Well, Thursday was certainly a big day for news, and surprisingly, none of it had to do with the BFG fallout. Talon already covered a lot of this, so I'll spare you my usual long-winded spiel and just cut right to my initial reactions.
Moving back to home base at Universal Studios
Sooooooo many mixed feelings here. I was actually getting ready to write a different column about how I'd had a change of heart about moving to a permanent location when this came out, and now I'm not sure how to feel.
No matter how you try to spin it, the road shows just weren't working. The crowds were too small, too many of them were uncomfortably quiet, and quite frankly, watching the production crew trying to shoot around all the empty seats nearly every week was getting depressing. Clearly, the company wasn't ready to go on the road and wasn't prepared to spend the money necessary to stay on the road, so moving to one location was a necessary evil. Unfortunately, returning to Universal Studios in Orlando, which WWE set up shop in while they were away, hurts any way you look at it.
Also, they'll apparently be shooting on a different sound stage now; "shorter in length, but wider" is what the chatter is saying. I'm not sure what that means for how the show looks exactly, I'm concerned that iMPACT may end up looking like a televised version of NXT in this new studio, but nevertheless, we must make the best of a tough situation, and there are some positives here.
With the extra expenses finally off the table, they should be able to afford certain frills again. Extravagances such as pyro and the like had to be sacrificed when they went on the road, which might seem unimportant, but it does add a certain something to the presentation when you have it. There will also be more money they can allocate for talent now, meaning they'll hopefully be able to afford more high-profile unsigned names and not have to settle for the ones WWE and/or ROH don't want. And while the smaller set-up may be a bitter pill to swallow, it will be kind of a relief to see TNA once again filming television every week in an arena they can actually fill up, whether those people are buying tickets or not.
Then there was the announcement of them using Universal Studios facilities as their training ground. If that was always an option, I'm not sure why they weren't doing it before, but it sounds promising. However, if they're training talent down there where they shoot TV, what does it mean for OVW? Nothing good I would imagine. In fact, once this goes through I suspect the relationship with OVW might not last much longer. Hopefully, they'll retain their developmental talents at least.
It's kind of a shame that the OVW feeder system hasn't yielded more results, though I don't think that's necessarily their fault. Crimson was developing into a bonafide superstar in the making in OVW with his jingoistic military gimmick before he became a victim of cost-cutting. Similarly, Taeler Hendrix was and continues to show real star quality -- she'd grown a lot more comfortable in the ring, and her heel character work is second to none and has been drawing rave reviews on the independent circuit. I believe both these talents could have done some great things for the company. Severing ties with those two products of the OVW factory was a mistake I think TNA may come to regret.
We don't have a ton of info on what this means yet, but some type of additional content spread across multiple social media platforms sounds like something promising that I'm kind of surprised hasn't been tried already (not counting that one time). Taking the cameras to house shows, filming the stars in different environments and situations away from the ring could present new ways of telling stories. It could be a way to make the product more immersive. Airing an occasional match or promo taped at a live event on iMPACT, but which has some sort of bearing on storylines could be an interesting feature, not to mention it could be a nice selling point for house shows -- the crowds getting to be a part of iMPACT for a few minutes.
And, hey, more content is more content. We all want a second weekly show, but that doesn't look like it's going to happen anytime soon. However, TNA upping their online-exclusive content has its advantages. It makes the product harder to miss for one thing, which is huge benefit since their lack of advertising hinders them so much. Plus, there's money to be made off of it. Internet personalities like Spoony, Linkara and the Nostalgia Critic make their living from monetizeable video views; perhaps TNA could do something similar. It's conceivable that they could film house show matches/promos, edit them together into a separate online show, upload it to various video sharing websites (youtube, blip, dailymotion, etc) with ads attached and possibly make extra money that way with minimal effort.
The multiple platforms concept is the part that really interests me. TNA are smart to be exploring this as television really isn't the only game in town now. I don't know about you guys, but I barely use my TV at all these days. The only shows I watch when they actually air are iMPACT, Raw and Game of Thrones. Every other show that interests me, I watch on my computer, on my own time. If there's content online, I'm more likely to spend more time watching that during the week than I would watching a 60 minute secondary show aired on Spike on Saturday nights or something.
And I absolutely love the idea of management giving the wrestlers the chance to get themselves over by filming stuff on their own and having it potentially incorporated into the product, youtube page, website, etc. It's a simple, but brilliant concept that should allow the talent's real charisma to shine through. Mark my words, this is something that is really going to separate the cream from the crop. If the wrestlers have the freedom to do and say whatever they want without restrictions, essentially creating their own characters, that's where the genuine star quality is going to emerge in the people who have it. We've already seen the beginnings of this and it looks like certain talents are already relishing this new creative freedom. I can't wait to see how this turns out.
More about the Knockouts
The decision to pair Lei'D Tapa with Gail Kim as the new champion's enforcer/bodyguard was a wise one IMO. While Tapa has potential to make some waves in the future, she's still quite green and the prospect of pushing her too hard too soon sounded like a bad way to go. This way, the creative team can feature her while keeping her involvement minimal, letting her learn first-hand from a veteran like Gail until she's really ready for a singles push, similar to the way teaming with Tara helped Brooke
That said, while this solves one problem, it creates another one. Until Bound For Glory, most of us assumed the new champion would be feuding with Tapa, which now appears to not be the case. Tapa and Gail turning on each other may be the long-term goal, but what about the short-term? Tapa being Gail's heavy essentially puts them back at square one with the same problem: Gail has zero fresh opponents left.
As the former champion, ODB probably has a rematch coming to her (though TNA sometimes ignore that angle, so who really knows). I suppose they could drag that out for a few weeks, but not much longer than that. I've lost count of how many times we've seen Gail vs ODB by now, and while Tapa does add a new wrinkle to it, you can only beat this horse to death for so long. The only other Knockout babyface, Velvet Sky, is currently unavailable for a feud due to her storyline with Chris Sabin, and even if she weren't, Gail vs Velvet is every bit as stale. The only other Knockout they have to work with is Brooke, who only recently turned heel and isn't likely to turn back soon unless the writers throw up their hands and hit the reset button on her character.
With options so limited, who on earth does Gail feud with? Although I've said this before, it seems this time TNA really have no other choice but to bring in additional female talent. They need a dynamic babyface who can match up believably with Gail (and Tapa as well) and they need one as soon as possible. The Blossom Twins probably wouldn't work -- maybe temporarily, but they seem more suited to working as a duo than in singles -- not to say they couldn't if they had to, but I don't really think they're a good fit for this type of role yet.
Lord, how TNA must miss Taryn Terrell right now...
With this new 24/7 video of Gail issuing an open challenge and inviting all newcomers to take a shot at her, I'm going out on a limb here and guessing that the debut of a new Knockout is in the works with whom TNA will try to pick up the slack left when Taryn became a baby factory. But who could it potentially be?
Based on recent events, three candidates stand out to me. If we start at the Knockouts Knockdown PPV that was taped early this year and work forward from there, there are two women who TNA seemed to like enough to bring back in some fashion for a second (or third) look, and another woman who has had two opportunities recently as well, only untelevised.
Ivelisse Velez and Santana Garrett both competed on KOKD. Velez -- having previously been passed over for a contract through the Gutcheck program in favor of Lei'D Tapa, despite defeating her in the match -- would later be brought back for another ONO show while Garrett (fresh off an appearance on NXT a few days prior) recently worked a dark match at the OVW TV tapings amidst rumors that TNA were finally looking to beef up their women's roster. Garrett has since teased on social media that she may be about to sign with one of the major companies, though has yet to say anything concrete. Someone else who also worked a dark match at that show was Candice LeRae, who (interestingly enough, also worked against Tapa) was soon brought back to work a second match, this time in front of TNA officials on Bound For Glory weekend.
All having apparently impressed enough to warrant a closer look, it stands to reason that these three are the women leading TNA's candidate list right now. Could Gail Kim's open challenge be a way to debut one of them, similar to how Taylor Wilde was introduced in 2008? For a minute, let's assume this is the case.
My thinking is that Ivelisse is not going to get the nod. She seemed like such a no-brainer signing after her Gutcheck tryout, and again after she had an even better match with Tapa at KOKD. Clearly they liked her enough to bring her back for additional appearances and her history with Tapa would make for great storyline fuel, but if TNA were going to sign Velez, they probably would have done so already, so I suspect there may have been something we don't know about that put the kibosh on that. Backstage issues? Who knows...
That leaves two. Santana and Candice both look like they have the goods in the ring, but LeRae appears to be more confident in the promo skills department from what I've seen. Plus, with her particular look, I wonder if they might view her as someone who could step in for Taryn, so if it came down to a choice, I think TNA would lean more towards her.
[SIDE NOTE: I heard that LeRae actually made a brief appearance on iMPACT this past Thursday, playing Dixie Carter's assistant (the one who shut the door on the camera man) in a backstage pretape, but haven't been able to confirm this. I didn't get a good look, so I wasn't sure if it was her at the time. If it was indeed LeRae, it doesn't necessarily mean that's the role she'll be playing in the future. Management sometimes has prospective talents appear on iMPACT in minor roles like this, presumably to see how they handle themselves on camera (ex. Shane Haste, Mikey Nicols).]
At any rate, once Gail's open challenge begins (I'm assuming) after she finishes her business with ODB, we should get a better idea of what's going to happen. I don't want to jinx it, but it's possible we could have a new Knockout in the ring in time for Turning Point.
OMG for EC3
I thought WWE made a mistake when they released Derrick Bateman. He always seemed to me like a talented guy who had something, though I couldn't put my finger on what exactly. Now I can.
After just two appearances, Ethan Carter III might be my favorite new character to debut in this company since Desmond Wolfe attacked Kurt Angle from behind and pinned him to the mat by his neck with a chair. Rarely has management done such a complete job in creating a new character and presenting them so effectively -- from hype videos building up his arrival, to debuting with a cool entrance, memorable music, a ready-made storyline and an entertaining gimmick/persona already fully formed. Gone are the days when they would just throw new talents on the show cold and try to figure out all that stuff as they went along (ex. Generation Me).
They've really done a terrific job packaging him, as EC3 simply LOOKS like a star. TNA hit a bullseye on this one with what I hope will become their blueprint for introducing new talent in the future. The angle of the spoiled nephew of Dixie Carter being fed easy opponents has been quite entertaining so far, and if they play it up more, I can see it getting over very quickly. The pieces are all there for Ethan Carter III to become a big breakout star for TNA. I can't wait to see where they go with this character.
Dave Meltzer says the Carters are selling TNA
OH NO! TO THE LIFE RAFTS! EVERYONE ABANDON SHIP (and don't forget to visit Dave Meltzer's website, listen to his radio show and subscribe to his newsletter while you're at it. *wink*)! THIS IS SURELY THE END!
Yeah, okay. Whatever, Dave...
I don't think I need to say this, but just for the record, until I see it reported by a reputable site like PWinsider -- and I mean actually reported, not just quoting or paraphrasing what Meltzer says -- then I'm not humoring this one. As I've said before, you have to take any TNA news this guy breaks with a big grain of salt. Many of his TNA-related "hot scoops" turn out to be unsubstantiated rumors, embellishments, half-truths blown out of proportion or things he might have just made up to get attention.
Maybe there's some truth to it and maybe there isn't, but until such time as a credible TNA news source I have reason to trust picks up on it, I'm not going to lose much sleep over this one. Rumors like this have come and gone before, and unless I see something concrete, I'm going to consider this one just like the rest. We'll cross that bridge if and when we come to it.