July 07, 2011
TKO Season 1 Wrap Up
I'd like to thank everyone who read and responded to TKO Season 1. What started as a side project born out of my frustration with TNA's booking of the Knockout division seemed to take on a life of its own after a while and I'm very pleased with how the whole thing turned out.
When I started this little opus several months ago, I never imagined it would be as long and detailed as it became. My intention was just to write a commentary on TNA's ineffective booking practices and give examples of, not just the kind of booking I'd like to see them employ with the Knockouts, but how to utilize their roster more effectively than they currently are, and how to introduce and create new stars rather than continuing to rely on past Knockouts and former WWE Divas to fill out the roster. If nothing else, I hope I succeed in that much at least.
In terms of booking, I wanted everything to be grounded in reality, rooted in real issues that would resonate with the audience. I feel this was best demonstrated with the the Beautiful People storyline. The Velvet/Angelina split happened due to underlying issues that had been there since the day these women walked into the company. Angelina was always seen as the better of the 2 and the booking of them reflected that for years. Velvet's feud with Sarita on iMPACT signified that she was growing tired of this and wanted to accomplish something on her own for a change. From there, it was simply a matter of delving deeper into those issues, examining and deconstructing them, so when Velvet finally turned on Angelina, there was a real weight to it.
I don't know about any of you, but I consider this a far more effective and meaningful way of splitting up TBP than the time traveling lesbians angle where Angelina is coerced into betraying Velvet and turned into a drugged-out zombie by Winter because Winter thinks they were lovers in a past life. Seriously, what on earth were the writers smoking when they decided that schlock was a good idea?
Another problem is the lack of focus. On any show booked by Vince Russo you're going to run into this problem. The guy must have some serious ADD because he can't seem to keep his attention on any one story for very long, and the stories that actually are developed over long periods of time often end up constantly changing direction (ex. the Immortal takeover), having little to no consistency, or get mysteriously dropped with no explanation.
For a perfect example of this, look no further than Velvet Sky. In just 2011 alone, this woman has feuded with Sarita, Angelina, Winter, Karen Jarrett, and now ODB & Jackie Moore. Were ANY of these feuds ever resolved? Was there ever any kind of payoff? I honestly don't know. Every story just seems to bleed into another and just when you think one feud is over, they revisit it.
This applies to pretty much every Knockout storyline. The only recent one that seemed to have a beginning, middle, end and a clear conclusion was the Mickie James vs. Madison Rayne/Tara feud, and even that one suffered from being dragged out way too damn long.
My solution to this was the 'umbrella angle' -- one central story that the entire show was built around. In this case, the main through line of season 1 was the growing conflict between Mickie and Traci, and the ripple effect it caused, which slowly encompassed everything else. I introduced the story, added new layers over time, and payed it off in the season finale. Yes, it ended on a cliffhanger, but the central mystery driving the story forward (what's Traci really up to?) was resolved in a way that was hopefully satisfying to everyone and would open up many new story possibilities in the future with a shaken up status quo. All other stories were secondary to this, but instead of being treated as such, they were gradually incorporated into it so that everything tied together in the finale episode, putting a period at the end of several current feuds, while opening up new ones.
And please note, the inciting incident was actually pretty mundane in its simplicity. Traci was fired from TNA, which caused her to change her mindset about what she was doing and her place in the business. One comment from a reader really summed it up perfectly: she got her foot back in the door by remaking herself into a female Eric Bischoff. And this, in turn, motivated everything she did. She needed the show to be a success, and therefore orchestrated events and created conflict where none would have otherwise existed for no other reason than to get people watching. As she explained to Mickie in Ep. #17, it was always just about business. She had her Ahab in Mickie James, and she made herself the white whale because the chase is what she believed was going to draw people in.
Now compare this to the Winter/Angelina storyline we're seeing on iMPACT WRESTLING. This thing has been going on for the better part of a year now, with no end in site, and very little has actually happened. We still know virtually nothing about Winter, where she came from, why she's really obsessed with Angelina (anyone buying into that past lives crap needs a CAT scan), how she was able to seemingly teleport in and out of rooms so only Angelina could see her when she first debuted, and so on, and so on. The whole thing is a mess!
Another issue I wanted to address was the business of putting people in spots they weren't suited for. Madison Rayne's year-long run as the top Knockout heel was absolutely intolerable because when you got right down to it, the woman was a glorified midcarder who just couldn't perform at the level she had been pushed to, and it showed. They took a 5 ft, 100 lb woman of mediocre (at best) talent and pushed her like some unbeatable force when she obviously couldn't pull this off convincingly in any way.
Velvet Sky is currently having the same problem. While Velvet does have Madison beat in the charisma department, she's barely serviceable in the ring, and yet she's constantly booked to carry the action of her matches, which makes her matches consistently bad. Her series of matches with Sarita would have been infinitely better if Sarita had been booked to dictate the action instead of the other way around, but that's not what happened. The way the matches were laid out by the agents, Velvet was tasked with carrying them, which made them all universally underwhelming.
This can be said about a lot of the women on the roster. When you don't book someone to their strengths, even the best of performers can be made to look bad. Hell, the entire first year of Tara's run in the company I thought was pretty lousy, simply because she was being booked all wrong. What else did people expect when they took a woman who was supposed to be a huge badass and had her burst into tears because ODB called her a Diva?
For this series, I really wanted to address this by putting everyone in roles they were more suited for. Velvet Sky is not a good wrestler, but she is a good actor and talker, so her role called for her to do more acting and talking than wrestling. And when she did wrestle, she lost -- but not for nothing, as the fact that she kept losing was part of her whole character arc.
Similarly, Madison Rayne is not a good wrestler, so she was quickly removed from the top heel spot and put in a supporting role intended to ultimately vindicate Tara and put over the far more talented newcomer, Jennifer Blake (Jennifer Blade). Elsewhere, Sarita and Winter had their gimmicks tweaked so they would no longer be hindered in the ring and were gradually elevated into a dominant heel position.
As I've said many times before, the Knoockout division was at its best when it spotlighted the best wrestlers and used the rest as cannon fodder, and that's what happened with TKO. The season ended with Mickie, Tara, Sarita, Winter and Jennifer Blake in the top mix, with others such as Christina Von Eerie and Serena Deeb ready to be rotated in when the time was right.
Also, Daffney was booked as a force for a change because, damn it, TNA dropped the ball with that woman!
And finally, another important issue I wanted to cover was the effective introduction and creation of new talent rather than relying on already established names. Last year saw many departures from the Knockout roster and several additions as well, and with only one exception, all the new additions were people we were already very familiar with. While this wasn't a bad thing in every case (signing Mickie James was a huge deal), familiarity doesn't exactly breed freshness.
There was a recent episode of iMPACT WRESTLING that featured a 6-woman tag team elimination match, and watching this thing, it dawned on me that 4 of the 6 women involved were former WWE Divas. Then there's Velvet Sky's current storyline which, rather than introducing new faces to give the division a badly needed fresh coat of paint, inexplicably called for the return of 2 clearly unmotivated former Knockouts in ODB and Jackie Moore.
Where is all the new talent? TNA has tried out numerous women from the indies over the past year, many of whom would be terrific additions to the roster, and instead of bringing in people like Serena Deeb and Jennifer Blake to feud with Velvet, they go with a 47-year-old Jackie Moore and ODB, a woman whose character was beyond stale at the end of her last run and asked for her release from the company a year ago because she hated the direction the Knockout division had taken. Rather than take a chance on exciting potential new stars, they brought back 2 irrelevant former stars, presumably for the sake of familiarity.
Why? Why, when there seems to be such a concentrated effort within the company to create new stars (ex. Crimson, Gunner) are they so hesitant to do so with the Knockouts? The one and only new addition to the roster that I hadn't been familiar with prior to her debut was Rosita. And that's better than nothing, I suppose, but she's been on the roster for months now and I still know absolutely nothing about her other than that she's Sarita's kayfabe cousin.
All that in mind, one of the main purposes of TKO was to demonstrate how TNA could introduce new stars rather than relying on people who were previously known in this company or the WWE. This is why all the new characters I brought in were women who had received recent tryout matches. If TNA wasn't going to use them, I wanted to show how I would use them. I tried to give every new girl a character and a storyline, and within 17 episodes of this fictional series, I feel like myself and readers alike got to know far more about Jennifer Blade, Serafina and Trina Diaz than we have about Rosita after months of her being on television.
Anyway, all patting myself on the back aside, now that season 1 is complete, I hope it will stand as a good example of the kind of booking and stories I'd like to see more of in the Knockout division, rather than what we currently get. And I honestly don't think it's that complicated. All it really comes down to is paying more attention to detail, realism, story and character. Unfortunately, such things seem to be beyond the current creative team.
And for those who have asked about season 2, it's up in the air right now. Whether or not I write season 2 will be determined by reader feedback and if I think I could make it as good or better than season 1. Also, if I would have the hours in the day to do it; writing season 1 was a labor of love, but it was very time-consuming process.
The finale was written the way it was to mirror reality. If the fans wanted more, Traci urged them to let SpikeTV know about it. This is the same position I'm in now.
If you enjoy TKO and want a season 2, let me know about it. If not, then hopefully some of the points I tried to make with this series have at least made you think, and isn't that the most important thing anyway?
Thanks for reading.