Who is winning the Wednesday Night Wars? Part One: TNA
Since Destination: America moved TNA Impact Wrestling from Friday night to Wednesday, that formerly forgotten middle child of the week has become sports entertainment Grand Central. Four programs from separate and distinctly unique promotions air their weekly offerings on the same night.
But who is doing it best? Is there a clear headliner, or do they each satisfy a different need from the pro wrestling fans? Can they offer lessons to one another? Who is doing what right and wrong?
The Daily Jobber decided to break these shows down and compare how they perform, in hope to shed some light on these questions.
Let’s begin with WWE’s longtime rival TNA.
TNA Wednesday Night Impact
9:00pm E/P on Destination America
commentary team: Josh Mathews and The Pope
running time: 120 minutes
first aired: June 2004
- Show opens with contract signing between Heavyweight Champion Kurt Angle and #1 Contender Ethan Carter III. As per agreement, each man will fight a warm-up match against an opponent of the other’s choosing. Tonight, EC3 will fight Lashley.
- Bobby Roode vs Eddie Edwards, winner picks stipulation for match 4 in best of 5 series for tag titles. Edwards wins after Austin Aries interference backfires, Wolves pick Full Metal Mayhem for stipulation.
- Bram vs Joseph Park. Weapons brought in, Park puts up remarkable fight. Bram wins with a spear through a table.
- Dollhouse vs Awesome Kong & Brooke. The babyfaces win, guaranteeing them each a Knockouts title shot.
- Eric Young and Chris Melendez cut promos in the ring.
- Jessie Godderz vs DJ Z. Agressive offense from Godderz dominates and gets easy win. Postmatch bullying, Robbie E returns to save the day.
- Magnus calls out James Storm, who comes out with baby stroller. Magnus attacks Storm, Storm kicks over stroller to reveal a plastic baby doll and makes his escape.
- Ethan Carter III vs Lashley. Chair is brought into play, referees keep getting knocked out until EC3 finally gets the pin after a chair shot and a 1 Percenter.
What the show does well:
- Production quality. The company is well put together, from the top tier talent, the entrance music, the lights, the multi-camera execution, it is all very polished. Knowing that it cannot match the arena-sized venues that sets WWE apart, it makes the most of it’s sound stage at Universal Studios and gives the show the feel of a UFC live event. This is helped along with the six-sided ring, a TNA innovation which makes it unique from every other promotion.
- Backstage Segments. Capitalizing on the popularity of reality television and attempting to add legitimacy to professional wrestling, TNA’s backstage segments are shot documentary style with lower resolution, hand-held cameras and minimal lighting. This proves an effective way to accomplish plot development, from a wrestler facing a difficult decision or pivotal challenge interrupted and interviewed in a private moment of reflection, to heels caught plotting conspiracy in some dark corner of the building.
- Booking for television, not for Pay-Per-Views. Doing away with multiple large-scale live events throughout the year has meant that there are very few throwaway episodes of the television program. The championship titles are defended almost every other week, which adds to the tension of never knowing when a title change will occur. Not having monthly “big pay days” to book towards and promote means that the focus can be put on making every episode exciting and special in some way, whether it’s “Hardcore War” or “Night of Knockouts” or “May Mayhem”. It gives the audience a reason to want to tune in.
What the show doesn’t do well:
- Commentary. In the first place, the announce team is not present at ringside as in WWE, ROH or Lucha:Underground, nor are they further back beside the entrance ramp as in NXT. They do not even appear to be in the same building. This gives the audience the feeling that the show was taped at a separate time as the commentary and detracts from the excitement of live television. Since Taz left the team, Josh Mathews has gone from Al Snow to Mike Tenay and now “The Pope”, but the weak link is Mathews himself. Spending too much time pushing personal agendas and biased heel opinions and not enough time calling the action and putting over the talent hurts the audience’s ability to enjoy the action.
- Consistency. One element which is missing from TNA is some form of authority. Raw and Smackdown have Triple H, Stephanie and Kane. NXT has William Regal. Lucha: Underground has Dario Cueto. There is no visible presence which is keeping order in TNA; sanctioning matches, approving or justifying stipulations, and ultimately putting over upcoming events and contests. Instead, wrestlers book their own matches and add stipulations with no formality whatsoever. Often, a competitor will add a stipulation right before a match begins. The lack of a governing body or cohesive system of regulation detracts from the legitimacy their brand tends to push at times. And while you talk about consistency and authority, you can’t help but point out the often brutally inconsistent officiating. One only need watch EC3 vs Lashley in this week’s main event to get a sense of the officiating in TNA.
- Booking to television, not to Pay-Per-Views. WWE is in the process of making the mistake of over-loading its annual schedule with too many Pay-Per-Views, while TNA has gone the other direction. With only two big live events a year, they might as well not have any, because they put no effort into booking towards them and in the process build no hype or desire for the audience to actually watch. Ethan Carter III’s #1 Contender Campaign and his title run has been a hot story-line in the past months, and you would think it a natural progression to build towards a big showdown with Kurt Angle at Slammiversary, which is right around the corner. Instead, the title will be contested at Bell to Bell, which will be broadcast on television as usual. In fact, there has been no build toward Slammiversary at all. One wonders why it’s even happening.
TNA is an interesting amalgamation of big, shiny show and gritty indie. The slick production design, big stars (both in notoriety and in size) and longer running time makes it appear on par with WWE. However, incorporating style elements from UFC and indie promotions gives the product a more “realistic” edge and sets itself apart from the garish, over-the-top world of Vince McMahon’s “sports entertainment”. The small venue size, absence of elaborate entrances and pyrotechnics, and focus on fast-paced in-ring action rather than extended promos makes it easier to watch at times than Raw or Smackdown.
However, the program tends to suffer from under-writing and under-booking. There always seems a sense of unpolished improvisation which detracts from the drama of the narrative rather than adding to the tension. This can lead to unsatisfying and nonsensical booking choices – e.g. a weapons match where the weapon is never actually used, or a “falls count anywhere” match which ends inside the ring.
In attempting to make itself as separate and distinctly different from WWE as possible, TNA succeeds in not repeating some of the Fed’s biggest mistakes. However, it may behoove them to take lessons from what makes WWE work and what it does well – namely, succinct and intelligible story-telling, consistent booking, and character development.