Welcome to the anniversary edition of the TNAsylum Roundtable Column, Spin Cycle. The panelists for this month's column will be Talon, JSO and FK9 (three veteran members of the site). Let's get rolling:
This year is TNA's 12th year in existence. After over a decade, what kind of company do you feel TNA should be? What should be their focus?
JSO: That’s a tough question. I don’t know if you can pinpoint one direction for TNA; I think the key is to focus on being a well-rounded company. At its core, TNA was built on great wrestling – every employee has praised the in-ring product, and the company even had a slogan that said "Wrestling Matters." But, to round out the whole package, they also have to emphasize the characters and the storylines that compel the audience to tune in every week.
TNA often struggles to find the right balance between wrestling and storytelling. For example, the BFG Series provided some good matches but at the expense of other storylines; and most recently they have introduced a variety of new characters but with too many gimmicks that strip the essence of athletic competition. I think TNA should book at least one or two strong matches every week and combine that with other simple matches, promos and segments to advance the stories. Basically, TNA should aim for the overall entertainment value with a mixture of different genres: action, comedy, drama, suspense, etc.
FK9: It sounds simple, but I really want to see TNA carve out its own identity as a company and as a brand. After well over a decade I feel like this is something TNA should have already accomplished a long time ago, but it always seems to be a work in progress. If you look back on the history of the company, each different creative regime has brought a noticeable change to the product (be it for good or bad) with not a lot that seemed constant to keep a sense of stability and continuity, which has amounted to fans feeling like there was a big reset button hit on the product every few years.
Love the WWE or hate it, no matter what writers come and go, at the end of the day they still have one person in charge overseeing the show, putting his stamp on everything you see, so no matter how good or bad it is, at least there's no sense of whiplash when a writer leaves and a new writer comes in. TNA doesn't seem to have anyone like that. Every new creative regime has very different ideas about what the product should be, often resulting in drastic shifts in story-telling principles every time there's a shake-up in the writers room because there's no one person with a singular vision overseeing everything. The result being the TNA has felt rather schizophrenic over the years, with them seemingly unable to decide exactly what kind of show they want to put on.
Simply put, I want them to figure this out -- figure out what the vision for the company truly is and stick to it. Ideally, I'd want them to go back to being WWE counter culture (something they once seemed proud to be, though no so much anymore apparently). Focus on what they bring to the table that WWE doesn't, the things they do well that WWE slacks off on, and emphasize those qualities.
TALON: TNA/TNA IMPACT Wrestling/IMPACT Wrestling seems to have sort of an identity crisis. They have changed so much over the past couple of years and it feels like they are constantly in a state of flux.
My opinion is that since ROH is focusing on wrestling, and WWE is a middle ground then TNA should be story-driven. I would focus on the storylines and characters like they are doing now. With that said, I would make sure the storylines are logical and compelling as well. It seems with TNA's roster and management, focusing on storylines and characters over wrestling is probably the best way to make them stand out.
TNA should emphasize their concepts. IMPACT 365, Ultimate X, Option C, Bound For Glory Series, Lockdown, One Night Only etc. They should constantly talk about their unique matches and concepts as what makes them stand out. This would include the return of the King of the Mountain as well as other unique matches.
While the company would focus on stories and characters, they need to reserve their TV specials, PPVs and One Night Only events to making sure they deliver some good wrestling. You don't want to isolate a portion of your crowd with your decisions so having wrestling-heavy shows makes sense. It also is the thing that rallies crowds.
Finally, TNA needs to be consistent with their brand. What is their company name? Will there be focus on the X Division? Are they going to use the TV Title? How much focus should go on live events? Who do you want to build short-term and long-term? All of these questions need to be answered and followed upon.
FK9: The answer to both questions was and is the Styles/Williams/Sabin Ultimate-X match from Final Resolution 2005. This isn't just my favorite Ultimate-X match, this is my favorite match period. And to this day, I still say this particular Ultimate-X has never been topped. Never before or since has such a perfect combination of elements come together in this match where the chemistry, timing, spots, athleticism, story-telling all meshed in just the right way to create something really special, meaningful and memorable.
After so many of other Ultimate-Xs have either been largely forgotten or blurred together, I still remember every single detail about this one. And these days I look back on this match as a sad reminder of what the Ultimate-X once was before it became little more than a grossly overused multi-man spotfest vehicle that the X-division stars constantly seem to find themselves in when management can't be bothered to come up with compelling feuds, characters and storylines for them instead.
TALON: My favorite moment would probably have to be Kurt Angle's debut in 2006. I remember watching the No Surrender show in the closing moments. Jim Cornette announced that TNA was going primetime but that wasn't THE announcement. It went to a shot of Angle draped in the American flag. There are few times in TNA history that I have been that excited. While Christian and Sting were both huge additions to TNA, Kurt Angle (to this day) likely meant the most.
While I don't have a favorite match (as there are many that I love) I will say one of them is Sting vs Jeff Jarrett from Bound For Glory 2006. BFG 2006 is probably one of my favorite events in TNA history. Kurt Angle had just signed with TNA and was the enforcer in this thing. Jarrett vs Sting had been built up for the past 10 months and had both the title and Sting's career on the line. Sting got in shape for this match and debuted a new look we had never seen. My favorite moment came at the end when Jarrett used his trusty old guitar on Sting. While it normally won him numerous matches, this time it results in Sting beating his chest and locking Jarrett in the Scorpion to win the World Heavyweight Title. I remember marking out over that moment.
JSO: My favorite TNA moment would have to be the debut of Kurt Angle in 2006. When I think about huge moments in wrestling, the announcement of Angle joining TNA hit all the right notes: shock value, star power, and long-term implications. Earlier that year Angle won the WWE World Title and defeated the Undertaker in an excellent match at No Way Out, so for him to join TNA in the prime of his career was a huge deal at the time. And of course, Angle went on to get inducted into the TNA Hall of Fame several years later.
My favorite TNA match would have to be Bad Influence vs. AJ Styles and Kurt Angle for the Tag Team Titles from Slammiversary 2012. That PPV alone was a huge milestone for TNA on its 10-year anniversary, and the tag match stole the show in front of a hot Texas crowd. The finish was perfect, with AJ doing a springboard shooting star on Daniels while Angle submitted Kaz with the ankle lock to win the titles. All four guys really got to showcase their skills that night, so I would recommend every wrestling fan to watch that match if they haven’t done so already.
TALON: The networks that readers have stated as alternatives include ION Television, My Network Television, and WGN. From what I can gather about all three, they are steps down from Spike.
Hopefully, whatever they get in their negotiations matches or is more than what they are getting now. TNA is actually in a good position with their timeslot etc. They have managed to make that due in the past. My best guess is that whatever happens with UTA, TNA ends up re-signing with Spike, hopefully for a nice long-term deal so fans don't have to worry about TNA falling by the wayside.
JSO: Well, one thing we do know is that the United Talent Agency is reportedly helping TNA secure a new TV deal. However, we have not heard any specific networks that are interested in acquiring TNA programming. Yeah, a lot of fans are debating FX, TNT, FS1 and other networks as potential homes, but those are based entirely on personal preferences.
Admittedly, I don’t know a whole lot about TV networks and what they look for in terms of signing/renewing contracts. Ratings are usually the best indicator of whether or not a show will stay on the air. And while TNA’s ratings have steadily declined to a little over a million viewers, Spike TV has been very supportive of Dixie Carter and company for nine years. My gut tells me that neither side wants to part ways, so ultimately I’m gonna predict that TNA renews with Spike following the NYC tapings. The other thing to consider is that Dixie is still teasing the return of the Bellator guys to IMPACT, so take that for what it’s worth.
FK9: I don't want this to sound like a copout, but I really don't have a good answer to this. While TNA's relationship with Spike has kept them in business, it has also seemed to have reached the point where it's stifling the company's growth due to the network's unwillingness to promote the product and other such details. On the other hand, Spike not being one of the bigger cable networks meant that TNA has never needed to produce huge ratings to be valuable to them, whereas they would likely feel much more pressure if they moved somewhere else. Spike may not have been the most exciting option for TNA for some time now, but it has been a safe option.
If they were to ink a TV deal with a bigger network like FX for example, they might get increased exposure, but the stakes would be much higher if they didn't produce stronger ratings in a hurry (which, let's be honest, is pretty much a pipe dream right now). I'd love to give a more concrete answer, but there are so many pros and cons, and different factors to consider that I just can't. TNA want rewards that probably aren't going to come if they stay with Spike, but those rewards come with a lot of risk that, personally, I'm not sure TNA is prepared to handle at this stage.
TNA has cut a number of TNA Originals recently in favor of new faces. Do you agree with this approach or should TNA be showing more "loyalty?"
JSO: If I have to choose one over the other, I would say TNA is doing the right thing by "trading" the TNA Originals for fresh faces. Nobody knows the full extent of TNA’s finances, but obviously their strategy is to save money by hiring cheaper talent and creating new stars. It has nothing to do with loyalty, it’s just smart business. I believe Dixie Carter said a while ago that they were evaluating every employee on the payroll to determine their value to the company. Some guys are willing to take a pay cut, while others demand more money and walk away – that’s just the way it is, unfortunately.
TNA has needed to freshen up their roster for a long time. I mean, they sort of tried that with the Gut Check during the Prichard regime, but we all know how that turned out. This so-called "youth movement" that they’re on right now is doing what it’s supposed to do by pushing their next generation of stars at the forefront of the company. Besides, TNA still has a few core veterans in Bully Ray, Jeff Hardy, James Storm, Bobby Roode and Mr. Anderson, so it’s not like the roster has totally changed. Really, it’s no different than what any sports team does by dumping certain contracts for draft picks and role players.
FK9: No one is bigger than the business and the business has to come first. The bottom line is that TNA's financial situation has changed. They don't have as much money to throw around as they used to. At one point in time they could afford to hang their hat on sentimentality and pay certain talents more than they might have been realistically worth just because said talents had been with the company a long time or were well-liked or whatever the case might be.
But once the belt-tightening began, TNA needed to take a more practical stance whether they wanted to or not. Many of the long-time TNA originals had been with the company since it began (or almost since) and probably had some of the fatter contracts based on seniority if nothing else. But if those people weren't really moving the needle forward anymore, if TNA had reached the limit of where they could go with those talents, then it simply didn't make good business sense to keep them on the payroll when TNA could sign newer talents to fill those spots for less money.
Even though the departures of many of these TNA originals has hurt, (and in some cases hurt a hell of a lot) even though I haven't agreed with all the talents management decided to part ways with, even though I would have preferred this process happen much more gradually, I think this has been a painful but necessary step the company had to take if their intention is to make more pragmatic financial and business decisions from this point on.
TALON: The recent changes in the roster are a result of a more streamlined approach to finances. TNA took a hit last year and they have had to really tighten their budget since then. Because of that, some hard losses had to take place. To be honest, it probably hurts more due to everything happening at once. TNA should have done something like this years ago.
I don't think TNA has the strongest wrestling roster anymore. They lost alot of good wrestlers the past few months and made them up with alot of stronger talkers. The Wolves have been good wrestling additions though.
I think for what TNA is trying to do, focusing their show more on characters, these moves don't hurt them as much. They will take a hit in viewership, but they are also paying less than what they did in talent contracts. More departures will come (specifically in the case of Kurt Angle) but there have been a few re-signings as well in James Storm, Gunner, Robbie E and Spud.
Part of these cuts definitely are financial but part has to be creative. John Gaburick knows what kind of product he wants to deliver and who he needs to deliver that kind of product. I don't think TNA should be paying people to sit at home especially when they aren't in TNA's long-term plans. TNA and the talent would both benefit if they just severed ties.
TALON: While it would be cool to see Jeff Jarrett inducted into the Hall of Fame, I don't see that happening with GFW. The name that I think has a really good chance of going in is Mike Tenay. Tenay has been with TNA since day one and has called 90% of the shows. He is (for better or worse) the voice of TNA.
FK9: Since I didn't really see the point of TNA starting their own Hall of Fame when this first began a couple years ago and still don't to this day, I'm afraid I may not have a solid answer to this one either. Add that to the fact that the whole HoF induction process has always seemed to be half work/half shoot, meaning that anyone not currently working for TNA is probably not an option, and the choices seem pretty limited.
Putting any possible storylines aside, one person I think really deserves to be inducted is Jeremy Borash. He was essentially TNA's first employee when the company was just an idea being tossed around by Jeff Jarrett and one or two others, and over the years Borash has worked incredibly hard as TNA's resident go-to guy and worn more hats in this company than anyone else I could name. If there are any work elements to it this year, then there's probably a better candidate that I'm not thinking of, but if this is a shoot, then who could be more deserving than JB?
JSO: I think Jerry Lynn deserves to be inducted into the TNA Hall of Fame this year. A) Jerry is legitimately retired from wrestling so he would actually feel like a true Hall of Famer, and B) he will forever be known as the pioneer of the X Division. If Sting and Kurt Angle were the superstar veterans that helped establish TNA’s rising stars, then Jerry Lynn was the workhorse veteran that helped mentor a lot of the young X Division wrestlers during the Asylum era.
People sometimes forget that Jerry also worked as a road agent when he was sidelined with a shoulder injury for a whole year. No doubt Jerry is underrated despite all of his contributions to the wrestling business. Now that Dixie Carter is a heel feuding with Bully Ray, I think it would be cool if Jeremy Borash makes the Hall of Fame announcement at Slammiversary. I’ve heard stories that Borash used to be Jerry’s old roommate, plus it would make for a good nostalgia moment on TNA's 12-year anniversary.
FK9: Maybe a C. It sounds harsh, but I've always been a tough grader. And to be honest, I've really not been enamored with much of the product for a while now. I try to stress the positives when I see them, but many of TNA's creative and booking decisions in recent times have left me cold or had me wondering what in the world they're thinking. There are certain aspects of the product that I enjoy, but for the most part I feel like the current creative team has hit an impasse and is simply not delivering the kind of show that I want TNA to deliver or, quite frankly, the kind of show they NEED to deliver (one look at the recent ratings trends will tell you that). While the show we have these days is hardly the worst TNA has ever been, it's far from the best as well. TNA need to be at their best right now for many different reasons and I just don't think that's going to happen with the current creative team they have in place.
JSO: My current enjoyment of the TNA product is an A-. Aside from a few gripes, the shows keep me entertained in a way that I look forward to watching IMPACT every week. The internet stuff mostly supplements my knowledge regarding the inner workings of the company, sort of like the bonus features on a Blu-ray.
Ever since Bound For Glory, I have enjoyed the different characters that TNA has introduced, such as EC3, Rockstar Spud, The Wolves, Sanada and Bram. Then you have the familiar faces that have reinvented themselves to their strengths, such as Gunner, James Storm, Bobby Roode, Kenny King and Willow. On top of that, I've noticed that some of the matches/brawls have been extremely stiff from time to time. You also have to appreciate the little nuances that TNA does from a production standpoint.
So, all things considered, I’m pretty satisfied with the way things are going right now. Could it be better? Absolutely! Some aspects feel redundant, but then again I’m not as frustrated as most of the IWC are when it comes to their views of the "perfect product".
TALON: Right now, I would say about a B-/C+. TNA books their shows from the top down. They focus on the main event and then fill whatever time is left. This means the X Division and Tag Team Division don't get the attention they usually need. The Knockouts Division does strictly because Christy Hemme is on the creative team.
The main angle is a big determining factor of my enjoyment of the product and it feels like a retread of sorts. Throughout TNA's 12 year history, they keep going back to abusive authority figures, factions or takeovers. The MVP group feels like a mix of those components. I will say that I feel MVP is strong on the mic and I actually enjoyed the groups presence on this week's IMPACT.
I don't feel like Eric Young is a strong champion to have. TNA is really trying to make him look credible but they have alot of work to do. Instead of that I would rather see a Bobby Roode, James Storm, Austin Aries or Magnus as champion. I am not overly excited for the Slammiversary main event however I am feeling better about it than I was a few weeks ago.
The show focuses on storylines and characters which is what I like. There are a bunch of gaps in logic and dead end stories which take away from the show. I also like quality wrestling when its presented and I feel TNA's has taken a major hit over the past few years.
While there are some repetitive elements about the show, we have alot of new blood which makes it feel fresh. There are alot of characters I am really enjoying right now (EC3, Rockstar Spud, Dixie Carter, MVP, Willow etc.). I enjoy the shows by themselves but TNA needs to really work on their long-term storytelling.