By Captain Scarlet
Over the last month or so, TNA has been using three different sets on their shows: a small one in New York, the touring Impact one in the UK and now ANOTHER one for the tapings in Orlando. These changes are usually brought up in the comment sections, mainly because it’s quite noticeable. It also reminds me of how TNA used to have very recognizable sets, with different screens, the entrance tunnels, the lasers, etc. They also used to have different touring sets that looked good. That all changed, and not for the better, when they started touring, and it reminds me of WCW.
WCW had a reputation for building bad sets, but the original Nitro set and commentating booth was pretty cool. It looked different than the WWF at the time, and stood out. But then WCW began to change. The big sliding WCW logo set of 1999 was, in my opinion, a mess. It was different, but also ridiculous – far too clunky, with those little monitors that were too small to see properly.
The 2000 WCW set, with the huge screen, large side panels showing the Nitro logo and ringside commentators booth, was trying the hardest of all the sets to be WWF. By this point WCW was desperate; they no longer wanted a separate brand identity from WWF, they wanted to be WWF. Nitro wanted a slice of the Attitude pie and tried to emulate Raw as much as it could. They even put big plastic sheeting over the ringside metal fencing to make it look like those black plastic things they put over the fences around WWF rings.
The set looked impressive, but it didn’t look like WCW, or anything really – it looked like someone had been asked to copy the Raw set on a smaller budget and with only a few reference photos. It was part of WCW’s long, slow death as they tried to compete with WWF by becoming WWF.
TNA should be trying to create its own look. They have already done this with the shaky cameras at ringside, blacked out crowd during matches, and continuing the Reaction style backstage segments. That, and the six sided ring, mean you now KNOW when you’re watching TNA. A new set would complete that look, one that would preferably have a video screen (or perhaps two smaller ones) to show off entrance videos. But I also want it look like TNA: no big screen with a little entrance way beneath it, or at least try to avoid that.
Bischoff and Hogan tried to grow TNA by effectively doing what WCW did from 1999-2001: neuter everything different and interesting about the company and turn it into WWF as much as possible. No. It won’t work. Being like WWE does NOT bring ratings or major success, because you already have that product. There are hours and hours of WWE programming each week, so producing more of it is not a smart strategy. WWE has the big production budget and experience; they will always out-produce your show and make you look cheap by comparison.
I’m not saying that TNA should go down the ECW route and have a couple of plant pots and some black fabric; they can still have interesting sets. But they should try to be as distinct as possible, while not being stuck with a large slow-sliding logo and a bunch of superfluous monitors. The set used for the recent One Night Only tapings, with those two big installations either side of the ramp, looked interesting. It’s obvious that TNA is looking at different sets to use that would be easily carted about but look good at the same time.
Anything that gives TNA another unique look is good. Well, a unique look that doesn’t suck. Give the people something different to look at and they will. A change is as good as a rest, so they say, and I believe that. Getting out of the usual grind is always good, and WWE became a grind for me a LONG time ago. A distinct look also helps with getting new fans that don’t watch WWE either, as does a good product of course.
It would be nice for TNA to find a look, both in the arena and in the production truck, that is theirs. Something that they own and says "You’re watching TNA" whenever you flick over. They shouldn’t try to be WWE, but they also shouldn’t go as basic as ECW did, or to try too hard as WCW could do. This is all down to self confidence and what the company wants to do. Bischoff and Hogan had no confidence in what TNA was when they arrived, hence the many, many changes and hiring of old WWE and WCW talent. I have no interest in a TNA nostalgia set with two tunnels and lasers, but they need to create a new look that involves some classic elements while looking forward.
The dark arena is another element that has changed, along with the shaky cam. Both of these elements are being used to make TNA seem more like reality TV, instead of the stylish and polished WWE. I don’t mind it. I get why people hate them dimming the lights, and the constant cameras moving around at ringside can be annoying, but neither decision bothers me as long as I can see the action and hear the crowd. And you can definitely hear TNA crowds. These things, along with the backstage cameras, make TNA look different. They give a more realistic feel to the show, which is obviously what TNA is aiming for. They want Impact to look like a wrestling show, something intense and edgy, where anything can happen.
A few years ago TNA launched a marketing drive called "We are wrestling." I’m sure some of you remember it, and what it actually was. It was a hollow phrase. The show didn’t change, nothing changed. Before that, they had "Cross the line" which, again, didn’t really mean much. Coming up with gimmicky phrases, then not following through with anything to show what they meant, or back them up, had no effect on the product (shocking, I know).
TNA’s new changes to a more reality themed show with good wrestling, short punchy backstage segments (literally with the BDC) and young talent have backed up the claims they’ve been making about altering the company. TNA is trying new things; they’re trying to create something different to other companies, both in presentation and content. A unique, functional set would be something else to add to that list, something they seem to be trying to find at the moment.