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Revisiting TNA's Move To Monday Nights

In January 2008, just over two years before TNA "iMPACT!" moved to Monday nights, I wrote a two-part column stating that TNA could directly compete with WWE and its flagship show. Of course, that statement came with an asterisk - I believed TNA needed to follow the blueprint for success that Eric Bischoff outlined in his autobiography, Controversy Creates Cash, in regards to successful launch and run of WCW Nitro.

Needless to say, then, back in November, I was happy to hear that Bischoff was part of the deal bringing Hogan to TNA. Certainly, I thought, he has learned from his past mistakes and can build on his past successes.

Boy, was I wrong.

Let's take a trip down memory lane (it's right next to Know Your Role Boulevard and Jabroni Drive). I'll re-post some of the suggestions I made in 2008 (highlighting them in italics), and then comment on whether or not TNA is adhering to these suggestions.

Suggestion #1: Be more unpredictable and realistic

First off, Impact should be live, or at least do the every-other week thing that Raw was doing back in the day. Here’s what Bischoff writes (says into his tape recorder) in his book about broadcasting Nitro live: “I’ve always thought that something on live TV is more interesting than the same thing taped. It’s hard for performers to be spontaneous when they’re being taped. We’d also have trouble achieving the unpredictability and spontaneity that kept jumping out at me from the research on a taped show, since by the time we aired, word about what happened would have gotten out.”

So far, so good. The live shows have a certain air of unpredictability that the taped shows don't have.

Now, by being more unpredictable, I don’t mean, “Who’s A.J. Styles going to side with? Tune in this Sunday to find out!” It doesn’t matter if it’s unpredictable if no one cares. And by being more unpredictable I don’t mean having Traci Brooks pretend to faint like she did at Genesis in the match between Robert Roode and Samoa Joe - it only served to distract the audience and the workers. However, it could have worked if the announcers had acknowledged the fainting AND noted that Roode cared more about his match than the well-being of his girlfriend/manager.

Has "iMPACT!" been more unpredictable? Yes, but most of it has had to do with surprise returns/debuts: Sting, Hardy, RVD, Mr. Anderson, Brother Runt, and Flair, Hall, Waltman, the Nastys, Orlando Jordan, and Sean Morley (from January 4th). Eventually, they're going to run out of new (see: old) guys to bring into the company.

I did, though, like how on the Jan. 4th show, Bischoff ripped up the script after the segment involving Hall, Waltman, Nash, Hogan, and himself. That was cool, and to the casual fan (and maybe even to some smarks), it may have seemed like anything could happen.

Similarly, in the last segment of the same show, a stagehand interrupted Hogan's speech to Styles and Angle, once again, making it seem like an unscripted moment. But, again, this sort of thing hasn't happened consistently enough since the Jan 4th show to give "iMPACT!" a truly unpredictable feel.

I was even digging the "Are Hall and Waltman in cahoots with Hogan and Bischoff?" storyline for a few weeks, but somehow some way, TNA has a knack for killing off interest.

When two wrestlers are talking “secretly” backstage, have the camera placed in a hidden location (not necessarily a surveillance video) so it seems like the meeting is actually secret. And the conversation can be either audible or not, depending on whether the writers want the conversations known or not. This sort of thing is done brilliantly on The Office (damn you, writer’s strike!). Anytime a wrestler tells the other one to keep the conversation “between you and me,” with the camera right there, everyone looks stupid, and the fan feels stupid for watching.

They had been doing some stuff like this, moreso at the beginning of the Hogan-Bischoff regime, and it's dropped off a bit too. For example, Bischoff would acknowledge the presence of the camera. It seems like a small thing - but the whole idea is to build a more realistic show overall, and the little things count. Unfortunately for TNA, these changes haven't been done consistently.

Suggestion #2 - Be different

In Controversy Creates Cash, concerning the launching of Nitro, Eric Bischoff writes, “We have three choices: be better than them [WWE], less than them, or different than them. We can’t be better than them. They have been around longer, have a lock on the audience, and are good at what they do. We don’t want to be less than them, so we have to be different than them.” Arguably, TNA’s biggest problem is that they come off looking like a rip-off of the WWE - far-fetched, cartoonish gimmicks and all (WWE-junior, if you will - say it in Dusty Rhode’s voice, it’s fun). The best example of this is the Abyss-Judas Mesias-James Mitchell storyline - it’s a carbon copy of the Undertaker-Kane-Paul Bearer storyline from ten years ago, except it’s worse! Does anyone care that James Mitchell is Chris’s father? Does that make you want to buy a PPV? Donnie put it nicely on Tha O Show Radio a couple of weeks ago when he said, “This is a re-run! I’ve seen this movie before!”

This has long been one of the complaints about TNA - they're simply WWE-light. And really, by bringing in even more former fed guys, they may be considered more WWE-ish than ever. Plus, it seems as if they reference WWE and WCW history more than TNA history. They haven't really done anything to differentiate themselves. They even got rid of the 6-sided ring, one of the company's distinguishable traits.

Certainly, though, there are some differences, namely that TNA is not PG, and the use of blood has been the biggest indication of that. But once again, like TNA always does, they're over-using the gimmick to the point that it means very little. Flair, Hogan, Abyss, and Angle have all bled in the last two weeks, and there's probably more that I've forgotten.

Suggestion #3 - Push the X-Division

Certainly, this isn’t a new idea by any means, but I think the X-division could play a pivotal role in the success of TNA, now more than ever, especially since the WWE no longer has a cruiserweight division or title (thanks Hornswoggle- just another benefit of this brilliant storyline).

Think about it . . . during Nitro’s peak, the cruiserweights played a vital role in the show’s success, in large part because the WWE roster had no one who could compare with the likes of Rey Mysterio, Dean Malenko, Juventud Guerrera, Chris Jericho, Chavo and Eddie Guerrero, and others. ... Ultimately, the X-Division, with the likes of Lethal, Devine, Petey Williams, Eric Young, Christopher Daniels (Curry Man), Frankie Kazarian and others, can offer something the WWE simply cannot: fast-paced, high-flying wrestling that fits the company’s name (Total Non-Stop Action . . . remember TNA?)

Bischoff has paid lip service to the X-Division ever since it was announced that he would be part of the new regime in TNA. He admits that the cruiserweights were a huge part of the success of Nitro in the mid-to-late 90s, yet the X-Division has been on the backburner in TNA up until a few weeks ago. On March 8th Bischoff came out the ring promising that the X-Division will be a bigger part of the company. Was this just a (weak) attempt to sell the upcoming Destination X PPV? Or will the guys get the spotlight they deserve? We'll find out over the course of the next few months.

Suggestion #4 - Remove Don West as Colour Commentator

Hell, if I was in charge of TNA, I’d get rid of Mike Tenay as the play-by-play announcer too, but let’s ignore the lesser of two evils for now. Preferably, TNA would replace West with a former ring veteran, just like the fed should have done when replacing JBL on Smackdown. A retired wrestler would be able to explain a wrestler’s strategy in the match, such as why the wrestler is doing a particular move at a particular time.

Yes, TNA removed Don West as colour commentator. But I wish they wouldn't have, at least not the way they did it. When it was rumoured Taz had been signed to replace West, I knew it was a bad decision. For one, Taz is worse than West. And for two, I was just starting to dig West's heel gimmick before they removed him from the announce table.

The ideal team would be J.R. and JBL . . . and they're both available. Hmmmmm.

Suggestion #5 - Go head-to-head with Raw

If possible, the debut of Impact on Monday night should be planned when Raw is pre-empted, just like Nitro’s launch was; it would provide an opportunity for TNA to steal some viewers very early on. Apparently, this time around, the Westminster Dog Show will not be pre-empting Raw, but I’m not proposing that TNA should make the move to Monday nights anytime soon anyways. They need to change the product first, ideally by implementing Suggestions #1 through #4.

Unfortunately, TNA probably picked the worst time of year to try to steal some of WWE's audience. WWE is building towards WrestleMania, and there's a ton of interest in the card (namely HBK-Taker and Cena-Batista).

The Westminster Dog Show doesn't pre-empt "Raw" anymore. Airing opposite the "Tribute to the Troops" show would really be the only time they could run against a known 'weaker' "Raw" show, but that's during the holidays when not as many people watch wrestling anyways.

What they should have done (and do from now on) was air their show in the 8-10 pm timeslot, giving them an unopposed first hour on a night where there is already a built-in wrestling audience. This will increase the overall rating (as it did on Jan. 4 when the first hour averaged a 1.7, as opposed to the second and third hours which averaged a 1.3). As well, they will have an unopposed first hour to build interest in the second hour. This is actually something that an O-ster, Signguy_Shooter, mentioned in the comment section of my article 2 years ago. I agreed with it then, it's even more obvious now that it's the right strategy.

TNA’s roster is just as good as the WWE’s, if not better. For every Triple H WWE has, there’s a Kurt Angle in TNA. For every MVP, there’s a Robert Roode. For every Rey Mysterio, there’s an A.J. Styles. And I’m sure everyone can agree that TNA’s knockout division is much superior to the WWE Divas, who embarrass themselves every Monday. And don’t forget the X-Division wrestlers, as I mentioned above.

Arguably, TNA has more talent than ever before. (Some guys, though, are put in the ring that have no business being there - the Nastys, and Hall and Nash come to mind.)

But top to bottom, I think TNA has a superior roster. In particular, they are superior in terms of having young(er) guys who at a moment's notice, are ready to step up to the main-event level: Pope, Samoa Joe, Matt Morgan, Hernandez, Robert Roode, and James Storm.

There’s a wrestling audience on Monday nights that is ready for an alternative - you have to admit, you get the itch to change the channel AT LEAST a couple times during Raw. Don’t you think fans would change the channel from say, the ridiculous Lingerie Pillow Fight that was on Raw Roulette, to anything that the TNA knockouts offer?

This is one of the main reasons why I think TNA's move to Monday nights can be successful. For me, it's incredibly difficult to sit through an entire "Raw" without wanting to change the channel several times - whether it's a Divas match, another stale John Cena promo, or whatever. (This will become an even greater opportunity for TNA after WrestleMania.) And during TNA's two live shows (Jan 4 and Mar 8), I've found myself watching more TNA. It's been fun flipping back-and-forth between the two shows, finding the more exciting program.

What is TNA doing right? Promos. The promos have been better. The Pope and Mr. Anderson, to name two examples, have gotten themselves over having more freedom on the mic.

However, there are still some fundamental mistakes being made. For instance, when Jeff Hardy and A.J. Styles faced off in the opening segment of this week's show, Hardy said that beating Styles would be a "breeze." Styles said something similar as well. It would have been better if Hardy had put Styles over in his promo . . . it certainly would have made it mean more when he pinned Styles in the main event. And it would have been nice to have one of wrestling's biggest stars say that he thought A.J. Styles was one of the best in the world, but that A.J. was being influenced by the 'dirtiest player in the game' (or something like that).

Another good thing: as much as people criticize Hogan and Flair for being old, they both have a special quality that captures the attention of the audience. I've enjoyed seeing more of them on TV.

So the question now is . . . what can TNA do to fix their problem now? Here's a short list:

1. Promote their shows better. They need to find a balance between promotion (that will draw the audience in) and surprise (that will keep the audience watching). It wasn't until this past Monday afternoon that TNA finally decided to promote Jeff Hardy vs. A.J. Styles for Monday night's show . . . and it was only promoted on their website! They knew for an entire week that this would be their main event! I cannot use enough exclamation marks!!!

As well, the returns of Hardy, RVD and Sting didn't all need to be surprise appearances on Mar. 8th (although they really weren't all that surprising to those of us who regularly read the 'dirtsheets.'). Moreover, that they all debuted on the same night took away from the individual impact of each appearance. By the time Hardy hit the ring to end the Mar. 8th show, it hardly mattered. This is Jeff Hardy we're talking about. Just a few months ago he was the biggest wrestling star on the planet!

2. Make the Knockouts a major part of the show. The Knockouts have always delivered the best quarter hours on "iMPACT!". They deserve more than one token 5-minute segment every week.

3. Slow down! So many things happen over the course of one episode of "iMPACT!" that it's impossible to remember everything that happened when it's over. I've seen every episode since January 4th, and in going over the results to prep for this column, I was shocked at what I'd forgotten.

4. Use history video packages more. This is one of the company's strengths. The videos help make sense of the most nonsensical storylines and programs.

5. Bring back "Rough Cuts".

Just watch (or re-watch) some of these: Brother Ray, Kiyoshi, BG and Kip James, Ultimate X, Beer Money.

They're very well done. Just think about how videos like that could be used to put over major programs in TNA. Plus . . . they're different! (Remember Suggestion #2?)

What it comes down to is . . . if TNA can produce a more realistic and consistent wrestling show, that includes good wrestling and promos with some surprises thrown in, they can succeed on Monday nights.

It sounds simple, but after two and a half months of the Hogan-Bischoff regime, I'm left wondering: can TNA ever produce a show like that?

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