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411 Exclusive Interview: Dark Side of the Ring Producer Evan Husney on Constructing the Chris Benoit Episode, Working With Owen Hart’s Widow, Their Fandom for the Wrestling Business (Full Transcript)

April 7, 2020 | Posted by Jeffrey Harris
Dark Side of the Ring Promo Image

Dark Side of the Ring has been a tremendous docuseries and look at some of the industry’s most infamous stories. Season 2 recently debuted on VICE TV, and the viewership doubled from the average for Season 1. The show’s producer, Evan Husney, recently joined the 411 Wrestling Interviews podcast for an exclusive on-on-one interview with Jeffrey Harris, where Husney discussed the successful launch of Season 2 of the hit docuseries, which debuted with a two-hour premiere on the Chris Benoit tragedy. Here’s what Husney had to say on the new season for Dark Side of the Ring, potential plans for Dark Side of the Ring Season 3, working with Martha Hart for the Owen Hart episode, and more:

Jeffrey Harris: Dark Side of the Ring Season 2 has just started and the ratings have been great. The social media reaction has been insane. How does that feel for you right now as one of the creators:

Evan Husney: Oh man, it’s been great. It’s been overwhelming, but overwhelmingly positive, you know, for us. Just to see the response the episode’s been getting, and to see a lot of people finding out new information about the story. And also it’s been great to see more people open up about the story and talk about it. And for me, that’s just been awesome to see.

Jeffrey Harris: The Chris Benoit episode, after I watched it, I said this is the best wrestling-themed documentary I’ve ever seen.

Evan Husney: Oh wow. Thank you.

Jeffrey Harris: I do not say that lightly, Evan. This is a really big story. It’s not just one of the darkest days in wrestling history, it’s a tragic, human story. I think the way the show did it, it’s different from some of the regular episodes. It felt different. You had two hours to really dive into all of this. I think what was done here was very special and what you were able to tap into, specifically, giving David Benoit and Sandra Toffoloni the chance to tell their stories because I feel like in the last 13 years, we never really got to hear their stories. So, how important were those aspects for you and Jason [Eisener, co-creator and director]?

Evan Husney: Oh yeah. For Jason and I it was incredibly important to have Sandra and David be a part of the piece. You know, from the beginning in trying to tell the story, we always wanted to approach it by telling the inner circle of the people closest to Chris Benoit. That was the way we wanted to approach the story, as we wanted to really get their point of view.

And one of the things that we discovered while we were doing the interviews and talking to the subjects, is we found that through opening up with this that they were also victims in this story. Because they’re the ones left behind that have to come to terms with this, and try and process how, you know, in some cases your best friend, or your brother-in-law, or even your father was capable of these acts. And that to us was just really started to feel like, this was the area in which we wanted to approach the story, rather than bringing this all back up again and approaching it from a sensationalist point of view or like, an expose or anything. Because I think there’s a lot to look at though the lens of today, which wasn’t examined originally back in 2007.

Jeffrey Harris: In constructing the Benoit episode of Dark Side of the Ring, did you want it to look and sound different from the other episodes?

Evan Husney: Well, I mean I think just overall with Season 2 there was a lot that we learned from Season 1, and so, I think there’s a little bit of differences throughout Season 2 in just how we’re — just based on what we’ve learned. Like new tricks we want to try, whether that’s with the way we’re doing reenactments or some of those different approaches. I think we just really wanted this episode to feel as personal possible, or I guess I should say, as intimate as possible with a lot of the subjects. So because we had two hours, which is something we never had before, we wanted people’s interviews to — like there’s even a couple sections in David Benoit’s story, where he’s talking about where he found out about the news for the first time.

We really just wanted people’s interviews to just play out and to linger and for you to feel like you’re kind of on the other side of the camera with us, hearing these stories for the first time. So, I think that we did kind of approach it in the most intimate way we wanted to, where some of the episodes, you only have 44 minutes. You gotta bang through a lot of information in a quick amount of time.

Jeffrey Harris: Some fans have also been curious about David’s younger sister, Megan Benoit, and also Benoit’s first wife. Did they wish to remain anonymous for this story? Or do you know much about what’s happened with them?

Evan Husney: Yeah, as far as I know, it was the family’s wishes for them to not want to be a part of this. And that was totally fine by us. We didn’t question it any further than that. We just basically extended the invitation to them through David, and David was the one who really wanted to participate. So, it was just kind of left at that.

Jeffrey Harris: You said something very profound to me in your interview with TV Insider about this show. You said that you [and Jason Eisener] are wrestling fans and that you’re not trying to do a hit piece on professional wrestling. And I feel like that is why this show works so well. Even when you look at wrestling and you see some of these unsettling stories, wrestling fans can still be very protective of the industry. I think the show acknowledges the industry has had its issues while still appreciating the people and the performers therein, I believe wrestling fans can feel that, and I feel that fans can definitely feel that with this show.

Evan Husney: Yeah. I mean, that’s always been our hope. You know, we definitely have always been huge fans. Jason and I have grown up as huge fans of wrestling. We’re still obsessed with wrestling to this day. All the action figures we buy on a weekly basis, you know. [chuckles] We’re still very active into being wrestling fans every day. And for us, you know, that’s what got us into this, I mean really. And that’s what kind of guides us is just our passion for wrestling in making this show.

That being said, just as wrestling fans are — especially hardcore wrestling fans — we’re just as fascinated with the behind-the-scenes aspects as most are. And that’s what also drove us into wanting to make the show, just being so fascinated with the behind-the-scenes aspect of it. Because you know, there is drama that happens in the ring that’s on the page, but then there’s also this other dramatic, emotional world that happens outside of the ring. And for us it was like wanting to really explore that human side. And the more interviews we did in season one, especially with family members.

We’d always find that hearing from family members that haven’t really gotten their voices heard or haven’t really put their voices out there. That seems to always be some of the more fascinating material And so for us, it was like this constant journey in exploring the human side of all this world that we love. Because it is so fascinating, and wrestlers — you know, they risk so much for this form of entertainment. Just stepping into the ring, like, I’ll admit. I’ve taken a few bodyslams over the course of making this show, and every time, I just can’t believe that this is what a lot of these guys put themselves through. And so for us it was just like trying to balance and show just really what the rise is, and the human side of all of this. Because there is so much to this world that’s so unique to wrestling. It’s really unlike any other form of entertainment or sport, or otherwise.

Jeffrey Harris: Even right now, when every other sport in the world has shut down, we still have WWE and AEW on every week when arguably it’s not the safest time to be doing that type of entertainment. But they’re still going out there and performing for the fans.

Evan Husney: Exactly. Again, just risking so much.

Jeffrey Harris: Season 1 of Dark Side of the Ring was so good, and it looks like you’re leaving it all in the ring so to speak for Season 2. But we interviewed about a year ago, and you and Jason Eisener told me that the Dino Bravo episode was the one you had started work on, but it didn’t quite come together for Season 1. We are getting the Dino Bravo episode for Season 2, so I’m very happy about that. So was there a story for Season 2 that didn’t come together that we can maybe see for Season 3?

Evan Husney: [laughs] Oh man, it’s so hard to start thinking about Season 3. Just in the fact that we’re still finishing Season 2. But now, I can’t think of like one particular story that didn’t come together. There definitely were fallback stories that we had in place if you know — you just never know if you’re gonna get access to a story in order to tell it in the best possible way. But we were fortunate enough that with the episodes we really wanted to tell and the ones we wanted to explore, at the end of the day, we were able to get pretty much everybody on board for what became Season 2. And you know, with Season 1, it was a different experience because we were supposed to make more episodes for season one. But then the order by the network was shortened, so we had to kind of put a couple episodes on the shelf, which thankfully, we’ve now been able to finish. So nothing that really we started work on that we weren’t able to finish this time around. We’re just still trying to finish the ones that we are airing, so…

Jeffrey Harris: Another important story we’re getting for Season 2 is Owen Hart. When I heard that Martha Hart, Owen’s widow, was filming material for this show, I was shocked. I almost couldn’t believe it, and I’m very grateful that she has come forward for this series. I heard from Talk Is Jericho that you had to think very carefully when you were corresponding with her and writing your statements out like an essay. Can you speak on that process, and did it shock you at all when she agreed to come forward and work on the show?

Evan Husney: Well, I mean it was just a very basic email that I had sent to her about that we really wanted to tell this story and have her be part of the show. And she sent back a number of questions for me to answer, and it wasn’t — like, I was just really impressed by that. No one’s ever really put us to that before. And I just thought that was incredibly thoughtful. And it was also incredibly helpful, I think, for us to really be like — OK. Because we know the Owen Hart story. The big, big story in the world of wrestling. But it kind of forced us to really hone in exactly how we wanted to tell the story, and the way we wanted to approach it: with all the sensitivities within that story. So for us, it was an amazing exercise. It was really, really cool.

And so I did that and then once she responded to that, we actually got together and we spent time together in Calgary. Which was amazing. Like, she’s just such an amazing person, just really really great person. And so is Oje, her son too, is incredible as well. We just hit it off, and then it really just felt like there was good trust between all of us in terms of telling this story and kind of working together in that way. And that was great, and so it was just a really good experience. It’s one of the episodes that we’re still finishing right now amidst everything in the world, but it’s one that I’m extremely proud of. I think how it’s been progressing and coming along, I think it’s definitely going to be an episode that viewers are definitely not gonna want to miss.

Thank you to Dark Side of the Ring Producer Evan Husney for taking the time to speak with us. Dark Side of the Ring Season 2 is currently airing on Tuesday nights on VICE TV. The next episode, “Brawl For All” debuts on Tuesday, April 7.

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0:00: Introduction
0:15: On his reaction to the response to the Chris Benoit-focused season premiere
1:16: On how important it was to get David Benoit and Sandra Toffoloni’s story told in the Benoit episode
2:18: On the episode’s different approach to the Benoit story
3:53: On the presentation having a different feel in season two, making the Benoit episode feel more intimate
5:18: On David Benoit’s sister and mother not being in the episode
6:18: On not making the docuseries a hitpiece on professional wrestling while still taking an honest look at the industry
9:49: On whether they had any episodes that didn’t come together for season two that they’re considering for a possible third season
11:41: On getting Martha Hart to agree to work with them on the Owen Hart episode

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