FK9 – Writer of "Straight Shooting"
The Messenger – Writer of "Heed the Messenger"
Mortimer Plumtree – Writer of "Pondering with Plumtree"
Wake Chambers – Writer of "Wake-Up Call with Wake Chambers"
Let’s talk about TNA's return to Universal Studios. As the date draws closer, what are your thoughts on the second go-round in Orlando? Are you excited, concerned, etc?
FK9: I'm feeling a lot of different things right now. I'm happy that TNA are doing what they need to do to get their expenses under control. I'm disappointed that they had to return to Universal Studios to do it. I'm glad that now they'll hopefully have money to spend on things like pyro and higher profile unsigned talent. I'm discouraged that they'll be filming TV in the middle of a WWE hub, in a smaller studio than they had before. If you put a gun to my head, I honestly don't think I could sum up all these feelings in one word.
I'm trying really hard to get to a place where I can be at ease with this. I think I'll get there, but a lot of it is going to depend on the crowds they bring into this new iMPACT Zone. The awful, spoiled, burned out crowds were the biggest reason why so many of us wanted TNA to go on the road originally, and now they're heading right back to that same place and those same fans.
I'm hoping like hell that the company leaving Orlando for the better part of a year will, at the very least, have given the wrestling fans in Universal Studios enough time to miss having TNA tape TV there. If they've been able to recharge their batteries since then and can act like fans that actually care about the shows they're getting like they used to, then I think I'll be able to accept this. But if they're the same crowds that were sleeping through iMPACT every week by the end of the company's previous run there, this is going to be really hard to take.
Chambers: I still harbor my initial visceral reactions of when I first saw the news of the return to an extent; I still am disappointed the road experiment did not work out. But at the same time, I understand and am relieved TNA has the sense to pull back when necessary. I want TNA to thrive as a company, no matter its competitive nature to the WWE. All I desire is to have a viable alternative that I enjoy watching. If that means going back to Orlando, I can suck it up and just be happy TNA did not screw the pooch and go belly up. I want them to stay in business with a solid bottom line.
That said, it is still impossible as a fan to not still wish the touring had been successful. Orlando, like a lot of us, was the last place I wanted TNA to go to as a home base. I am concerned many of the old issues with the Impact Zone will eventually make themselves known again, most notably the lack of crowd enthusiasm which does have somewhat of an effect on me psychologically to enjoy the show. I have this nagging feeling the crowd may be good at first and then just get lackadaisical like the last time TNA was there.
At the same time, I cannot but help to be excited for the company’s future. TNA has a never-say-die type of attitude as a company, as evidenced by the fact that they took the huge risk of going on the road in the first place, and then when it did not work, they used the return to Orlando as a way to begin a whole new initiative with Impact 365. There is a whole new vibe I get with the end of the Hogan era and the new creative direction taking place. If TNA can maintain a solid balance of good to great wrestling and solid, consistent storytelling with exciting plot movement, the move to Orlando will not phase my naturally positive outlook as a fan.
Plumtree: With the dust settled on the abundance of sales rumors and other shenanigan thoughts and hearsay regarding the company, the return to Orlando is very, very intriguing with a hint of excitement. I'd be lying if I said it's what I would hope and ultimately wish for the company, however, the return also feels like a rebirth, almost like a restart. And because of that rebirth, there seems to be a sense of excitement. A chance to return home, gather itself, figure out a philosophy on what it wants to be, and move forward. The new soundstage (Do we call it the new Impact Zone?) almost is symbolic of that as TNA now has a fresh new canvas to work with.
Speaking of the soundstage, the new atmosphere should give TNA new shots and angles to work without having to hide or be creative in hiding empty seats and dark areas. The smaller (hopefully louder) atmosphere should add to it as well. From a standpoint of television production, the move might be a blessing in disguise, and who knows, maybe the once loyal Impact-zone crowd will appreciate their access to see IMPACT Wrestling on a regular basis?
Messenger: I am hopeful about TNA's return to Orlando even though it will be portrayed by many as a step backward. But the company has been thru things like this before - moving the show from Thursday to Monday and then back to Thursday, which was for the best. This also may be for the best - especially since TNA still plans to take Impact on the road sometimes.
The most important thing is not where Impact takes place - but that they company operates within a sensible budget AND tells its stories effectively. There is some sense, even among some of the company's critics in the IWC, that Impact has been a better-focused, smarter show since Bound for Glory. If that continues and the company operates within a sustainable budget, growth and success are very possible.
The Orlando press release mentioned that "several new characters will be announced in the coming months." Which type of character(s) would you like to see? Which free agent(s) would you sign to portray those roles?
Chambers: I am a little biased when it comes to this topic. I have put a lot of thought on this topic, with a recent column that explains some of my thoughts. With new characters, I would like to see ones that push the envelope of character possibilities beyond the traditional face or heel type of characters. I guess this would venture into areas that you might think of as tweener or into motivations and reactions to situations that you do not necessarily think a traditional babyface or heel would.
For example, imagine a heelish character that does not like to break the rules but uses the rules in cheap ways or to their advantage, such as using technicalities in a low probability situation. I think there is a lot of room to push the boundaries of what types of characters we usually see in professional wrestling. With a variety of such characters, you could possibly see new sorts of interactions between different combinations of characters.
As far as a specific type of character, I have not really put as much thought into it as I have put behind the philosophy behind character composition, but I guess I have some criteria that I will be looking for in new characters as they appear. First of all, I would like TNA to create a high standard for characterization, where a character is not just another face in the crowd and stands out well. EC3 is a great start for a new direction on this topic. Though he does not push the mold as I talked about above, he is still a solid character. He has his own unique qualities. That is the most important part in my humble opinion.
Second, I hope each new character has its own unique idiosyncrasies which add a little something extra to the character—those small things that add a touch of something that helps us relate to the character or makes us react to the character. Third, I would like to see those characters with characteristics that push the envelope as I talked about above. This is not essential in the sense of my enjoyment of the product, but I am a big proponent of innovation where it makes sense. I hope that is something TNA will consider as they bring in fresh talent.
FK9: I'd like to see an anti-hero character that doesn't fall into either the babyface or heel camp. Someone like Samoa Joe was when he first came in -- a total badass who fights for no one but himself and destroys anyone who gets in his way. They've been trying to do something similar with AJ Styles recently, but at times it's seemed like an awkward fit on him. If they could make it happen, I'd love for Chris Hero to get that role. He was just released from WWE and they were stupid to let him get away; Hero is a fantastic talent. If he has any interest whatsoever in doing business with TNA, I hope they'll do everything they can to snatch him up.
I'd also like to see a new top Knockout babyface. Since Taryn Terrell got pregnant and had to step away from the ring, they just haven't had a strong, dynamic female performer to build around on the babyface side. The only current options are ODB and Velvet Sky, neither of whom are ideal choices at this point. Of the independent talents that TNA has tried out recently, I believe Candice LeRae is far and away the best choice, and I hope Gail Kim's open challenge will lead to her debut.
Messenger: The debut of Hannah Blossom last week gives me hope that the Blossom Twins will be added to the roster. There, I wonder if the hold-up has been a question of how to use a tag-team in a division that doesn't feature tag matches or titles. They can figure out a way. I hope the other two female wrestlers who recently got a tryout, Veda Scott and, I believe the other's name is Candice LeRae, although I am not familiar with her, are brought in too. The Knockouts need developing again so I hope all four of these are TNA regulars soon. I can say from personal experience that Veda Scott is a compelling, well-rounded performer who can deliver inside and outside the ring.
As for the men, I'd like to see more of Zema Ion now that he is healthy again. I'd also like to see some ROH talent brought in - the recent rumors about Roderick Strong made me hopeful. In that promotion, I am also a big fan of Silas Young, Kevin Steen and Jimmy Jacobs, and think any or all of those could be good additions to TNA.
Plumtree: I'd like to see the initiative and effort shown in the presentation and development of the EC3 character duplicated, or at least followed with the introduction of other characters. New characters which include marketable names, distinguishable entrance themes, and overall uniqueness is something I'd prefer to see. Sometimes there can be too many "black tights, black boots, and bad asses" on one roster. What I would like preferably, is for these new characters to be developed in the X-Division. It's been a long-time since we've had such statures in the division.
TNA kicked off 2013 with some memorable moments such as the Bully-Brooke wedding and the Aces & Eights revelations. What big developments, if any, do you think will close out the year?
Messenger: I think the big events to come are a conclusion of the Aces and Eights storyline, via the Bully Ray/Mr. Anderson program and the winner of the world championship tournament facing a returning AJ Styles. I'd also really like to EC3 start facing some strong competition so they can grow him as a wrestler now that he is established strongly as a character.
I also expect the typical fallout between Gail Kim and Lei'D Tapa, with Tapa getting fed of protecting Kim, and turning face to take on the champion. I'd switch that around as I think Gail is overdue for a face turn - I'd instead have Tapa turn out to have been using Gail and turn on her viciously, leaving Gail on her own, no friends, since none of the faces trust her, with good reason.
FK9: The biggest thing we have on the horizon right now would be the return of AJ Styles. His storyline of leaving the company with the world title has him off the show, defending the belt internationally in other promotions while Dixie works on crowning a new champion. If they continue to build this up like they have, when AJ finally returns and faces off with Dixie's chosen one who was anointed in his absence, that could be a pretty explosive moment, and one I'm really looking forward to.
Plumtree: For the most part, I believe TNA will use the next remaining tapings, throughout the Holidays and the rest of the year, to establish a new direction around that of heel Dixie Carter. I really believe whoever becomes World Champion after Genesis, will more than likely be in the middle of the next angle, development, and/or moments heading into 2014.
Chambers: The biggest thing that will obviously pan out is a new TNA champion will be crowned, who will be recognized by Dixie as the legitimate champion. Other than that tasty morsel of a prediction, by the end of the year, I think there is a high probability there will be a wrestler who clearly aligns with Dixie, and one would think that that wrestler and the new champion would be one in the same person. That might necessarily pan out exactly and perhaps they end up being different people. TNA is a swerve happy company, and maybe we get a big heel that becomes champ and a separate one that is Dixie’s ally. I would put that possibility as low, but there is always that chance TNA could do it to give multiple wrestlers direction.
To tell you the truth, I salivated at the slim possibility of Joe becoming champion when he stood up to the TNA President, simply because, if you think about it, that would create a tremendous story arc dynamic with two world titles being on the side opposite Dixie. Seriously, that would be cool. It would just be different from things we have seen in the past in professional wrestling. I like the scenario it could potentially create. But, I digress.
With the current state of stories, there are many ways TNA could go. Whatever does happen, it seems fairly obvious the world title tournament will spawn several story directions for each of its participants in and around the larger story of the Styles v Dixie arc. Without going into too much detail, I would also hope we at least get a definitive answer, or minimally a more palpable inkling, of Magnus’ direction regarding his heel-ness. But out of everything, we should most definitely see the definitive end of Aces and 8’s. Right?
What are your thoughts on the return of the One Night Only series in 2014? Aside from the ones already announced, which theme(s) would you like to see?
Plumtree: I didn't catch many of the One Night Only Series from this year, but I thought they were great for the company. Obviously, because of the delayed airing, there are times the show may seem outdated, but for the most part, the idea is innovative on the part of TNA.
Taking these tapings on the road are just another innovative idea by TNA to not only help increase awareness and improve it's image, but it is also a good way to help ticket sales for non IMPACT shows. The Old School idea is genius, and the others should help as well.
Being a NYC native, I still think this market would appreciate a One Night Only taping. Possibly a show along the lines of an international theme. A show to cash in on all of those talent exchanges with various companies would be ideal. Just fill the card with a combination of TNA's talent along with many of the international talents involved. Possibly a new spin on the World Cup format? Maybe just USA vs. The World?
FK9: I'd like to see them bring back Gutcheck, but in a different format. Bring in a whole bunch of independent wrestlers, possibly chosen from the Gutcheck Challenge competition, and stage a big one night tournament (we know how much TNA love tournaments) ending with one man and one woman earning a TNA contract. It probably wouldn't draw a ton of buys, but something like this would be really interesting to me. I always thought the Gutcheck concept was a good idea that could work, but they just never figured out how to present it right. This could be a good opportunity to take another stab at it.
Chambers: I like the concept, but I have not had a good reason to order any so far. My initial reaction of the return of the ONO PPV’s was indifference. It is incumbent on TNA to make us have reason to spend extra money on something that does not have anything to do with the show. I would say they have definitely improved the concept so far.
For one, they are filming them outside of the IZ so far, which makes a lively crowd all the more likely—a huge problem with the previous ONO’s. They are also putting the effort of developing more stories into the announced matches, with Bully Ray invading House of Hardcore or having a match with an actual feud from TV in the Bad Influence/EY and Park matchup. But still, there needs to be a high probability of knowing if there will be solid wrestling or a better hook to warrant a purchase from me.
As far as a specific theme I would like to see? For one, I like FK9’s Gutcheck themed ONO idea, where the winner of a tournament wins a contract. I would also like to see ONO’s that feature the undercard divisions but have actual bearing to the TV product. However, that might be asking too much if they need to film them well in advance (It would be good to avoid spoilers that far in advance.). Other ideas that might be fun? King of the Mountain? A World X Cup with actual importance built into it? Unfinished Business, featuring some of the storied rivalries with some of the existing talent or returning talent? Vince Russo on a pole match theme? There’s a few to think about.
Messenger: I'm going to keep this short as I have seen none of the one-night only PPVs. If they make money for the promotion, great. Otherwise, between the four regular PPVs and the PPV-themed editions of Impact, I'm not sure why the One Night Onlys are necessary. To me, they've been so stale when they reached air that I had no desire to pay to watch them.
People always talk about the greatest matches in TNA history. To mix things up, what was the greatest storyline in TNA history? Why?
FK9: This is such a hard question to answer because over the years, it's often felt like I was a fan of TNA despite the storylines. The roster was great, the wrestling was great, but more often than not, when it came to creative, there was always something making me want to pull my hair out. Pulling off a well-told story and sticking the landing has never been TNA's strong suit, let's be honest.
Kaz vs Black Reign in a rat-trap-on-a-pole match, Samoa Joe getting kidnapped by ninjas in the parking lot and then returning like nothing happened, the Immortal takeover, the Aces & 8s -- all these storylines and more were things I didn't like, but put up with because I thought the good in TNA outweighed the bad and I wanted the company to succeed.
There have been bright spots though. And while I feel I have to attach a "good idea, bad execution" label to some of them, you still have to give credit when it's due. I say the greatest storyline in TNA history is the Styles/Daniels/Joe feud. Yes, the matches were unbelievable, but just as important was the intensity of the rivalry and what it meant to all three characters.
The story itself was very basic, but there's a good reason why fans still rave about the feud years later and it wasn't just because of the wrestling. It was a simple feud done with the right people at the right time, executed to perfection, and to this day, I still think it's one of the best this company has ever produced. It did more for the X-division than any other feud has before or since, it served as a launching pad for all three men and it's meaning still has weight today, long after so many other feuds were forgotten.
Messenger: Honestly, to me the greatest story in TNA history is the ongoing story of the promotion itself - with all of the subtext. It has played around, without being explcit, of being the follow-on to WCW for years now. It has been presented as a mainstream wrestling company that offers an alternative to WWE.
It has struggled to determine whether it is better off pushing its own stars or people who first made a name elsewhere - my take on that issue is and always has been that a mix is fine. Unlike a lot of people, I like the Dixie Carter as heel president story and look forward to TNA working other parts of its history, like Jeff Jarrett and high-profile hires like Angle and Hardy, into that long-term.
Plumtree: That really is a tough one. I'm sure from a business standpoint, as legend has it, the Samoa Joe/Kurt Angle showdown leading into Lockdown 2008 has a good argument as being the highest grossing PPV buyrate. Maybe even the epic-ness that was Samoa Joe / AJ Styles / Christopher Daniels over the X-Division championship.
However, I'll go a bit off radar here and say Raven/Jeff Jarrett from TNA's early days. Up until then, the company was Jeff Jarrett and a bunch of potential big names, but Raven's debut, feud with Jarrett, and chase for the NWA Championship really gave TNA legs as a promising and viable company.
Chambers: Being a relatively new fan of TNA (i.e. 2.5 years), my perspective is limited in that regard. Since I have been watching, there have been some high quality stories that I think probably compare to the upper echelons of this conversation. For me, though, the best storyline simply has to be the rise of Bobby Roode and his subsequent feud with James Storm in late 2011 to Bound for Glory 2012.
Roode was on fire for that almost yearlong narrative. It was executed beautifully. Could it have been better. Absolutely. It could have been for the TNA World Heavyweight Championship at BFG with Storm winning the whole thing. However, TNA adapted to a new phenomenon and a close second in the best storyline sweepstakes: the rise of Austin Aries to the main event scene. And I would gladly sacrifice Storm v Roode for the title again to have two great matches I have seen to date in TNA, both of which were at BFG 2012—the street fight between Roode and Storm and what I rate highly in Hardy ve Aries for the title.