Keeping It Real: Can TNA Pick Up the Ball Where WWE Dropped It?
In case you have not been watching, Dixie Carter and TNA are attempting to revolutionize the wrestling business.
(The part where you say you have heard that before.)
This time, however, it feels different.
They are not trying to do it all in one night, nor are they putting it on the back of any one performer. Instead, they have recognized, it seems, that their competitor has become a promotion that is more concerned with promoting an image than professional wrestling.
WWE is a safe place right now where Randy Orton-punts are banned and Sheamus is the world champion because of what markets he can reach and what image he can promote.
WWE is big and busy and safe and happy.
And TNA seems, for once, hungry.
Like I said, it feels different.
TNA is live for the summer and is actively and rapidly pursuing a reality-based, anything can happen environment. Suddenly, there are no places for wrestlers to hide—not in the back or in the locker room. Suddenly, too, the crew and anyone who works on the show may find themselves swept up in what is going on in the ring.
You know, sort of like it was during the Monday Night Wars. Sort of like it was in the Attitude Era. Yet, for once, it feels like the old times, and storylines are not borrowed or stolen.
It is the feeling I have missed (not another nWo or heel General Manager).
The—here's that word again—feeling I want from a wrestling product is the one where anything can happen to anyone at any time during any segment.
The feeling that a show is truly live and unpredictable and…real.
If a wrestling company were to focus on a presentation meant to seem real, rather than on running for office or image or movies or outside projects, it seems the environment on the show should be a bit chaotic.
Remember when Vince McMahon declared shock value to be dead?
What a power to be able to pronounce death to something no one man birthed. In reality, shock value will never be dead. What Vince McMahon was saying was WWE was going in another direction. They have, in the years that followed, gone far in this new direction.
This should be understood: Shock for the sake of shock has never been shock value because there is no value to that.
But any wrestling promotion or television show that is telling a story with new and fresh and compelling characters will use shock value.
They will do so without trying.
When we look at a character and we believe that character, we hold them to certain standards. When they fail to live up to those standards, we are shocked.
When we did not see it coming, there is value to that shock.
Thus, you cannot entertain an audience without shock value.
In TNA right now, Dixie Carter is leading by example.
Those who do not actually watch Impact or watch it with a made-up mind will never understand just how far out on a ledge she is going to promote the new TNA.
She has offered her character to a role that will change her on-air personality possibly for the rest of her life.
In WWF, an on-air commentator became Mr. McMahon when he screwed one of his wrestlers—Bret Hart, which bled over into the program with Steve Austin.
What Dixie Carter is doing—the affair with A.J. Styles—is just the tip of the iceberg. On Impact, she threatened the job of crew members, threw around profanity and stood in the ring, not to apologize, but instead, to blame Christopher Daniels and Kazarian for ruining the beautiful balance she had between a husband at home and a lover on the road.
It is the way people who cheat actually often feel.
It felt real and uncomfortable as she stood there in front of a live audience and offered herself to any response.
She even physically brought her husband into the story now.
It is a big step when family is involved on-screen. Ask reality stars if you do not believe it (or just ask Kurt and the former Karen Angle).
TNA is putting it all on the line right now to promote a show that feels real. I could explain all day, and the people who hate will continue to do so. That is very much their right.
I’m not saying there is anything wrong with how WWE runs its promotion. I even thought they were headed for a more authentic feel when Brock Lesnar first returned, but they have quickly gone away from that.
What I am saying, however, is that there is a wide lane for anyone who wants to capitalize on all the things WWE is no longer interested in doing.
The thing that most got me about Impact was that A.J. Styles and Dixie Carter left the building after the opening segment.
A.J. Styles no-showed the main event.
That type of move goes a long way to lend credibility to the unpredictable environment TNA is trying to promote with the return of reality-based wrestling.
During the Monday Night Wars, you had no idea when the nWo might appear or who they might attack or when Steve Austin might drive a beer truck into the arena.
Because they were competing for every minute of TV and had to dare you to change the channel and miss what might happen at any given second. They made each segment at least open to the possibility—the feeling—that anything could happen.
The biggest problem I have had in trying to watch Raw or SmackDown or most taped episodes of Impact is that I have known, for the most part, who will be where and when.
I know who will open and close shows. I know who is bad or mean or evil even if I am not given any fresh or compelling reason for why they are behaving like they are (Hello, John Laurinaitis). Most shows go off gloriously and boringly without a hitch.
There is no threat. With no threat, there is no suspense. With no suspense, there is no reason to watch minute-to-minute. (If that’s the case, I can just find the matches I enjoy on the Internet.)
I cannot sell people on Impact simply by saying how much I loved how far Dixie Carter has gone or how Bully Ray spit in the face of a man who is not a wrestler in order to get a match with him or how Mickie James gave Brooke Hogan a look that would have killed her if looks could do such things.
What I have to say is I believed Dixie Carter as she took me down a road that was a bit uncomfortable and even brought her husband into it, and I believed Bully Ray to be the kind of man who spits in the face of a weaker man in order to get his way. And I believed Mickie James was capable of being crazy and jealous and willing to kill.
I cannot write an article and say, "Here, take the feeling I had when I watched Impact last night." I cannot send the feeling to a friend through text message or e-mail.
But what I can say, for once, is if you are not watching TNA or you have a closed mind towards it, you may well be missing out on compelling TV.
For once, if you are not watching TNA, it is your loss.
And the worst part is you would not know. Because words cannot impart the experience of watching wrestling when wrestling is—what is that word—real.
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