wrestling / Columns

Where Is TNA’s Audience?

May 20, 2016 | Posted by J. Onwuka
Dixie Carter TNA Wrestling

Hey hey hey it’s the Column of Super J! That’s right the Super J is back tonight every night every hour every minute every second in the Super J day. I am your host/writer J Onwuka (‘Super’ is my dad thank you very much) and today we are going to talk about those three letters we all know and love, that’s right: T N A. Wow. Let’s motor on in.

To be honest I’m never sure if I should call TNA/Impact Wrestling ‘Orlando’ or ‘Nashville’. Probably neither. Got to call it something, though. As wrestling fans it’s worth our time to pay some attention to Nashlando. They’ve always been in the corner of my eye, never a focus but an important footnote. Recently I’ve seen an uptick of people swearing that ‘TNA is good now, if only people would watch’. I’ve checked along with some reviews and they’ve mostly been average. Middle of the road. Now, those two things don’t jive, do they? We’ve all heard of the ‘critical darling’ which gets overlooked by ‘the mainstream’. But if the critics aren’t bowled over, where does that leave TNA?

For this column I’m taking a look most specifically at the May 17th episode of Impact Wrestling. Reviews of the show are likely to be thick on the ground and, really, that’s not my style. What I’m going to try to do is explain why TNA isn’t increasing its viewership the way that some might expect. Of course I’ve got to start with a bit of a recap and I’ll touch on the talents they have but TNA’s failures to capitalize during their time at Destination America and now on POPtv have a lot more to do with their booking strategies than what gimmicks they feature on their show.

To summarize briefly, we started Impact off by being reminded of the TNA World Heavyweight Championship match that will headline the show, pitting “The Destroyer” Lashley vs the champion, “The Captain” Drew Galloway (I cannot get over this fucking nickname who decided this, he sounds like a children’s book character). Then Willow came out to do a promo, and Jeff Hardy came out to beat him up. For some reason a ref came down and there was a match that ended in about six seconds. Jeff tried to unmask Willow but more Willowses came and then one revealed himself to be Matt Hardy who has been gone not longer than a month and in that time turned into Jack the Ripper. I am not doing this program less justice than it deserves, probably the worst thing all show. There was Mike Bennett who first had a really long promo at his house with Maria. Then he had another promo where he called Earl Hebner out because he had to beat a Hall of Famer, so he forced Hebner to fight him. I will freely admit that Bennett has great control of the crowd and this segment was funnier than I want to admit. Anyway eventually EC3 came out for the save, which led to Bennett bringing Tyrus out to start the next match in his demon battling series.

EC3 and Tyrus fought each other in a last man standing match which EC3 won after making the furniture sit on Tyrus for a change. There was some Knockouts stuff and Velvet Sky got fired after losing to Sienna. It kinda came out of nowhere, I feel like the major women’s feud has been Maria vs Gail & Jade but neither of those two appeared. We got the debut of Allie as well as a backstage person which is highly disappointing considering how thin the Knockouts roster is right now; I’m sure she’ll transition to the ring but more active people right now would be nice. There was an X Division tag team match which surprisingly Eddie Edwards and DJ Z won. Then Eli Drake did his segment. Then the main event. What a shitshow. I say that only for the lumberjack aspect and ending. A big time match ending in a schmozz full of random people jumping everywhere just doesn’t excite me.

As a whole show, it was fine. Generally I don’t watch Impact and this wouldn’t convince me to start. But it isn’t the constant parade of nonsense that it used to be. The thing is, when it was cool to hate on TNA (even cooler than it is now), they had a much larger audience. What happened?

The station switching didn’t help and neither did losing a lot of their top stars. The general perception is that as soon as the proverbial money taps were closed, TNA went into a freefall. Perhaps that’s true. It’s beyond the scope of this column to speculate on that. What I do think I can speak on, as a viewer and as a writer, is the way that they build their shows on television. Even though I’m going to concentrate my comments on this week’s Imapct, I have been keeping up with the show in the past several weeks (on top of my general keeping abreast of news), so I do have an idea of what they have been doing.

That said, there are three particular things they do that need to be corrected: they do not put on eye-catching matches, they do not take the time into account when building up matches, and they do not make themselves dissimilar from WWE.

Let’s break that down.

THE WORD ON THE MARQUEE

Professional wrestling is the name of the game and it is always, always, always what sells the tickets and moves the merchandise. In terms of TNA in particular I can think of two instances when that proved to be especially true: in 2010 when they ran the 5 match series between Beer Money Inc & Motor City Machine Guns, and the Bound for Glory series in I believe 2012, possibly 2013. I can’t remember praise for TNA being as unanimous as it was when those series ran. And what was the draw there? Pro wrestling. Nothing but. I’m not saying that the show needs to be totally stripped down but if we’re going to talk about how to get people to watch a wrestling show, we’ve got to start with the wrestling.

And TNA’s wrestling is… fine. People aren’t really given the time to rise above that. There’s a sort of sleeper legend match between Al Snow and Val Venis on a 90s Raw that I think goes for just about 6 minutes and is phenomenal. That’s rare. Even though Val Venis is a crazy person and Al Snow is Al Snow, they are probably two of the best mechanics that worked during the 90s & 00s. You can’t expect everybody to bring out that kind of stuff in 6 minutes. Not even Ric Flair is gonna give you a barnburner every time if you only give him 6 minutes. Just by the time they give these matches, TNA is not allowing its talent to deliver the sort of matches that might get people talking.

Trevor Lee is an A#1 talent and if TNA does not have him on an ironclad contract they need to get moving. (Trevor Lee should, incidentally, run far away from such a contract because I’m sure he could do amazing anywhere if not tied down.) The Wolves are two of the best going today. James Storm has provided a lot of top matches. Galloway, Lashley, EC3, Bennett, all can do the job. Gail Kim, Jade, very good wrestlers. What was the last really standout match that anyone had? Certainly nothing that clicks on my level, that is, of a fan who keeps up with news but doesn’t watch. And that’s the major problem.

You can say that the show is good all you want but until I hear something that interests me on the show, I’m not going to watch. I feel that this is the case with most fans. To reach them, a big buzzworthy moment needs to happen. It’s those moments that really transcend TNA’s current fanbase which are lacking a lot. I don’t necessarily buy into the ‘long-term burnout’ idea. New enthusiasm might not translate immediately into a gigantic resurgence but I think that you can always recapture the magic, as it were. So if TNA wants to get back on their feet, they’ve gotta start spotlighting their good matches. Now if they put on a good match tonight, they can create buzz for tomorrow, but if I wasn’t gonna watch the show anyway… does it matter? That’s where the second part comes in.

WORKING IN TIME

I hate the Attitude Era because it killed pro wrestling. Full stop. I’m sure somebody’s going to have something to say about that statement but I’m not going to argue it in particular right now. The reason I bring it up, and so forcefully, is because its car crash philosophy is a huge reason that TNA always seems to be in some steep decline. Time used to be that you could announce a match to happen several weeks out and you would build up to it, make it important. Not just that, your top guys would be popular enough that the match would almost sell itself. You would use your television show as a way to advertise your live show and, more importantly, your big show, whether that’s televised or not. People say that we are in a new age of wrestling TV, or have been since the Attitude Era. And a major reason that I hate Attitude is because that statement is not true.

The point of a wrestling TV show has never changed: to sell the big match. Sure, now we want and even expect a wrestling show to be a worthy watch on its own, but wrestling has always attempted to be that. Any show lives to sell its big moment. In a weekly comedy, each episode is usually different, that moment is at the end of each episode. In a series, they build up to the finale. A novel builds to that climactic moment where Sherlock shoves Moriarty over the cliff (it happens in every novel). Wrestling’s ‘big finale’ is the big title match with everything on the line. That’s the goal.

The car crash TV show thing robs all the suspense. I think we’ve seen Lashley and Galloway fight once an episode since they decided they were going to run Lashley at the title a couple weeks ago. In this episode alone, we started with a fight, then we had an actual match where there was no finish. You might then say they’re building up to the next one, but the big problem here is that if the first movie is a flop, the sequel rarely does better, and nobody’s explaining away John Carter‘s bomb by saying ‘well they’re just getting heat on him and he’s gonna get it back in the next one’. And in my eyes, that main event was a flop. Lashley and Galloway weren’t setting the house on fire to begin with, but it’s usually the finishing stretch that the match lives and dies on. Instead of seeing it between Lashley and Galloway, we got a giant demolition derby. Again, you can argue that they’re ‘saving the finish’. Okay, but where’s my guarantee that it won’t happen next time? Cages, lumberjack matches, bullrope matches, nothing ever proves effective in pro wrestling. So now I’m asking myself if I really want to devote time to watching them go at it again when I’m not even sure of getting a satisfying finish.

When Impact goes you feel like you can’t look away or else you’ll miss something. Everything flows into the next. Bennett goes to the ring to call out Hebner, he beats up Hebner until EC3 arrives, EC3 is attacked from behind by Tyrus and they go right into a match. I get the conceptual appeal of this format because it sort of forces you to watch it all so as not to miss anything. Same thing with putting all the challenges ‘next week’: build anticipation. Where I think TNA fails is that they don’t give themselves any time at all. They smash everything together but they forget that if people aren’t already watching, how are they going to feel like they ‘missed something’ with your car crash trickery? In essence TNA created a show that may be very rewarding for a dwindling number of diehards while being somewhat opaque for anyone who might just flick across it.

I’m not suggesting that TNA needs to start booking itself like the AWA. What I am saying is that TNA needs to figure out how to book in order to drive up the heat for something that will happen several weeks out. This doesn’t always mean just announcing it. This feud between Lashley and Galloway, for instance, just manifested itself in a few weeks. They aren’t longtime rivals that constantly butt heads and now it’s spilling over. They aren’t really even the two most dominant figures, if anybody in TNA can be described as dominant. It feels like just… a match. TNA should set its outlook further and try to create a situation where fans themselves might ask ‘what if X vs Y ever fought with Z on the line?’ Once you have people doing that, all you need to do is book what people already want to see. But if you keep throwing your toys at one another full-speed, eventually they’re a heap and quite a few are broken.

THE LITTLE BROTHER

Ultimately, I do not think that TNA wants to be like WWE. I think that TNA wants to be a very successful wrestling company and it looks to WWE as the model. And to that end, I think they actually have done exactly what WWE would have done in their position. When their pockets were deeper they were able to and usually did scoop up every bit of indy name talent that sniffed the WWE, everybody that came out of WWE, and anyone else with a considerable buzz. This helped them most particularly with their Knockouts and X-Division because TNA was able to grab pretty much the cream of the crop, given that WWE was focusing almost exclusively on male heavyweights. They’ve tried to get TV wherever they can, they’ve tried to tour as much as possible, they’ve attached themselves to foreign partners, they’ve clung like hell onto PPV. Yet nothing has worked. The assumption is either that WWE is directly screwing them or that TNA is wildly incompetent. My opinion is that the WWE business model is not actually that good.

Historically, the New York wrestling promotion has always been weird because New York City fans were not that interested in ‘straight-up’ pro wrestling. The guys that developed up there were often not well regarded outside the promotion, standouts being Antonino Rocca and early Bruno Sammartino. That attitude absolutely carried over to the WWE which I am not the first to characterize as a traveling circus. Now, pro wrestling does have circus roots so maybe this is all in the form. The thing about the circus is that it comes around once a year. If it stayed in town you couldn’t stand it. The fact that WWE is so successful now takes some wind out of that argument, but my opinion is that Vince McMahon succeeded because he had deep enough pockets to buy people outright, either talent or TV contracts, and he controlled the money center of New York. That is to say, I don’t think that WWE booked itself into success as much as bought itself there. That is obviously off the table for TNA. So it needs to stop looking at WWE for tips on how to do things.

People do not want to see the McMahons talking, or even Heyman talking. Not really. I mean, I wouldn’t tune into a show of Paul Heyman yelling. Fans don’t want a 10 minute segment at the top of every hour. The reason that TNA does them is not because they feel like their fans want it, it’s because WWE does it. Nobody was doing this kind of stuff regularly before WWE and I would say that even now most promotions don’t rely on it. It’s just WWE and TNA. I don’t know anybody who thinks that the Money in the Bank stipulation is more exciting than the ladder match itself. These things are entertaining, sure, but they’re not why people go to watch WWE. People watch the show to see action, particularly between the ropes and with a ref. WWE makes it look as though the fans all want to see the McMahons constantly because that’s all they promote. We get told that their segments did the highest ratings of the night in columns that leave out the steady decline of ratings over the year or the last couple years. Don’t pay attention to how WWE does it.

Being unique is good but it isn’t essential. I personally don’t believe that people need a promotion to be unique. What it needs to do is put on great wrestling matches. That’s what it’s for. That’s the angle that I’m coming at this from. Sure, the six-sided ring makes TNA look different, the Feast or Fired briefcase is a different match, what the hell is a King of the Mountain title I don’t know so yeah that’s different, but none of those things are going to convince people to watch Impact. Obviously, even despite WWE’s flaws, they still do manage to put on good wrestling when they need to, like right now after a disaster of a WrestleMania 32. Impact should avoid the WWE model, as I said, but it’d be great if once in a while they’d pull a real amazing match out of their hats.

TNA has the talent to make a good show, and I’m sure that they’ve put on a good episode or two in the last couple months. It’d be easy to say that they just need to ‘book a better show’ and their problems would be solved. I think that would help but there are so many ways to book, so many ways that can work, that there’s no point in saying what they ‘should’ book next. All I’m saying is what I want to see. I want to see a fantastic match. I’d like it if TNA could communicate ‘hey an awesome match is coming up’ in time for me, a non-follower, to get up to speed and perhaps get excited, and a week is not enough time. And I’d like it if a promotion didn’t think I needed to see wrestlers conversing in a ring in order to sell a story. I don’t think these wants are that unique, but being unique isn’t essential.


Because I’m going to change how things work at the Super J Column, I’m going to take some time to explain and I will try to be brief. The column itself is over so feel free to click away if housekeeping isn’t your bag.

I write the Super J Column because I love wrestling and I wanted to talk about something other than ‘what my favorite X is’ or ‘what if Y and Z fought’? My hope is that the article makes people think and want to discuss. I’ve always enjoyed comments, especially those which show that the person thought about an aspect of wrestling in a new way. Similarly, I have several unpopular opinions and I realize this. People will disagree with what I say. That I welcome and I’m sure there are those who I’ve disagreed with in the comments with no problems. That’s all great.

This is what I don’t want. This is someone who, as the link shows, used not a bit of evidence or even fair reasoning when constructing his ‘argument’. You can see throughout, point by point, that his only recourse is to say that I ‘simply didn’t understand’ or that I am just ‘a cynic’. He does not once use any piece of the movie unless I have already referenced it, and he only does so to say that I have read it wrong. He never brings up why he interprets things differently. There is not one shred of backing or support in what the movie shows that he discusses.

The thing is, I said all this immediately but people didn’t believe me. This is because he uses a wall of rhetorical devices whereas I, as a rule, do not. The only people who need to quote an argument point by point in order to reference it are people in grade school, which I know because I was taught to do that in grade school, and you are taught that way because children do not necessarily hold all that information in their heads. He uses a series of ad hominem attacks which I’ve helpfully pointed out, trying to make it seem as though it’s something intrinsic in me that makes me see the movie wrongly even though I actually referenced, you know, what happens. I’ve been told to stop moralizing by someone who regards the entire movie as a morality play, a presumption he only makes by allusions to other movies and to his own feeling. I generally do not use ‘you’re projecting’ as a response but this is, at the very least, a clear example of someone not taking his own advice.

If you read that link, though, you’ll see that all my words are addressed directly to the poster. If you can check the Medium post’s date you’ll see that the last time I touched that post was several days before the 17th. It was not my intention to make the post public here and I am not doing it (exclusively) out of spite. My intention was to simply make a reply. I put it on Medium because, as you can see, I used screenshots of his posts rather than do the Disqus quoting business. If it was, I would have titled it something other than “I Am A Huge Idiot”, which is the way I felt after lowering myself to digging out this bullshit.

Two of my replies did not make it to the site. One did, and if you care to go back to last week’s article you can see the link posted up there. It’s the only one of the three where I did not say fuck. I can guess why the other two were rejected.

Listen: if I ever cursed at you in the comments, it’s because of one of three reasons. 1) that’s how I fucking talk, grow the fuck up. 2) you are trying to show off in my comment section and are being a giant jackass. And 3) if you do have a point swimming around in all that drek you call conversation, once I start cursing at you, you’re going to get to it really quickly. Trust me. If you were trying to shut me down, you would have just brought evidence to prove that I was wrong, a thing that this person never even attempted to do. It’s manifestly the best shot. If you don’t take it, I have to assume that either you’re too stupid to take it or that you can’t.

I will never be harsh to someone who simply disagrees but if you pretend like you’ve read through my argument and saw all these flaws, I’m going to call you out on that. Being nice would do nothing for me. I would have to post something as long as this each and every time I wanted to rebut someone like this jackass in a ‘nice manner’. I am not willing to do that. He doesn’t deserve it. What he deserves is to be told to fuck off, which I did.

But he’s not the real reason I’m writing this. To be honest, I’ll ‘debate’ idiots like that all day, whether the majority of people think I’m right or not. What I will not stand for is having my replies deleted by the moderators and me not having the support of staff. I’m sure they think this is petty and petulant, and that’s their right, as well as anyone else. But if someone comes into my comments and starts making insinuations about who I am, what I’ve done, what I want out of life, etc, I reserve every right to tell him to fuck himself.

And yes, now you will say ‘oh but if they weren’t true why do you care’ we all know the trap it’s old and boring.

This guy is not the first one to try and show how smart he is in the comments and he will not be the last. The reason I even wrote that whole rebuttal is because one too many people thought this guy was the bee’s knees for the simple reason that he said what they already thought, not that he had somehow refuted my argument. I wrote it to show that yeah, if I wanted to take the time, I could do an asinine point-by-point takedown of your arguments, but I would rather just say ‘hey fuck off you fucking idiot’ and be done with it.

If I had a free hand I wouldn’t care. If the moderators would prevent people from loading up the comments with overlong screeds full of veiled insults and digs at my character, I’d let them handle it. But the moderators of the site have spoken and I talk too vulgar for all of you. So from here on in, leave your comments and I’ll pick up the ones I like to respond to on my next column.

My personal preference is to go into the comments. I don’t like to put on this air of being superior by speaking from ‘the pulpit’. If you have a question, I like to answer it directly. But I’m not gonna cherry pick if I go down there. I gotta call out the shitheads as well as talk to people who are cool. If I can’t do the first it makes it look like I’m okay with people like this asshole crossing people up. I’m not.

So. I wanted to keep that brief but once every couple columns people who think they’re really fucking smart pop up and yeah, it’s irritating. I’m not gonna talk at you again so go blabber up the comments if you want. If you’re that sort, trust that I will never choose one of your stupid posts to put on the site and ridicule, even though that’s really what you deserve.

Like usual, if you’ve got something to say, just leave it in the comments. If you think you’re smart, remember that you’re see-through.

WCP fans we’re coming back baby. Have a bit of funding so I’ll be buying the books, hitting the books, and finishing up my research. Look out for it.

Peace to the peaceful.
J

article topics :

Impact Wrestling, TNA, J. Onwuka