October 02, 2011

Thoughts on the first ROH show of the Sinclair era

Yeah, I know this is late. Sue me. I couldn't watch the show until Thursday and I had other stuff to do before I got to this.

I constantly find that I want to like ROH more than I do. Not I don't enjoy their product; I like what they do and I'm glad there's an alternative out there for fans who don't get what they want from the more mainstream companies. That said, there always seems to be something about ROH that leaves me strangely unsatisfied. It's hard to articulate this, but I think their first show on the Sinclair network was a good example of what I'm talking about.

First of all, this may be nitpicking here, but the production had some issues that need to be ironed out fast. I hate to say it, but they seem to have taken a step back from the HDnet show. The audio quality with the announcers wasn't the best, the video quality was grainy, but the real problem was the lighting. I know they're doing the best they can with a limited budget, but they have GOT to light the arena better than that. Seriously, the lighting wasn't much better than videos I've seen of WSU matches. Why is everything outside the ring so freaking dark? There were a lot of areas in the hard camera shot especially where you could barely see the audience. I know a lighting rig is expensive, but good grief, the look of the show is something that can attract viewers or drive them away. If the arena looks cheep and poorly lit, you're not doing yourselves any favors.

Another issue was poor time management. I was shocked that, for a show that only has an hour to work with, there was so much wasted time. The superfluous video packages got pretty excessive (one was actually shown twice, for crying out loud!). What's more, Nigel asking fans at ringside who they thought was going to win this match or that match was completely pointless. Why? Because fans watching at home most likely don't give a rat's ass what these people think; I sure didn't. When you've only got 60 minutes, you really need to prioritize. Why are you talking to people at ringside when you could be introducing us to the wrestlers?

I know some of these things were unavoidable, so I'm not going to give them a ton of grief about it. Hopefully, the production issues will be sorted out in the coming weeks and they'll start making more effective use of the time they have. Until then, all I can do is strongly urge them to work on the aesthetic of the show, because right now, it really doesn't look good at all.

As for the rest of the show...

Sure, the wrestling was great, but wrestling has never been ROH's problem. It's a given that the in-ring product will be impressive. Great wrestling isn't a bonus with this company; it's an expectation. What concerned me was everything else, and this was where I started having problems.

When I get right down to it, it just didn't feel like they were trying to do anything special or eventful or meaningful with their first show. I wanted to see them start off with a bang, and that didn't happen. This needed to feel like a pilot episode, like the beginning of something, a jumping-on point for new fans who hadn't experienced ROH before. Instead, it kind of felt like just a continuation of the HDnet show, rather than something meant to pull in new audiences.

And I'm afraid this is where ROH is shooting themselves in the foot. The show wasn't geared at the larger television audience they need to attract, but at the ROH faithful. And if they ever want to actually grow their business, they need to expand beyond that core group.

Outside of explaining the Code of Honor -- and let's be honest, a video about the significance of a handshake doesn't exactly make for riveting TV -- the bookers, for the most part, just seemed to assume that viewers were already familiar with the product, knew what was going on, who the wrestlers were and who was feuding with who. Not that there's something wrong with this necessarily, but again, they need to keep in mind that they're marketing themselves to a wider demographic now. New fans checking out ROH for the first time aren't going to know who most of these wrestlers are and will be looking for reasons why they should give a crap. If you present the roster as a bunch of non-entities, people aren't going to care.

And that was perhaps the biggest weakness about this first episode -- it didn't feel like there was enough of a reason to care about what was going on. A first time fan who's just now being exposed to Future Shock and the Bravado Brothers is going to wonder why this match is taking place, why these guys are fighting and what their characters are. The problem is there really weren't any characters; just wrestlers.

The whole thing just seemed very basic and, I hate to say this, but it was kind of dull. Yeah, I know ROH takes the back-to-basics approach with their product and business model, and that's why their core fanbase supports them. But come on, guys, you're on TV now! You need something more substantive than 'show starts, here's a bunch of matches, show over'. If that's all you're offering, no one outside of the hardcore fans is going to be interested; casual fans certainly won't be.

A big part of TV is sensationalism, doing stuff that grabs people's attention and makes them want to tune in to see what's going to happen next. There was no hook for the next episode, no cliffhanger beyond, "Tune in next week to see Person A wrestle Person B." You need to jazz this up!

Do more with the characters. Show what's going on backstage. Give them a more promo time than these little interview snippets before the matches -- at least enough so they can get their personalities over. Maybe cut out some of the lengthy recaps of events new viewers won't have seen and therefore probably won't care about, and devote that time to story and characters. I'm not suggesting you get as story-driven as WWE and TNA, but give us a little more of a reason why these matches are happening. Forgoing storylines altogether is just stupid. Storylines are a good thing -- they're what give the matches meaning. Otherwise, it's just wrestling for the sake of wrestling.

That's where this show lost me, and I'm guessing where it lost some people who may have been watching for the first time. For viewers who like characters and storylines in addition to wrestling, there just wasn't anything to sink their teeth into. I know it was just the first episode, but at least some kind of story-based incentive to tune in next week would have been nice. Sure, the promise of Lethal vs Generico was all well and good, but if I'm a new fan watching ROH for the first time, then I have no idea who El Generico is, and therefore have no reason to really care about that match, regardless of how good it may be.

To be honest, I was hoping for more from the first new ROH TV show. The focus on no-nonsense wrestling was refreshing at first compared to what we get from WWE and TNA, but it strikes me as something that's going to get old quickly for a lot of people. They need to understand that they're not just marketing their product to a fringe audience anymore and adjust the show accordingly.

I'm still rooting for them to succeed, but there are things they need to address. They have a great in-ring product; what's lacking is everything else. The biggest challenge they have now is adapting what they do for a new medium. I know they're hesitant to alter their formula, but, hey, welcome to television. A few tweaks here and there would make a world of difference. Some production upgrades, less unnecessary video packages and fan interviews, a little less time spent on wrestling and a little more spent on characters and stories designed to make the wrestling more meaningful, and they could have a kickass show.

I don't see a lot of these things happening, however, as ROH is a company that is somewhat resistant to change. On the other hand, selling the company to the Sinclair network was a pretty damn big change. So who knows... maybe they just need some time to get used to the idea.

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