream appeal as WWE. In terms of growth, TNA are 10 years old this year and in a much better place than they were when they started out. If they continue to improve, both in and outside of the ring, then one day, they might be able to “catch up” to WWE, but that’s not really important. Not right now anyway.

Going forward, there are a couple of issues that TNA need to address, at least in my opinion. The first is the Jeff Hardy contract situation. It’s been widely reported that Hardy’s current contract runs out in early 2013. Whether you agree with the fact that Hardy is champion or not (including his ridiculous belt), he’s a huge asset to TNA. I won’t give my opinion on him because to be honest, I’d be here for hours talking about it. All I’ll say is that TNA need to make a decision quick, so they can start planning the next 12 months. They need to know whether Hardy is a part of it or not. They can offer him anything he wants, but the decision is ultimately Jeff’s and he’s got a history of taking off whenever he wants to, whether it’s from WWE or TNA. Personally, I reckon he’ll take off again, but that’s just what I think.

The second thing TNA need to sort out is where the current Aces and 8’s storyline is going and when we’re going to get a reveal. It’s well known that wrestling fans are impatient. We always want things now instead of waiting to see how things pan out, however, I think 6 months is long enough to wait for the reveal of who’s behind Aces & 8’s. The fact that Impact is being pre-taped again means that if TNA do decide to reveal who’s behind it any time soon, they’d be stupid to do it on Impact. It goes back to what I said before about fans being impatient. If they know the show is being taped, they’ll go looking for spoilers to satisfy their curiosity and once they find out, some of them might not watch the show. TNA need to do the reveal soon and they need to do it on PPV if they want people to care.

Overall, I think that TNA taking Impact live was an excellent decision. It showed TNA what they can do in terms of a live show, and what they need to work on to make it better. They’ve got all the tools there to make a great TV show, in terms of production and on-air talent, they just need to find a way to finance it. I think that sadly, the only way they can do it is to move out of the Impact Zone and charge entry to their TV tapings.

What do you think? Feel free to leave a comment on the blog or find me on Twitter @george_sltd. Before I go, thanks to Mark for letting me write on his website. If things go to plan and he’s happy, then I’ll be writing regularly for all you lucky, lucky people here on TUW!

Thanks for reading.

Peace out,