wrestling / Columns

Dark Side of the Ring Co-Creator Evan Husney on Fulfilling Ambitions of Season 3, No Word Yet on Season 4, This Season’s Most Emotional Story

September 30, 2021 | Posted by Jeffrey Harris
Dark Side of the Ring

Author’s Note: This interview was conducted before the Season 3B premiere of Dark Side of the Ring.

VICE TV’s hit wrestling-themed docuseries, Dark Side of the Ring, has finally returned to complete the second half of the show’s blockbuster third season. The second season was incredibly successful, becoming the highest-rated show in the network’s history. The show has also inspired new spinoffs, including Dark Side of Football and Dark Side of the 90s. Season 3 has already generated some incredibly personal and intense stories regarding the lives of the late Brian Pillman and The Dynamite Kid.

Season 3 of Dark Side of the Ring was so gargantuan that co-creators Evan Husney and Jason Eisener ended up having to split it into two halves of seven episodes apiece. Season 3B began on Tuesday, Sept. 16 with “The Plane Ride From Hell.” Series executive producer Evan Husney recently joined 411mania for an exclusive interview to discuss the show’s return for the second half of Season 3, the challenges of completing 14-episode season during a global pandemic, along with the goals he and Eisener set out to achieve for this show that has become a major part of the mainstream wrestling lexicon (You can check out 411’s last exclusive interview with the show’s co-creators HERE):

Jeffrey Harris: What were the central challenges for Season 3?

Evan Husney: Well, I think in many ways, this was the most challenging season to produce not only just because of the pandemic. We had to travel the country multiple times over in an RV. We didn’t take any flights, and also just the general safety of going into our interview subjects’ homes and shooting all of our re-enactment. But not only on top of that, but doing it in our largest season of 14 episodes. So, you know, we’re just a few weeks away of wrapping up our production, so it’s been quite a challenge from the outset.

Jeffrey Harris: What were you thematically looking to accomplish with Season 3?

Evan Husney: With this season, coming off of Season 2, which we approached sort of as, ‘If we never get another season of Dark Side of the Ring, let’s go for the biggest stories that we want to tell; the ones that we can’t live without not doing. Mainly, the Chris Benoit story, the Owen Hart story, you know, things like that, and not really anticipating getting a third. And then when there were conversations about doing a whole third season, it was like, ‘Alright. Well, now this will give us the chance to kind of dig a little deeper and do some of the more obscure subjects while also telling some of the bigger ones that we had previously. So, it was an opportunity for us to get a lot of personal favorite stories in there like FMW, which is coming up this season. And then it also opened doors for us to be able to tell stories like the Grizzly Smith story. I don’t think we would’ve been able to do that without the accolades from the previous seasons. So yeah, we just wanted to continue the previous tradition of the show, kind of just explore more territory. And without the pandemic, I think we would’ve been able to travel outside the US to do more stories in England, stories in Japan, which we did do a few of, but we probably would’ve done more had we actually been able to travel more.

Jeffrey Harris: I would say what sets this show apart from other wrestling documentaries or docuseries is interview subjects. It’s not every day that Dr. Martha Hart will grant interviews to discuss Owen Hart, or a legend such as Antonio Inoki. What can you say about your crew and being able to achieve some of these amazing interview subjects for these installments?

Evan Husney: Well, I think on top of producing the series with the challenges of the pandemic or whatever, but even outside of that, the biggest challenge of making Dark Side of the Ring is something that’s very important to us: getting the right voices to tell the story. And to not tell the story if you don’t have the right voices, or firsthand for a particular story, or a crucial family story. Like, you can’t tell the Owen Hart story without Martha, and for us, it’s always about getting that — building that trust. And I think for us, we really pride ourselves on trying to develop relationships with these family members or the wrestlers. And I think with the progression of the show and the various seasons, we’ve been able to do build credibility among the wrestling community. But sometimes that credibility among wrestling fans and wrestlers themselves doesn’t really carry over to say a family member. So for us, we just try to be as genuine and passionate as we are about wrestling. And it’s really important for us to get those voices, and that’s kind of the thing that we really try to make sure is there in ever story that we tell. There probably are several stories that we tried to tell over the years that we just can’t because we don’t have access to that individual, or that individual has passed on, and there isn’t enough firsthand information that isn’t too old to the story, and so on, so forth. So for us, that’s the most crucial aspect to it.

Jeffrey Harris: Would you say this is a more ambitious season than Season 2?

Evan Husney: Hmmm…very much so because of the challenges of producing it, but also just because it was 14 episodes. Before Season 3, there were 16 episodes of Dark Side of the Ring, and Season 3 added 14 more. So, it’s basically like doubling the amount of Dark Side episodes there were previously in a very short amount of time; like half the amount of time. So for us, it was amidst the global crisis really trying to create 14 more hourlong documentaries in just over a year, and also the scope of the stories, having crews in Japan and shooting re-enactment set-pieces, some of which are in this upcoming half of the season that I think are our most ambitious set-pieces. I mean, you see a SWAT team blowing up a biker gang hideout in the Johnny K-9; something I thought we never would’ve figured out how to shoot in previous seasons.

Of course, with all the exploding ring set-pieces in the FMW episode, we literally tried to recreate some of those special effects for the re-enactments, bringing in special effects teams and having explosive charges around the ring that we used to shoot the show. So, we really tried to amp up the visual presentation of the show as well. Even in the Plane Ride From Hell episode, we brought in half a plane to shoot all the re-enactments in. I think it was all-around just a much more ambitious approach to the show.

Jeffrey Harris: Was there an episode in Season 3 that you found to be the most emotional story that really pierced you to the core?

Evan Husney: Well, last season for sure, between Benoit and Owen, were some of the more raw, emotional moments for me capturing, and that was just an unforgettable experience. Jason [Eisener] and I always say through our interview subjects, ‘We always learn from our interview subjects.’ And we’ve learned out from our interview subjects. We’ve learned a lot from these family members. We’ve learned a lot about grief, more than anything, in making this series in seeing what a lot of these families have been through. But this season, I think the most emotionally difficult, for our whole team, was the Grizzly Smith episode [“In the Shadow of Grizzly Smith”], just in terms of the subject matter that episode dealt with. I mean, it’s probably the least wrestling-centric episode we’ve ever done. And I know for Jason Cook, our editor who edited that episode, who had to live in that world every day for several months, it was hard. And for us, interviewing the Smith family and having them relive those traumatic moments is not easy, but we comment them for being so brave and to coming forth telling those stories with the auspice of helping people; anyone who is in a similar situation. So, all of that was — that whole episode was a sweeping emotional journey of the likes that we had never experienced.

Jeffrey Harris: Do you think any of the show’s interview subjects have maybe found some closure or some catharsis from being able to tell their stories finally?

Evan Husney: Absolutely. That’s the hope for us. We never want to just be exploitation vultures circling over these potential subjects and just getting them to tell us about their darkest times without having their be some catharsis, or some positivity, a light at the end of the tunnel that can inspire somebody else or is just good for them. I remember at the end of filming the Chris Benoit episode, David Benoit — Chris’ son — doing interviews and talking about how he felt like a weight has been lifted off his chest because I’m pretty sure our interview with him was maybe the first time he had even talked about a lot of this stuff period. And you know, I think that is helpful, but I also think the show is cathartic for those in the business who aren’t directly involved in some of these stories. When they can see their former colleagues, what they went through, and maybe understand them a little bit differently there. A lot of people who saw the Ultimate Warrior episode or the Jake The Snake Roberts episode, and really saw both them in a different light, maybe there was a little bit of catharsis there too. So, that’s really kind of one of the key sort of aspects that we look for with our show, which is we want to be able to create that platform where people can talk about these difficult subjects, but to get it out in the open and have the truth be a healing sort of thing.

Jeffrey Harris: Now that VICE has made the Dark Side spinoffs with Dark Side of Football and Dark Side of the 90s, since you have created this successful, multi-season docuseries and continued producing it during the pandemic, have the other teams for those shows reached out to you, and do they ask you and Jason Eisener for advice?

Evan Husney: Yeah, we’ve definitely had some chats with some of the teams from 90s and Football and sort of relaying our experiences and what we found works, doesn’t work, and our sort of approach and methodology to the show. And yeah, it is sort of wild to consider that when this was the germ of an idea five years ago, our hopes were just to tell Bruiser Brody’s story. And to see how this has kind of just grown and not only are there spinoff shows, and now Dark Side of the Ring is being mentioned on wrestling programs like AEW, it’s wild. It’s just something I find myself kind of just pinching myself over many times because it’s just wild to see. Wild to see.

Jeffrey Harris: For the first half of that season, I had heard some of “The Collision in Korea” stories before, but I’d never heard some of those stories recounted in that way. And I’ve rarely seen a documentary just immerse me in the way that way and transporting me into another time and place such as that time in North Korea. Was that level of immersions something you wanted to achieve with that episode?

Evan Husney: 100 percent. Thank you for saying that. That’s something that we always try and do with the show. The reason we have the re-enactments look that way, and the reason we have the music so front and center, we really want the show to be transportive. I mean that’s really kind of the greatest compliment. We want to take somebody into the memories, into the journeys, of these wrestlers. With North Korea in particular, I think we pushed it even further than we normally do because I think we just got inspired by Scott Norton in the episode telling us it was like The Twilight Zone. That was just an offhanded remark he made while trying to explain his experiences, but for us, that became kind of the style that we wanted to approach. We wanted it to feel like a dream. Like this was something — these wrestlers woke up in a dream, and here we are in some other far-off land that is completely upside down and different from what they’re used to. And we wanted the re-enactments to look like that. We wanted to have the music kind of evoke that kind of 1960s Twilight Zone style, and I actually think that was kind of cool; just kind of fully pushing the style of the show super far. And I think we kind of did that with some of the other episodes coming up too.

Jeffrey Harris: Can fans expect future Confidential roundtable recap episodes and director’s cut episodes following the completion of Season 3? Also, do you want to go ahead and announce Season 4 as well?

Evan Husney: *Laughs* I would love to be able to announce Season 4 today, but we’re still waiting for the official word on that one. But as far as the other, Confidential, I would love to do more. It was a fun experience flying down to Tampa a few weeks back and being in the Manatee Civic Center with Chris Jericho, where the UWF Beach Brawl took place, which was a mark out moment for me for sure. But just being able to talk about the shows is always great because there’s just so much more story to tell than you really have the time to tell in the 44 minutes. And for us to have the opportunity to be able to spout all the stuff that we couldn’t fit into the episodes, it’s a lot of fun for us.

As far as Director’s Cuts, I think it’s too hard because No. 1, there’s no time. We’re always making the actual show, so to go back and to do a Director’s Cut, there’s a real big issue with that because when we shoot re-enactments, we shoot re-enactments for just the parts that make the final show. So, to extend the shows any longer, we’d have to get back in the studio. We’d have to make more score, [and] we have to just do a lot. We talked around some other ideas because I know fans really want to see more and hear more interviews and hear a lot of the things that we have. A lot of the interviews that we do are three to four to five hours long with each person. So, maybe we’ll come up with, I don’t know, some other way to get bonus material and extra stories and extended things. Maybe not in the Director’s Cut format, but maybe we’ll find another way to do that.

Thank you to Evan Husney for taking the time to speak with us. New episodes of Dark Side of the Ring Season 3B are currently airing on Thursday on VICE TV. The next episode is “The Double Life of Chris Kanyon,” which debuts on VICE on Sept. 23. Here’s the synopsis: “In a culture that celebrates machismo and negative gay stereotypes, wrestling innovator Chris Kanyon kept his own sexuality a closely guarded secret for decades.”