This past April, Total Nonstop Action Wrestling took its wrestling seminar program, called Gut Check, and turned it into a monthly segment on the Impact Wrestling TV show.
The segment features a young, unsigned wrestling talent in a background piece and a match against an established TNA talent on one episode and a judgment on the unsigned wrestler, by TNA Agent Al Snow, TNA Senior Vice President of Programming and Talent Relations Bruce Pritchard and TNA Color Commentator Taz, on the following episode. If two of the three say yes, the talent is awarded a developmental deal with TNA,
So far, there have been six Gut Check segments. Three wrestlers (Alex Silva, Taeler Hendrix and Sam Shaw) have been awarded contracts and three have not.
However, one of the ones who wasn't chosen, Joey Ryan, is involved in an angle with Snow.
The segment hasn't really caught on with the public, as it has made many of the same mistakes that previous shows of its kind, like World Wrestling Entertainment's "Tough Enough" and Ultimate Fighting Championship's "The Ultimate Fighter," have made in the past.
Here are some things TNA should consider to make Gut Check more appealing.
1. Change It from a Segment to a Completely Separate Show
There is really no way that the audience is going to get invested in any talent off of just one background segment and a match. It is why the crowd has only reacted to one talent, Ryan, who has an established history on the independent scene.
An audience will need weeks to know these wrestlers and grow to want to root for them to get a deal with TNA. With only one week, the wrestlers are typically met with an indifference that is not their fault.
TNA's cable television partner, Spike TV, has shown an obvious interest in the cheap-to-produce reality television market with shows like Bar Rescue, Flip Men, American Digger and the like. Spike also has shown an interest in reality competition shows such as Tattoo Master and Ultimate Fighter in the past.
It's not unrealistic to believe Spike TV wouldn't have an interest in another show spun off from one of its most successful programs.
The Gut Check show would be similar to The Ultimate Fighter with a collection of talent living in the same house (cut off from TV, cell phones, etc.) and competing for a contract.
2. Start Using More Established Talent
One mistake TNA made when it started Gut Check on Impact was not making it clear that the segment was to look for wrestlers to give developmental contracts to. It was simply said that talent would receive TNA contracts.
Because that distinction was not made, fans were confused when a wrestler was awarded a contract and seen again. In reality the wrestler went, or in some cases returned, to the TNA developmental territory, Ohio Valley Wrestling.
At the time of this writing, Silva is the OVW Television champion, Hendrix is a multi-time Women's Champion and Shaw recently debuted.
The confusion was understandable considering that talent that were involved in Gut Check before it became a television segment, such as Jesse Sorenson and Crimson, went straight to the main roster.
If TNA wants to have Gut Check as a television property, that is how it should be.
It is something that obviously hurt Tough Enough over the years as talent would win the competition and then head to developmental, losing all the momentum they received from winning the show, and not appearing on television again for months, years or not at all.
The solution is to involve talent with the experience on the independent circuit so if they win the contract they can hit the ground running.
It also would make for good television as you would have talent that have struggled for years on the independent circuit who know that this may be their one shot at being able to make a comfortable career out of wrestling.
These would be wrestlers know what it is like to drive 200 miles to a show that will barely pay enough for the gas. They'll be hungry and that hunger will make for good television
With that pressure and tension trapped in a house, drama would be a forgone conclusion. What wrestler wouldn't think he was better than the competition and not be afraid to express it?
Also, while independent wrestlers don't have incredibly large fanbases, they have cultivated some fans. That would at least ensure some eyeballs would be watching.
You could make it even more interesting by sprinkling a couple of less experienced talents who would upset the field even more. The key would be to raise the stakes, which leads to....
3. There Can Be Only One (or Two)
Something I always thought hurt shows like Tough Enough and The Ultimate Fighter, from a dramatic standpoint, was the lack of high level pressure.
While only one or two talents would win the contract, far more than that would end up with a spot with the company. When the first person to be eliminated is the only one currently on the roster (as was the case with the latest season of Tough Enough where Ariane Andrew was the first person eliminated and is currently on the roster as is Broadus Clay Dancer, Cameron) it's hard to be too pressured to win.
It should state in the contract that only the winner gets a contract and anyone else has to wait at least a year or more to sign. That's the kind of challenge that would bring out the best (and sometimes) worse in the competitors.
That's good television, which the current incarnation of Gut Check really isn't.
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