Sunday, April 05, 2015

TNA, Destination America and Moving Forward

If nothing else it’s always interesting following TNA. Never does too much time go by without some major upheaval or change in the company. In this instance of course the fairly substantial move to a new network. Were they going to change anything? Would the show look any different? How were they going to adapt to being on a new network; a different relationship with a different set of rules? Would the show be any good? Would Destination America be a platform from which TNA could springboard to better things in the long run? These were the questions that sprang to mind as TNA discovered their new home in January. 

And when January 7th rolled around I had a sinking feeling. We had a swerve in the main event when, out of nowhere, Low Ki and Samoa Joe decided to join the Beatdown Clan (BDC). Not only did it ruin a perfectly enjoyable main event that I was rather excited about but it also meant something horrible. It meant a return to TNA’s worst trope. The heel stable. The well TNA have gone back to over and over and over again and here they were on a new network with the same old ideas. Not to mention the aesthetic was terrible. Shows looked cheap and empty. Even the UK tour shows, playing out in front of TNA’s best crowds of the year, didn’t look nearly as good as years past. But thankfully they’ve been steadily improving that since January (though there’s a pretty straightforward solution – more lights).

It evoked memories of TNA at its very worst. With cheap finishes, heel stable dominance, title matches that merely serve as a backdrop to contrived story instead of the elevation of titles and talent, and stories that seek only to shock rather than really drive characters forward in some meaningful way. And much of the New York tapings from January were like this. Unfocused, messy TV with no real purpose. The storytelling lacked any confidence or direction and the wrestling rushed and unmemorable. The first two months on Destination America seemed like TNA learned nothing from the mistakes that ended their relationship with Spike TV. 

But around halfway through the UK tour things seemed to shift a little. There was a move away from the BDC being the crux of the show, around which the whole show had to revolve, and toward them simply being a part of the show. Confining them to their own segment, their current feud with Drew Galloway. There was a move towards longer main events, seeking to deliver something special and something memorable rather than being throwaway matches forgotten soon after they happened. These matches focused on individuals and their stories – be it Angle vs. Lashley, and Storm vs. Hardy, or Roode vs. Young, or Bram vs. Magnus, or of course the supreme EC3 vs. Spud. 

This more focused approach made for a much better, much more interesting show. Instead of one story (the BDC) you had multiple stories playing out week by week. Don’t particularly care for one? Well wait until the next segment and you’ll get another. This makes for a much better approach than the overarching story that TNA so frequently over rely on. Because nothing becomes overexposed and shows have variety. 

That’s not to say everything has been perfect. The tag division is inconsistent at best and still lacks teams. The X-Division essentially disappeared for the first three months of the year. The women’s division, while currently doing well with Kong and Kim carrying things, also lacks depth. There is an overreliance on gimmick matches that makes each one less meaningful and there could be greater diversity of style in the company (way too many matches have generic brawling segments). But these problems are all fixable. Plug them into a strong framework and they’ll easily work themselves out. 

So I’ve talked about TNA, I’ve talked about Destination America; what about the going forward bit? In terms of what that strong framework actually is, this week’s Impact came closest to a show structure that TNA should seek to replicate going forward. It was focused, it was disciplined and it narrowed in on five main segments. In this instance four matches and a promo. But it doesn’t always have to be that kind of breakdown, it can be three matches and two promos. It doesn’t matter once the pace remains the same. Nothing felt inconsequential, nothing felt rushed, everything got exactly as much time as it needed and everything stood out. There was no wasted time. Every Impact should seek to be as efficient with time as Friday’s was. And if it is you can simply plug the X-Division or women’s division or the tag division into that formula and they’ll work themselves out. 

Even in spite of the departures over the last two years TNA still have a great roster. Bobby Roode, Eric Young, Bobby Lashley, MVP, Kenny King, Low Ki, Austin Aries, James Storm, Manik, Seiya Sanada, Davey Richards, Eddie Edwards, Ken Anderson, EC3, Mark Andrews, Rockstar Spud, Jeff Hardy, Matt Hardy, Bram, Magnus, Robbie E, Jessie Godderz, Zema Ion, Kurt Angle, Drew Galloway, Gunner, Gail Kim, Madison Rayne, Awesome Kong, Mickie James, and Taryn Terrell can all contribute in really productive ways. It’s simply TNA’s job to find the best way to present those people. Find the best way to provide a platform for them to excel. They’ve been closer in the last few weeks to finding that right approach. Only a little more refinement and then present that consistently and Destination America will be a platform that helps TNA rebuild and grow. If the show reverts back to what it was at the start of the year then TNA may not be long for this world.