On a recent Bruce Mitchell Audio at PWTorch.com, Mitchell and Wade Keller discussed the presentation of TNA iMPACT! since Hulk Hogan and Eric Bischoff each grabbed a section of the company’s reins. Keller reminded listeners that Bischoff, on a Torch Talk podcast, suggested he wanted to differentiate iMPACT! from WWE Monday Night Raw by drawing a line down the center of a piece of paper, writing out aspects of Raw on one side, and then sketching out completely different options for iMPACT! on the other side.
Since then, iMPACT! has featured a four-sided ring. Big change.
OK, the wrestling ring is a bad example, as the six sides of hexagoned circle met opposition from the get-go which grew until the day it was replaced with the standard square. Maybe that was a necessary change. But besides the addition of the Hervey-Cam – the documentary-style backstage interviews, which are essentially “more realistic” versions of WWE’s backstage skits – Keller pointed out that Bischoff and Hogan have done very little to present iMPACT! as anything other than a mid-1990s “WWF Jr.”
From the large screen at the top of the angled ramp to the two announcers sitting at ringside, one of whom was a WWE commentator one year ago, TNA iMPACT! resembles WWE Monday Night Raw an awful lot more than it should given Bischoff’s bold proclamation. But Keller’s reminder of Bischoff’s statement made me wonder, just how many ways can a Monday-night wrestling program make itself look different from the 17-year standard bearer? How can Kevin Dunn’s vision be dissected in a way that would bring a shiny smile to Jim Cornette’s Wendy’s-lubricated lips? Well, I took out my pad and pen, drew a line right down the middle of the paper, and I tried to think of Raw’s components and the ways a wrestling company could break from the norm.
Opening montage/theme: Alright, every TV show these days has an opening montage, a collection of clips of its top stars. I can’t vouch for a single-shot opening like “The Dick Van Dyke Show” used to have, or a drawing of a heart like “I Love Lucy.” So let’s stick with the collage of in-ring action. But Raw has featured mainstream radio rock (read: bullshit) as its theme songs for the past 12 years, from Anthrax’s “Thorn in Your Eye” to Union Underground’s “Across the Nation,” from “To Be Loved” by Papa Roach to the current god-awful “Burn it to the Ground” by the atrocious Nickelback. What about some rap? Some clubbin’ dance music? Some punk rock? Pro wrestling theme songs needn’t be the same hard-driving drivel you hear on “LAZER 103.3”
Pyrotechnics/panning the crowd: Fireworks and other pyrotechnics serve two purposes: getting the crowd worked up about something they otherwise wouldn’t be worked up about, and showing off the money you make/jerking off in public. In stark contrast, I propose no pyro, old-school ECW style (save for random Sabu entrances, and boy did that look out of place). And rather than the rapid-fire cuts panning large sections of the entire crowd, slow it down a shade, or just start from a camera at the top of the arena looking down on the “capacity crowd.”
Fifteen-thousand-seat venues as settings: This is one area where TNA has separated itself from the standard production since almost day one, first holding its weekly pay-per-views in the Nashville Fairgrounds’ rodeo barn or whatever, then moving to a soundstage at Universal Studios in Orlando. But as Wade Keller pointed out in the aforementioned Bruce Mitchell Audio, TNA’s set still looks like a shrunk-down version of a Monday Night Raw layout. So we could start by holding the show in 2,000- to 5,000-seat venues instead. I fell in love with the Odeum in Chicago the first time I saw it as the setting for ECW Anarchy Rulz in 1999. ECW also ran in cool venues like the Hammerstein Ballroom in New York, and the first year or so of Monday Night Raw was held in the Manhattan Center, a 1,000-person venue that Ring of Honor has since taken over. Major events have been held at neat little arenas, and there’s no reason wrestling couldn’t go back there for a flagship show.
Announcers seated at ringside: This is standard for a reason: It works. But that doesn’t make it an aspect of the television broadcast worth ignoring. The first time we see Michael Cole and Jerry Lawler on our screens, or Mike Tenay and Taz, or any other major league announce duo, they’re sitting down at their table at ringside. I miss seeing Gorilla Monsoon and Bobby Heenan standing in front of their table to introduce the show, or Tony Schiavone and Jesse Ventura on their feet in front of the first row. It makes the announcers seem more like part of the party atmosphere, which is kinda fun.
The angled metal ramp: For how many years did the WWF get by with having its wrestlers walk through a black curtain at floor level? On the other hand, for how many years did WCW use a raised platform that led all the way from the curtain to the ring? And how did ECW get away with doing both? And now everywhere you look, wrestlers walk through an entrance port, stand on a metal stage and walk down an angled ramp to about the halfway point of the aisle. I understand putting your stars on a pedestal, but I kinda long for the days of the simple black curtain. It didn’t stop Hulk Hogan from getting the biggest pop of the night, did it?
Titantron/Large TV screen: This one will be even harder to debate now that the new Cowboys Stadium features a 175-foot screen hanging from the rafters. But I like having a system of projection, and there are other means of displaying wrestlers’ entrance videos (which also don’t need to exist) and scenes from “Moments ago” (which also don’t need to exist, and I’ll argue that later). Heck, have two smaller screens, one on each side of the wrestlers’ entrance, like WCW did in the mid-1990s. Hang plasma or LCD TVs from the rafters in place of logo banners. Have a crawler/stock ticker sort of rig wrapping around the arena bowl. Keep it simple or go a little wild, but make like “1984” and smash that big screen.
Hard camera on side of arena adjacent to entrance: The WWF/WWE has been known to break from this norm on rare occasion, such as shows from Madison Square Garden, where the hard camera faces an elaborate entrance (or in the 1970s and ‘80s, when the camera would sit atop the entrance). ECW’s “Madhouse of Extreme” in Queens, N.Y., was famous for its angled view of the wrestling ring. I personally see validity in the camera facing a side of the ring adjacent to the curtain: Viewers can see the most fans from there, not a gaping entrance or a bizarre angle. But that doesn’t mean it’s right or needs to continue. Hey, even mid-1990s WCW, in all of its brilliance, put its wrestling ring on a revolving stage at Walt Disney World.
Backstage interviews in front of a set: For more than a decade, WWE has brought a tiny set with them to erect near the gorilla position, where awkward little interviewers would stare longingly at WWE superstars as they pontificated off into the distance. Ugh, give me a break. Is there really anything so wrong with a locker room interview? Or the tried-and-true method of looking into the camera and talking directly to your opponent? No and no. I say scrap the set (and I realize that the WWF once crafted a set to look like a locker room), or save it for bigger events and pay-per-views (like the wall with the WrestleMania logo), and stick with a locker room promo like real sports do.
“Moments ago…”: OK, geez, our attention span isn’t that bad. I understand driving a point home for emphasis, but I have an alternate idea that I really hope no one steals before Mark Cuban cuts me a $50 million check: I would like to see a panel of “hosts” like Curt Menefee, Terry Bradshaw and the guys from the NFL on Fox broadcasts, and I would like to see them host some combination of pre-game, half-time and post-game shows as a part of the two-hour program (and/or overrun). Bringing in former wrestlers who can talk the talk would lead to a much more interesting analysis of events than Michael Cole shouting out scripted lines about Randy Orton giving the RKO to Meat Loaf, plus it would offer, again, a more sportslike feel to the show, and what better way than that is there to separate oneself from WWE?
No time limits: Yes, time limits. Jim Ross would BBQ in his pants if a wrestling company brought back time limits on television, Mid-South/Boyd Pierce style. Hey, other sports have time limits, why can’t pro wrestling matches?
No height, weight or hometown on the lower third: Also known as Chyrons, the lower thirds utilized by WWE now only offer the show’s logo, some fancy graphic design and the wrestler’s name (and manager, maybe). I would like to see these be more informational and include height, weight and a hometown, as I remember being a kid and “knowing” Hulk Hogan was 6-foot-8, or telling my friends how many wrestlers came from Robbinsdale, Minn. It’s fun to have that kind of connection with athletes and entertainers you enjoy.
Wrestling shows from years gone by have featured elements lost to time and Kevin Dunn’s precious production values, elements which I think have value today. Inset promos as wrestlers are walking down the aisle, the old Gene Okerlund podium interview and the “event center” previews and reviews of events should not be looked at as remnants of the 1980s but should be revived as ingredients to shake up a boring recipe. While it’s harder to remember the omissions than it is to compare what exists, I think it’s imperative to consider every aspect of the television broadcast, from the color of the ring ropes to the pre-pubescent boisterousness of the commentator, if TNA or any other company wants to deviate from the norm and truly set the next trend.