A TNA Tirade – Surviving 2011-2011

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Albert Einstein has been quoted as saying, “The definition of ‘insanity’ is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results”. When it comes to Total Nonstop Action Wrestling, I feel like this quote applies perfectly. Three weeks into 2011, TNA has made it seem as if they are blowing the winds of change by giving Ken Anderson the TNA World Heavyweight Prop (once again, I refuse to call it a “championship” until they treat it as such). They have also brought in the internet’s resident complainer Matt Hardy. What have they done with them though? Post-Match Beatdowns and shenanigans in the Impact Zone, which was commonplace in 2010. Different players. Same game.

If TNA wants to be successful and wants to survive the new year, they need to take major strides in the right direction, but they only really need to take baby steps to get there. That’s what we’re going to cover here today.

Before we do that, let’s take a look at what good came out of 2010 because you can’t really know where you’re going until you know where you’ve been. I’m sure I heard that in a movie somewhere. It sounds good, so that’s how we’re starting. In 2010, TNA did a lot wrong (and The Rock means A LOT wrong). However, I went back and reviewed all 52 episodes of Impact from last year to see what trends had changed. To my surprise, I found five things that had seemingly been eliminated that annoyed me to no end when I first started following TNA.

1. Commercial Break Match Teases – You know the ones. TNA’s main event starts at 10:53 and they cut to commercial the second they lock up. After about 3 minutes of commercial, they come back… for literally 5 seconds. They follow that with 2 more minutes of commercials which end just in time for us to see the finish of the match or the brawl that it has turned into. That’s pretty much gone. Kudos.

2. The 6-Sided Ring – Say “it gave TNA its identity” all you want, but let’s face it; the thing was an eyesore. It was small, the ropes looked like they had no give and the psychology of the Irish Whip was all but gone. People didn’t tune into TNA to see a 6-sided ring. I felt like I was watching the last scene in No Holds Barred. Granted that ring had 8 sides, but it was close enough.

3. Abyss “The Cowardly Lion” – Let me preface this by saying this guy is booked terribly. Heel or face; they don’t know what they are doing with him. Here you have the biggest “monster” on the roster, yet he bumps and bumps and bumps from the opening bell to the finish for opponents who are half his size… as a heel no less. That being said, it‘s still better than watching him as a cowardly baby face. That character was as painful to watch as the American Idol Audition shows.

4. The TNA Ranking System – It came and went faster than the Swine Flu Pandemic. From the second Eric Bischoff announced its inception to its inevitable demise, not one bit of it made sense. Had it been solely left to fan voting and reset each week, you might have an idea on your hands. Instead, TNA proved that they aren’t creative enough to work with giving the fans what they want. Instead, the logic behind the voting was as convoluted as an Ultimate X Quadruple Threat Chamber of Horrors Penalty Box Best of Seven Reverse Ladder Sock Full of Quarters Two out of Three Falls Match. I’m glad it’s dead.

5. Monday Night Hopes and Dreams – You came. You saw. You failed miserably.

Now that we have the positive moves out of the way, let’s take a look at what TNA needs to do to succeed in 2011. The question you’re probably asking yourself is “where do you even start?” and that’s more than fair. To figure it out myself I developed a simple algorithm consisting of the number of times Eric Bischoff has appeared on TV divided by the amount of programming filmed at the Impact Zone measured with the square root of Jason Hervey Cam segments times the heel turns and face turns of every TNA Wrestler and subtracting all of which who were once contracted by WWE. I then took that number and multiplied it by the amount of Post-Match Brawls that took place minus guest appearances by James Marsden from the X-Men movies times pi with the amount of episodes opening with a 15-20 minute promo to the 4th power. It looked something like this: 873/2132 -^45a(234×9013.123)2 + 74145=2484 y{1547} 6×43+3-5468787#413%. Simple mathematics really. I applied the formula and ended up here…

Increase Ratings and PPV Buys – Well duh. It pretty much goes without saying that this is a necessity for surviving 2011. “How?” is the question. Your existing fan base isn’t enough. As loyal as they may be, it’s a matter of bringing in new viewers. 1.25 as a “high rating” isn’t going to cut it. Vince Russo seems to operate under the philosophy that what worked during the Attitude Era can still work today. By throwing blood, stipulation matches and title changes at you week after week, we as the viewer have become desensitized by it all. It’s not shocking anymore. As much as the internet seems to hate it, WWE-PG is going to pay off for The Fed in the long run. When they do go back to allowing blood and pushing the envelope with storyline content, it will be that much more effective. What TNA also needs to do is establish a top guy and keep him there. Someone that new fans will love and your current fans appreciate. AJ Styles could have been THAT GUY, but was overshadowed by clownish booking and Ric Flair.

If TNA wants to do something that will gain viewers and offer something different than WWE, look back at Samoa Joe’s Ring of Honor Championship run. He was THEIR champion. He got it done in the ring and people were fired up to see him. His matches came off like a competition (which is what they are supposed to be). TNA tries to squeeze everything into 5-7 minutes matches. It doesn’t work for them. The problem fans seem to have with WWE is that they put too much emphasis on the “Entertainment” and not the “Wrestling”. Then TNA turns around and tries to tell everyone that they offer up something different than WWE. If by “something different” you mean “an inferior product in every stage of the game”, then sure, I’ll buy that.

As for increasing the Pay-Per-View buys, that part is easy. Stop monthly PPV’s and cut it down to bi-monthly. I’m telling you, it will work. It will give feuds time to build, allow you to justify giving away a PPV-quality match on free TV once in awhile and will make the big events seem SPECIAL. Boxing Pay-Per-Views take place every 4 to 5 months with a true major fight happening maybe once a year. Stars have been built in Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather. So when they fight on Pay-Per-View, the event is special and they clear 1 million PPV buys without issue. Why can’t the same philosophy be applied to a wrestling promotion?

If TNA adopted this method, it would certainly be different than what WWE is doing and would give this struggling wrestling promotion some breathing room to avoid constantly rushing through everything. Do you know how much more effective Jeff Hardy vs. Rob Van Dam would be as a PPV Main Event if they gave it a two month build and they didn’t get their hands on each other during that time? I’d buy it out of principle. Look at it this way: If TNA spends the money on producing 3 PPV’s and only gets 8,000 buys per show (which I hear is a realistic number), what if they put forth the effort to create a PPV that projected 30,000 buys because there was a demand? Less expense, more profit. This isn’t rocket science.

Kayfabe – Sean Taylor (of LordsofPain.net) and I agree on this concept and I know a few within the business who feel the same. Kayfabe is what professional wrestling was built on. Granted, the fact that we as fans know the word is proof that the concept is practically dead, so it needs tweaking. Awhile I ago I went on a rant about how Twitter and Facebook have completely obliterated the line. One minute you have Dixie Carter on TV talking about how Hogan & Bischoff are destroying her company. A few weeks later, while a result has yet to play out, she’s on Twitter talking about how she is in attendance at live shows and proud of everyone in TNA. You can’t have both and expect people to take your product seriously.

The solution? Kayfabe us! We as fans WANT to be worked. Whenever something catches us by surprise, we acknowledge its greatness because we never saw it coming (see John Cena’s Royal Rumble 2008 return). Some stories getting out to the internet are unavoidable because people in the know can’t keep their mouths shut. What do you do about it? Leak fake stories! A story recently hit that said TNA is doing away with the X-Division. How much better would it be if they run an angle that looks like it will end with the demise of the X-Division, but to have the result be that the division not only looks stronger, but is featured more prominently? We’d be like “Wow… they got us”. Instead, Dixie Carter goes on Twitter and says, “I don’t know where that story came from. We’re gonna make the X-Division better this year”.

Bottom Line: Nobody else is playing up kayfabe. Don’t let your heels make appearances at autograph signings. Don’t let Eric Bischoff do interviews with internet podcasts to discuss the “direction” of TNA. Stop spoiling every new signing by announcing it on your website and/or Twitter. Had you done any of these things 30 years ago, you would have been blackballed. Change the game. Not to put Ring of Honor over again, but they ran an angle a few years ago with CM Punk right before he went to developmental. Word got out that he signed with WWE. The fans gave him a hard time, so he acknowledged it on a show. On what was supposed to be his last night in ROH, he won the World Title and turned heel on the fans, threatening to take it with him to WWE (the same story was recently done with Tyler Black). It was brilliant. Here the fans thought they knew what was gonna happen, then BAM… swerve. He would eventually go on to lose the title before reporting to OVW, but that was definitely a case of the fans not being as smart as they think.

Take The Show On The Road – This is another thing I have been saying constantly over the past year, but it bears repeating. I’m actually amazed that TNA has been somewhat proactive and has plans in place to tape Impact at different venues. Watching Ken Anderson cut his in-ring promo was brutal. Not only because of the content (shooting on Triple H and failing to mention the real reason he was let go), but because the crowd was radio silent. Go back and watch it. There were people with their arms folded. If you can’t get a reaction from a crowd, you don’t belong in the business, let alone being a World Champion of any kind. At the same time, The Impact Zone is exhausted. It’s the same people in the same building at every taping. You need to get out as fast as you can.

With taking the show on the road, a few things on the production end will NEED to change to help the product. Lugging around the elaborate set from Orlando isn’t going to be financially beneficial to TNA. That’s why Raw’s old sets were so basic. It wasn’t until the Fed became a billion dollar company that they started amping up the production. Once again, baby steps. Bring your ring, bring your cameras and put on a wrestling show. What was cool about ECW in its heyday was the gritty production style. It forced you to focus on the in-ring action. It made even the most meaningless matches seem important and physical. Putting on an ECW Tribute at The Impact Zone in Orlando is like when your parents start using slang. It’s not cool anymore.

You don’t need big arenas either. Give it an intimate feel. If you’re selling out small venues around the country and have to turn people away at the door, that’s a good thing. In The Social Network, they talk about the appeal of Facebook being that it was “exclusive”. Not everybody could get in when it first started. You needed a Harvard email address. When it traveled via word of mouth, more universities requested access to Facebook (based on the demand of students). In just a few short years, it has grown into a multi-billion dollar company.

Do Not Sign ANY Former WWE Superstar Unless Their Name Rhymes with The Smock, Shmatista or Clone Bold Cleve Boston – I’m serious. Stop it. Dixie, if you do it again, I’m gonna take your nose and rub it in the mess it creates just like I would a puppy. It’s getting completely out of hand. Matt Hardy is not going to help you. You know what’s less appealing than The Hardy Boyz as a babyface tag team? The Hardy Boyz as singles wrestlers. You know what’s less appealing than The Hardy Boyz as singles wrestlers? The Hardy Boyz as a heel tag team. Develop your own talent for the love of GOD. Samoa Joe, AJ Styles, Christopher Daniels, Desmond Wolfe and Awesome Kong all took a back seat to Kurt Angle, Jeff Hardy, Ken Anderson, Rob Van Dam and Mickie James in 2010.

If TNA creates a developmental system and polishes their talent before they put them on television, they won’t have to rely on members of the Future Endeavors Club. The fast-paced “Nonstop Action” isn’t allowing the live audience to take anything in. Besides, when these former WWE Superstars show up, it’s as if they forget how to work a crowd. You need agents that care and can teach your established talent how to hold a crowd in the palm of their hand instead of getting in the ring and just doing move after move. That’s why WWE’s house shows are so beneficial to the talent. They wrestle the same guy in city after city, but they are doing it to hone their craft. The result? Cleaner matches, less blown spots or maneuvers and better storytelling.

People sing the praises of Tyler Black and his work on the indies all the time. He can do a few flips. Good for him. I’ve seen him wrestle and frankly, the guy could use some work when it comes to psychology. Had he signed with TNA, he’d be on TV in two weeks doing the same thing he’s doing now. Instead, he signed with WWE. When he finally is on the air, he’ll know how to work that style and make his maneuvers mean something. Look at it this way: CM Punk was a seven year veteran before he signed with The Fed. He STILL spent 10 months in developmental before being called up to WWECW. You know what? He’s better for it.

Well there you have it. Four easy bullet points that can take your wrestling promotion from “awful” to “great” in a matter of months. Will TNA adopt any of these brilliant philosophies in 2011? Probably not, but for their own sake, they probably should.  But please, TNA. Do it for my sake. If you don’t it will be another 12 months that will take several more years off my life and accelerate the grayish tone that some of my hairs have recently acquired. I’m 26 years old. I don’t want that. If 2012 rolls around and I look like Eric Bischoff, I’m pointing the finger at you, TNA.

Before I call it a day, I just want to say a quick “thank you” to Brady and everyone here at TheBradyHicks.com for welcoming me as part of the team. It’s gonna be quite a year.

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