January 17, 2011

Proactive Problem Solving

Anyone who's seen TNA has probably complained about TNA at some point. For all its positives, this company has a lot of faults, so many that I sometimes wonder if they actually invite this criticism. Let's be frank here, if I tried to list all the many problems the company has, this column would be 20 pages long. But perhaps even more maddening than this laundry list of problems is their inability, or perhaps their refusal, to do anything about them.

Personally, my biggest complaint is that TNA seems to make the same mistakes over and over again without ever learning anything from them. House show attendance is low? Yeah, that's what tends to happen when you barely advertise at all. Television ratings show no substantial growth? Well, maybe you should air some commercials on channels other than SpikeTV. Ratings for the big main event gimmick match were the lowest of the entire show? Try announcing the damn thing ahead of time and hyping it up like it's a big deal instead of letting it be a surprise and asking the fans to stick around in the hopes that they might like the match once they actually find out what it is and who's in it.

I suppose the most frustrating thing about this company a lot of the time is that so many of their problems could be very easily fixed if they'd just apply a little common sense. But for one reason or another, it never seems to happen and we often find ourselves complaining about the same exact things, week after week, month after month, year after year.

But what if it wasn't like that? What if there were someone in management who looked at the ratings after 1/04/10 and realized that since they couldn't even maintain that 1.5 rating on Thursday night, moving iMPACT to Monday to compete head-to-head with WWE Raw probably wasn't the smartest thing in the world that they could have done because they'd most likely get slaughtered? What if there were more people in TNA who had the foresight to anticipate problems like this before they became an issue? Call me crazy, but I don't think it takes a genius to see a lot of these things coming. And yet, for whatever reason, TNA often don't see them coming, which leads me to the reason why we're here today.

One late night a few weeks ago, I was tossing and turning, unable to sleep, and as is usually the case when this happens, my mind started to wander. I started thinking about TNA, about the state of iMPACT and the PPVs, and it dawned on me that, while certain things about the current product might not be incredibly problematic at the moment, that could easily change before too long.

In the short time since then, guess what happened...

Some of them have become big damn problems.

So let's try exorcizing a little forward thinking here, TNA. Let's try to anticipate some problems before they arise.

No depth in the Knockout roster

This is something that I've talked about in previous columns a number of times. In the last year, the Knockout roster has been cut in half, with many of its key players leaving the company for one reason or another. There is still some great talent left, but there just aren't a whole lot of bodies in the locker room to work with right now.

This might not seem like a huge issue at the moment, but it's going to become one in the not-to-distant future and the signs are already there. For example, some weeks back, while Mickie James was still occupied with Tara, Madison Rayne seemingly began a mini-feud with fellow heel, Sarita. They had a miscommunication in a backstage brawl, which lead to Madison challenging Sarita to an impromptu match, which Sarita won. Later that night on ReAction, interviews with both women were conducted in which they told us that Sarita wanted Madison's Knockouts title and that any alliance that might have existed between them before was now finished. In a later iMPACT, Sarita defeated Madison in a triple threat match with Angelina Love and the implication was clear that Madison had begun viewing Sarita as a serious threat to her championship.

Fast forward several weeks and Madison/Sarita were working together in a tag team match with no hints of any tension between them whatsoever. And why were they working together? Because Tara was injured and Sarita is the only other heel Knockout on the roster. If they had a deeper roster, they could have simply chosen another heel for Madison to tag with, but they don't. And this lack of depth lead to a plot hole and character inconsistency between Madison/Sarita that was never explained.

Maybe in the grand scheme of things this wasn't a big deal and "they're both heels" is enough of an explanation to placate you. But however you feel about it, you can't deny this is a sign that the depleted Knockout division is starting to negatively affect the creative process. This, in turn, will lead to repetitive, boring feuds and stale characters if it isn't addressed. Maybe it's not glaringly obvious right now, but mark my words, 6 months from now the Knockout division will be stale as shit if new, fresh talent isn't brought in to fix this.

Jeff Hardy: world champion/convict

TNA, I try to be nice, I really do, but the fact that you didn't see this one coming is absolutely laughable. It's not like you didn't have plenty of warning -- you knew Hardy had a legal situation before you signed him a year ago, you knew nothing had been settled in the courts. And yet you put the world title on him, being well aware of his history, knowing that he could potentially be in serious trouble if the trial didn't work out in his favor. Regardless, you make him the top heel in the company and center storylines around him -- storylines that you have now had to change because he plans to plead guilty, meaning he'll most likely be going to prison, attracting a lot of negative PR to your company in the process.

TNA, this is not rocket science. In the future, if a wrestler on your roster is on trial for drug trafficking, DON'T MAKE HIM THE WORLD CHAMPION!!!

The Jersey Shore = flash in the pan

TNA created the characters of Robbie E & Cookie to cash in on the inexplicable popularity of the Jersey Shore reality show. I can understand TNA wanting to use current pop culture trends to garner mainstream attention, but this really shows a lack of forward thinking on their part. Once upon a time, the Spice Girls were the biggest pop culture icons in the world... and then they weren't. Not that I'm comparing the Jersey Shore to those women, but there are similarities: a quick, meteoric rise, huge popularity. But as is usually the case with pop culture trends, what goes up tends to come down just as fast. The day is going to come when viewers start to realize how damn stupid the Jersey Shore actually is and abandon it like rats leaving a sinking ship. It happens more often than you'd think; just ask Vanilla Ice.

It might not be next week or next month, but it will happen. All it's going to take is one of these idiots to wind up on Celebrity Rehab, and Snooki & the Situation's 15 minutes of fame will most likely be over IMO.

And where is that going to leave Robbie & Cookie? The fans already rejected this gimmick badly. But the second the Jersey Shore starts to decline, these characters immediately cross the line from stupid and annoying to completely irrelevant. They become yesterday's news, making TNA look dated for even featuring them at all.

Pop culture trends change as quickly as the tides; pro wrestling characters should have more longevity than that. TNA should stay ahead of the curve and kill the Shore gimmick now before people start laughing at them for even trying it in the first place (not that some people don't already do that).

Anderson's world title belt is now a joke
"This is not the TNA world heavyweight championship. This is a piece of shit that Jeff Hardy drew. I could probably stick a crayon up my ass, squat over a piece of paper and draw a better picture than this."

-Ken Anderson, on Jeff Hardy's custom world title belt. 

I couldn't have said it better myself, Ken.

Let me ask you people something. If Anderson is now the world champion, if he thinks Jeff Hardy's custom belt is so gaudy and ridiculous-looking (it is), why is he still carrying it around? Why can't he just go get the real world title belt? Because the real world title belt is now a joke. What was once the most important title belt in the company is now a meaningless prop being used to enhance (cough) Eric Young's brain damage gimmick.

Anderson can't wear the real world title belt now that its worth has been completely negated by the 1-2 punch of Jeff Hardy and Eric Young. No one would even take him seriously if he tried to wear it. The only way to rectify this is to commission a new one. It's a shame as I always thought the old one was a great looking belt, but this is what happens when championships are treated like worthless comic relief props. Thanks a lot, Russo.

Here's a tip, TNA. While it may be technically true that championships are props, you still have to maintain the perception that they're not. Fans have to believe that championships are important and prestigious, and that doesn't work if you treat them like jokes. Why should I, as a fan, care about a title belt being defended or challenged for if I think it's just going to be thrown in the trash or turned into a joke for an undercard comedy act?

Treat titles like they're important and fans will perceive them that way. But if you treat them like jokes the fans won't take them seriously.

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