February 02, 2015

TNAsylum Spin Cycle 1/28/15: Modern Trends

Welcome back to another edition of the Spin Cycle, our roundtable column discussing some of the main topics in TNA Wrestling. On this episode, we discuss TNA's production style, fantasy matches, the UK Tour and comic-to-wrestling crossovers. Let's meet our panel:

  • FK9 – Writer of “Straight Shooting”
  • The Messenger – Writer of “Heed the Messenger”
  • Adam Foster – Writer of “The Other Side of the Tracks”
  • Mortimer Plumtree – Writer of “Pondering with Plumtree”

What are your thoughts on TNA's new production style? Are there any strengths or weaknesses that stick out in your mind?

FK9: The best thing I can say about it is that it looks different. Different from what the TNA product looked like before, from what the WWE product looks like and different from any other way I've seen wrestling presented. To be a true alternative, you have to be different, and it seems like that's what they're going for right now. For the most part, the wrestlers come off like real people rather than caricatures reciting memorized, stilted, unnatural dialogue. The production has a real gritty, grounded in reality feel to it, as apposed to the glossy, cartoonish way WWE often presents their stars. Smaller details like the new match graphics look very unique and enhance the presentation a lot. TNA finally feel like they're really charting their own path and forging their own identity; being different because it's what makes sense for them as a company, not because they just want to haphazardly zig where the other company zags. 

That's not to say there aren't some kinks to iron out. There are a number of times when the show feels too produced. For example, when they cut to the announcers suddenly in a different location from where they're calling the show and have them talk over background music, it really takes me out of the show because that's when I know it isn't live. We all know that TNA tape IMPACT weeks in advance, but I want to be able to suspend my disbelief and that becomes difficult when I see things that look like they could only happen after a lengthy stint in the editing bay. 

Also, the shaky cam is getting on my nerves a bit. It was already an overused filming technique in movies and it's getting really excessive on IMPACT now too. In backstage segments, it seems to work, especially during pretapes when the wrestlers are supposedly being filmed without their knowledge, but during the matches, I find myself wanting more stable shots so I can get a clearer view of the action because the herky-jerky camera work gets rather disorienting. 

And I know not everyone agrees with me on this one, but I really don't like the venue being so dark. Apparently they're doing this to draw attention to the wrestlers, but a lot of viewers associate a dark arena with an empty arena. If there's an audience in the stands, I want to be able to see it because it makes the show feel bigger. Suppose TNA sell out the Wembley Arena on the Maximum IMPACT Tour and instead of seeing 20,000 screaming fans in attendance, we only see the ringside area and a whole lot of darkness surrounding it. I understand what TNA are trying to do, but I don't care for the visual at all. Just turn the house lights back on, please.

MESSENGER: I was very impressed with the second episode of Impact on Destination America - and relieved too, because I thought the first live Impact on the new carrier was not very good. I hated the opening brawl - what is the point of those when there are so many people in the frame, who or what is the viewer supposed to focus on? I also find most brawling of this type - when staged - to be very unbelievable.

Back to the matter at hand, the production style. I thought it looked good and different - that said, the boxes used when they went to a two-box screen were a bit too small I thought. I really liked the way they used Josh Mathews and Taz on the broadcast, and without saying it explicitly, they sort of acknowledged that the wrestling was taped. Why promotions pretend otherwise (and it's not just TNA that does this) is beyond me - I've been at ROH TV tapings where people cut promos talking about "last week" when they are referencing something that happened less than an hour before. Who do they think they're kidding?

What this episode showed is something Dixie Carter pointed out in the leadup to the live episode on Jan. 7. Production-wise, they can do so much more with a taped Impact. I now agree - but I still consider live episodes to be more must-see because "anything" can happen. I hope TNA can find a middle ground where it brings top-notch production values to live episodes.

PLUMTREE: I am very intrigued by the new production and look of the product. For some, I know it might take getting used to, especially as TNA continues to find itself in this new era, but the new camera angles of the footage coming from the handheld cameras and less of from the standard hard camera is indeed interesting. In a world where the WWE lead on production is even greater than its perceived lead on the market, finding a presentation style is important to stick with for the sake of the product's brand and identity. 

I'm a huge fan of the "real" approach with Taz and Josh Mathews being in a studio. I really like the new graphics, and the new song is overwhelmingly catchy. My favorite of them all are the small video vignettes taking the time to go over things such as the X-Division, feuds, backgrounds on wrestlers, and even the history of concepts, such as the recent one on the Feast or Fired match. It makes such a huge difference. 

Of course, with anything new, there are glitches, setbacks, and weaknesses. So far through two shows shot like this, much of the camera angles at times can be jarring, and at times a bit much. I have gotten used to the darkening of the crowd, and in some ways have grown to like it. The focus should be on the ring, if that's the direction the company is going.

FOSTER: From what we have seen so far my major thought has been how fresh the show feels. The new ways of shooting and the return of the announce desk have gave the show a much more event like feel. We're not just seeing the backstage hallway anymore, the cameras are all over the building. As for weaknesses it's clear that the camera guys are still picking up the new skills as was shown when we missed JB swinging at EC3 on the live debut. but I'm sure they will get better soon.

With TNA bringing back the Hardys and Awesome Kong to face the Wolves and Havok, what other fantasy matches do you want to see on IMPACT?

FOSTER: Without a doubt I would love to see Bad Influence return to have a true feud with the Wolves and the Hardys. I would also mark my pants off if Motor City Machine Guns came back, they are one of the best tag teams to ever fight in TNA. The other fantasy match I want to see is a KO Ultimate X match featuring Kong vs Havok vs Gail vs Taryn vs Mickie James and the highly under-rated Velvet Sky, whoops I meant LuFisto. Oh and anything that gets AJ Styles back on my TV.

PLUMTREE: This is a great question, as TNA really has been doing a great job of providing fans with said "fantasy" matchups. Even dating back to Samoa Joe vs. Kurt Angle's stare down right away. My immediate thought response when reading this question went straight to what TNA has been doing excellently as of late - the Tag Team Division. I would love to see the Motor City Machine Guns vs. The Wolves - Best of Five Series.

FK9: I already saw one of the biggest ones on my list when they did Gail Kim vs Kay Lee Ray during the British Bootcamp 2 finals, but I've been itching to see a rematch on IMPACT. Also, the Wolves vs the Young Bucks would be fantastic, but seems unlikely with the Bucks having so much success in NJPW these days.

MESSENGER: I want to see some further resolution of the ongoing Bobby Roode/James Storm rivalry - and I have what I think is an interesting idea that I'll outline soon in a "Heed the Messenger" column. It would involve Storm not being the most typical heel out there. I'd like to see some group - possibly involving Austin Aries - develop to counter the Revolution, with Bobby Roode stuck in the middle, as he and Storm appeared to bury the hatchet last year and also as it's never quite clear whether Roode and Aries like, dislike or trust one another.

I'd like to see one of Jessie or Robbie E turn face, splitting up the BroMans, with DJ Z splintering off to become Zema Ion again and be central in the X Division title chase. Meanwhile, Robbie and Jessie would square off in a singles program, with the feud starting with an argument over which of them is the bigger reality TV star.

With Velvet's departure and Madison Rayne's heel-turn late last year, I'd like to see Madison and Angelina Love unite as the new Beautiful People, with different theme music and a more hostile, less smarmy attitude. An initial story could center on their attempt to recruit Rebel into their faction.

As we approach the 2015 TNA UK Tour, what big moments or surprises do you predict will happen on this year's tour?

MESSENGER: I haven't actually thought about this. I know the cast from British Bootcamp will be involved - they will all be fresh faces to me and I hope I like what I see. I certainly hope there is development of the Magnus/Bram storyline. The obvious direction would be a split, with Magnus turning face and heading into a program with Bram. Since that seems so obvious, I hope they do something different - anything to get Bram away from his hardcore focus.

I also would expect a change in the tag title holders - and with it a departure of Abyss from the Revolution, where he just doesn't fit. With at least the voice of Joseph Park recently appearing in a recent "I'm With Spud Wednesday" video, can we hope that Chris Parks' other, much-less played out character will come back soon? There is nothing left to be done with Abyss, even if he could wrestle anymore - but he can't.

I think TNA is setting things up for the Hardys to have their first run as the tag title holders. Will that happen in the UK? Probably not, since Jeff Hardy has not been able to go on the UK tour in the past AND he may be recovering from a serious injury. But I think the plan has been for the Hardys to take the titles from Storm and Abyss and then enter a face vs. face program against the Wolves for the titles. (Remember: The Wolves debuted in the UK last year, as did MVP.)

PLUMTREE: It seems, to me at least, that TNA is still positioning itself to where it wants to be after busting out of the box on its new home, Destination America. The UK looks to be the perfect period where plenty of this will go down. I'll take a stab in the dark and say Kay Lee Ray will debut, Maguns and Bram will cash in their Tag Titles briefcase successfully for a nice home-country moment, Grado joins the roster, James Storm begins his pursuit of Lashley and the World Heavyweight title, and to finalize this answer with some sex appeal, a major free agent will debut with TNA. Oh I don't know, for my own whim, no knowledge of contract status involved, let's just go Adam Cole - bay bay!

FOSTER: I think the biggest moment we may get is an announcement of some additional signings from British Bootcamp 2. I've been saying for the last few months that I thoroughly expect Kay Lee Ray to end up on the roster and a great way to start that off would be in Glasgow with Nikki Storm costing Kay whatever match they have. I also think one of the surprises we may get is how good Grado can be in the ring when he takes on Al Snow.

FK9: This is more like a wish list than a set of predictions, but... 

1) Kay Lee Ray getting signed to a contract. Brittany and Velvet Sky just left, so there's certainly room on the roster for her. Ray could be the top babyface in the Knockout division if given half a chance. TNA passing on a potential star like her would be downright insane IMO. With a little work, Kay Lee Ray could be the heir apparent to Gail Kim. 

2) A big showcase for Rockstar Spud and Mark Andrews. Spud's character has really been catching fire lately and Andrews as the British Bootcamp 2 winner should be highlighted well too. I think there could be money in them as a team, but if the writers wanted Spud to be the first man to pin EC3 on these shows, I don't think it would be a bad idea. The time and place feel right for it, and it would likely blow the roof off the arena. 

3) Al Snow putting Grado through a flaming table. No explanation necessary.

Given the popularity of comic shows and movies, do you think TNA should incorporate any of these elements into their product? Why or why not?

FK9: Yes. But no campy superhero storylines if that's what you mean. TNA seem to be trying to make their product more gritty and realistic than the other company, so that wouldn't really work. Working in references or allusions to those shows is probably the way to go -- something that doesn't insult the fans' intelligence and shows that TNA management is up to date on current pop culture trends, that they know comic book "geek" culture is really big right now and they're onboard with it. 

It doesn't have to be big, over-the-top stuff. Little things can accomplish this just fine, I think. TNA have often had their stars visiting Marvel Comics headquarters, so maybe bring a camera crew next time and film a pretape or two. Show a heel wearing a Hydra t-shirt like it's just part of his everyday wardrobe. Have a babyface wrestling in gear that has the Arrow or Flash logo on it. This is where having a character like Leva Bates with her cosplay gimmick would be a no-brainer because what better way to capitalize on the popularity of the comic book craze than to feature someone who embodies it? Hell, given the popularity of cosplay right now and the way the Marvel Studios movies are cleaning up at the box office, I'm surprised TNA haven't tried something like that already.

FOSTER: If we are taking about bringing a taste of the super hero to TNA then I think we have missed the boat. Go back to say 2008 when you had the likes of Super Eric and Curry Man forming the Prince Justice Brotherhood that's what we had and people still feel nostalgic for that era of TNA. However with the new way that TNA are focusing their product I don't think it would fit in anymore. The only reason to have it would be for the comic relief as no-one would be able to get behind the babyfaces nor would they believe that the heels where evil. Also if someone is giving a promo and has some comedy that's fine but I think WWE's declining Network subscribers and falling Raw viewership show what an abundance of comic relief can do to a wrestling show.

PLUMTREE: I honestly do not watch any of these shows. I have heard good reviews, and the people who do watch them are pretty passionate about each series in several ways. By "elements", I hope we're not talking "super hero" qualities, but if there are any television characteristics or story lines that spur from these shows that make sense to be presented in the wrestling realm, I'm all for it. I'm all for pro wrestling trying new things as long as said things fit respectively to what will entertain wresting fans. Especially, when TNA seems to be headed in a more serious and real direction.

MESSENGER: Wow. I think it might suffice here for me just to say "no." The return of Super Eric? Not remotely the direction I would go. I would focus on storylines about title chases and factions and personality conflicts, with payoffs resulting from buildup to big matches at pay per views or bigger-than-usual episodes of Impact. 


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