Bringing originality back
Does it feel like there's nothing new to be seen in pro wrestling these days? I'm not talking about the technical aspects; TNA has shown that they're always looking for ways to improve their production, even if they don't always succeed. I'm talking about creative. And this doesn't just apply to TNA, this seems to be prevalent all over the industry.
It's as if there are no new ideas or fresh storylines to be had anywhere. WWE seems content with simply rehashing the same basic angles we've seen a million times before, and that's if a feud is fortunate enough to even be given some attention from creative, which is not always the case. Meanwhile ROH is doing some takeover angle with their SCUM faction (or so I hear. I haven't watched ROH in a while) lead by, I believe, Matt Hardy. Scintillating.
And then there's TNA, who continue to march forward with this Aces & 8s storyline after nearly a year -- only the latest in a long line of giant heel stables that seems to have been TNA's go-to angle for ages in their never-ending quest to come up with their own version of the NWO. Before the Aces & 8s it was Immortal, before Immortal it was the Main Event Mafia, etc...
If it feels like this is all stuff we've seen many times before, it's only because this is all stuff we've seen many times before. Coming up with a different version of the same basic idea only does so much to cover up the fact that there's a real lack of originality going on right now in the big companies. I'll credit TNA for at least trying to come up with fresh story ideas (ex. the Joseph Park/Abyss stuff has been fascinating), but their successes in that regard haven't been terribly numerous lately.
Is it too much to ask for something I haven't seen before? A storyline or a character that hasn't been done before in wrestling? Is that really so hard? No, it isn't. Maybe the big companies should take a lesson from the little guys because -- and I swear, I mean this more than anything -- the most interesting storyline in pro wrestling right now is in OVW. And it's not the Coalition trying to take over everything, it's not Randy Royal and his medical bills, it's Heidi Lovelace and Taeler Hendrix.
For weeks, Hendrix was receiving mysterious gifts from some secret admirer. She thought they were either from her boyfriend Dylan Bostic or his rival for her affections Ryan Howe... then they turned out to be from her own rival, Heidi Lovelace. Awkward...
Now at this point, the angle didn't appear to be out of the ordinary and looked to be going down one of several familiar paths we've all seen before, but the OVW writers took a refreshingly unique approach with what happened next. Lovelace wasn't leaving Hendrix gifts as part of some practical joke or calculated revenge ploy. As she revealed the following week, she was doing it because she has feelings for Hendrix and was hoping Hendrix felt the same way.
And Hendrix didn't blow her off or laugh in her face. She was stunned by the revelation, yes, but she didn't necessarily reject Lovelace, she just admitted that she had some thinking to do.
How about that. Originality. What a novel concept.
Now why am I calling such a simple thing the most interesting angle in wrestling today? Because I've never seen something like this before! There have been quote unquote gay angles in wrestling, sure. But they've always seemed to skew awfully hard toward one side of the field. We've seen gay wedding ceremonies, lesbian make-out sessions and other things like that, but they were always done for cheap heat or titillation. Billy & Chuck stage a gay wedding, but they're secretly straight and only acting gay for a publicity stunt, Mickie James has a crush on Trish Stratus, but then decides she likes guys once her feud with Trish is over, Goldust acting so bizarre in his gayness that he leaves any semblance of reality far, far behind, and so on...
And after all this time, it was OVW that came up with a fresh take on the idea. And all they had to do was treat it with honesty and realism. I can hardly believe it myself, but this angle has just made Heidi Lovelace of all people one of the most compelling characters in wrestling simply because they're doing something with her that to my knowledge has never been done. A gay/bi character who isn't acting that way for cheap laughs or "HLA!" chants, who isn't just trying to get a rise out of the horny males in the crowd, who isn't doing creepy weird stuff just for the sake of being creepy and weird (I'm looking at you, Orlando Jordan!), a character that is just a normal female wrestler who happens to be gay/bi.
It's still very early in this angle and it may all turn out to be a ruse, but I sincerely hope it's not. Call me crazy, but this has opened up a whole lot of untapped story possibilities, so many that I can't believe more companies haven't done this. It's more reflective of the times we live in, it's a real life issue that a portion of the female audience can relate to, not to mention it presents a much more palatable and mature take on the concept than WWE, who tend to use it as something wrestlers are mocked for -- I can't even count the number of infantile gay jokes John Cena (WWE's ultimate babyface) has made over the years. And it does all that while still managing to give the horny 12-year-old demographic something to like as well because there's a chance they might get to see two hot girls kiss, which, speaking as a straight person, is always fun to watch no matter what age bracket you fit into. ;)
See how easy that was? A fresh and interesting concept that didn't require months and months of build up or consulting with focus groups. Just thinking of something that hasn't really been attempted before and finding an interesting take on it. Now if OVW can figure this out, why is it so hard for the big companies?
What is the point of the Aces & 8s?
I'm not asking this to be a smartass. This is an honest question. We're almost a year into this storyline now and I still fail to see what it's meant to accomplish. Yes, it has done its job in getting the world title onto Bully Ray and that was well-deserved, but aside from that, what benefits have there really been?
One potential gain you'd hope a big angle like this would produce is ratings. Unfortunately that ship has long since sailed. The Aces & 8s angle hasn't garnered any noticeable ratings hikes since last summer, and even then it didn't last.
The other would be in serving as a vehicle to create new stars, but in that capacity so far I think we have to call this angle a colossal failure. In the entire Aces & 8s faction, who among them is getting the lion's share of the focus? Bully Ray, then Ken Anderson, and to a lesser extent Devon and D'Lo Brown. The rest of them are little more than cannon fodder. It seemed like the writers were trying to use the faction to get over guys like Wes Brisco and Doc at times, but that idea seems to have been abandoned and rightfully so. Frankly, their respective performances have not inspired much confidence, and that goes double for Garett Bischoff, and also Knux, who has been such a non-entity since they brought him in last year that I can't come up with a single reason why he even exists.
Sugarcoat it all you want, but the fact remains that if you remove Bully Ray and Anderson from the equation, this angle has done virtually nothing for any of the other members (unless you count D'Lo Brown, and I don't). And even if it had, so what? All that would mean is that a whole lot of time had been spent building up people who either aren't worth the effort or simply aren't ready for the push they've been given.
Be honest, once the Aces & 8s angle is finished do any of you really expect that to be the launching point for Wes and Garett and Doc and Knux to become huge breakout stars? Probably not, judging by how much they've been shoved into the background so Bully Ray can have the spotlight. None of them have been given their own feuds except for Wes Brisco; a program with Kurt Angle in which he had to be carried all the way through and was eventually supplanted by D'Lo. When you get right down to it, this faction was always just about Bully Ray with none of the others really getting anything substantial out of it.
On the other side of that coin, you had the opportunity to make stars out of the people who opposed the faction, but so far that ball has been dropped more times than I care to count. The typical booking of the babyfaces in this feud goes something like this: they get an occasional win here and there, but lately spend their time attacking the heels alone like idiots, getting beaten up and injured, only to come back later to make the same mistakes, and get beaten up and injured again.
Did Magnus gain anything from being injured by the Aces & 8s and put on the shelf for months, and then coming back seeking revenge only to be taken out a second time in pretty much the exact same way (to say nothing of when this happened a THIRD time last week)? That doesn't make a star out of Magnus, that makes Magnus look like a chump. Add that to what happened to Samoa Joe, Joseph Park and others, and you've got numerous popular babyfaces who are clearly much more over and have much more of an upside than most of the Aces & 8s being constantly held back in order to put over a faction consisting mainly of guys that are most likely going nowhere once this angle ends.
What does it say when Sting and Hogan are practically the only guys who have been able to get over on the Aces & 8s in any significant way? Forgive me, but that's a hell of a lot of time and effort put into an angle where the only faces to really benefit so far are the last two men on the roster who need to be put over at this point.
Whatever props he gets, give him more
I've said this before, but it really can't be stressed enough. The hiring of Todd Keneley was one of the best decisions TNA has made in years. I don't know how he does it, but this man single-handedly makes the iMPACT commentary bearable every single week, and with Taz being the way he is since his heel turn that is no easy task.
More and more Taz is showing how little he cares about his performance these days and him constantly goading Mike Tenay into pointless arguments instead of putting over the product is not helping the situation. God bless Mr. Keneley for often being the only member of this 3-man team who stays focused and actively tries to call the show like he's supposed to while his two colleagues bicker amongst themselves like school children.
If any of you doubt this for one second and need a reminder of what the announce team was like before Keneley came aboard, watch any of the One Night Only ppvs. You know, the ones where the broadcast duties are handled by Tenay & Taz. After just a few minutes of that, you'll be singing Keneley's praises from the rooftops as I do.
Going back to 9pm, and not a moment too soon
I must say, it was quite a relief to hear that iMPACT would be moving back to the 9-11pm timeslot in a few weeks. Thursday is an incredibly competitive night for television, and week after week that 8-9 hour was getting slammed. In fact, recently it almost seemed as if the writers had given up on doing anything meaningful in that first hour and instead were just putting a lot of filler on the screen until 9:00 rolled around. Try as they might, iMPACT at 8-10 just wasn't working out.
Frankly, I highly doubt TNA ever wanted to move to 8pm in the first place. This always felt like something they did to accommodate Bellator and keep SpikeTV happy. That's all well and good, but it sure seemed to me like Bellator were reaping all the benefits here. They got a strong lead-in to boost their ratings somewhat, but it came at the cost of iMPACT's ratings. And I'm all for cross-promotion, but what does Dixie Carter making big announcements on Bellator programming really mean other than the announcement being viewed by a smaller audience than if she'd made it on her own show?
What were TNA getting out of this arrangement really? Other than the use of King Mo, who is a reasonably big deal (less so since he got knocked out in the first round of his last fight) in a company whose show gets lower ratings than iMPACT does, it seems like they kind of got the short end of the stick here.
I can understand the rationale behind it. Having that block of pro wrestling and MMA makes a lot of sense, but not if it ends up cutting into iMPACT's viewership as much as it has. If Spike executives still want to have that "combat sports" block, why not give TNA a second (one hour) weekly show and pair it with Bellator on Wednesdays? TNA could go on from 9-10 and then Bellator could take over afterward. As long as they leave iMPACT alone at 9-11pm on Thursdays from now on, they should feel free to experiment with the other six days of the week.