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Mat Matters: A plan for TNA, in case Heyman doesn’t show up
By MATT JOHNSON - SLAM! Wrestling


Paul Heyman made headlines by going public with his demands to get him to TNA. In an interview with Dave Meltzer and Bryan Alvarez after the UFC 116 event, Heyman announced that he wanted complete control of the TNA product and demanded a percentage of the company. The demands are high and Dixie Carter may not be willing to meet them. What then?

Heyman is a creative, talented man and I think that he would have a chance to raise TNA to new levels. Maybe. But if a deal cannot be reached, I have a plan to drive TNA out of the rut the company is in.

Overview

TNA is not WWE. TNA cannot draw crowds like WWE and TNA cannot match WWE’s production values. Currently, TNA presents a WWE-style product. What I mean by that is the style of wrestling and the format of TNA’s shows resemble WWE programming. Although TNA cannot match WWE’s production values, they try to cover for it as much as possible.

TNA actually deserves credit for the great job they do making the shows look professional. The Impact Zone is a sound stage at Universal Studios, and TNA makes it look like an energetic arena. Like WWE, TNA tries to use different lighting and special effects to give the show energy. While they get high marks for their efforts so far, I say they need to go in a different direction.

Since TNA cannot do what WWE does well as well as WWE, they should find a new way. From the way the shows are presented to the actual wrestling in the ring, TNA needs to look different from WWE. The goal is that fans of TNA will be able to point at the TNA product and proudly say that it is both different and superior to WWE. Now for the details...

Look and Feel of the Show

TNA’s show needs to be less scripted. When watching Impact currently, I get the sense that everybody is acting. There seems to be no real emotion, only wrestlers trying to act emotional. All the skits that take place in the back need to go. During a broadcast of a NFL game, CBS does not cut to a private conversation between a player and a trainer in the locker room. Such skits are not authentic.

For the most part, the show will revolve around the action in the ring and the announcers presenting the action. Between matches the camera can turn to the announcers or the host, similar to other sports broadcasts. There can also be promotional videos or special presentations within the show, but the announcers will introduce those.

The days of two wrestlers having a private conversation in the back with a magical camera capturing the action will end. If events outside the arena are to be shown, the reason for the camera needs to be explained. When the Four Horsemen tracked down and attacked Dusty Rhodes, they made it clear why the camera was there.

TNA needs a new announcer. Mike Tenay has value and added to the WCW broadcasts by acting serious and giving background information on the cruiserweights. Tenay needs a vacation and can be brought back as an analyst. The new announcer should give the show an a sports feel and always maintain his credibility.

The Impact Zone needs to go. While moving the show elsewhere may be a financial challenge, TNA should view it as a necessity. When the company is forced to sell tickets, it creates more incentive to fix the product and also will help the company figure out which wrestlers are draws. TNA shows need to be more rugged and gritty. That cannot happen at Universal Studios.

Insider chants actually take away from the show and make new fans uncomfortable. The Impact Zone crowd is not representative of the home viewing audience and gives the company a false impression. Also, since the entire show will be presented with a straight face and the only reality will be the one presented on screen, the insider chants ruin the desired vibe of the show.

Production Values

Pyro is out. If there was no such thing as WWE, TNA’s pyro would seem respectable. However, since WWE completely blows TNA out of the water, TNA’s pyro looks pitiful. By cutting out the puny fireworks display, TNA will give fans one less opportunity to view TNA as inferior to WWE.

In addition to the pyro, there will be no more laser lights and other effects during ring entrances. Instead, the lights will be kept on and music will blast as wrestlers walk to the ring. On pay-per-views and Spike TV specials, the arena lights will be turned down and a spotlight will shine on the wrestlers walking to the ring. Much like WWE does during championship matches, the ring announcer will do the ring introductions after the wrestlers are in the ring, not as they are walking to the ring.

Music is one area where TNA can surpass WWE. TNA should do everything possible to use popular music from bands, as opposed to music produced in house. Most of the wrestlers will be given new music, so as to give fans a reason to give the wrestlers a second look. So many wrestlers are associated with the forgettable product from the last few years, and new music can help them start fresh.

Currently, TNA tries to have a slick look, similar to WWE. Instead of that slick, scripted look, the new TNA will feel like an underground fight club with music that gets people’s adrenaline flowing.

As I write this, I have an episode of Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling from 1982, which is on WWE Classics on Demand, airing in the background. Since there are not constant graphics all over the screen, my focus is on the wrestlers in the ring. TNA is trying to sell matches on pay-per-view, so eliminating the distraction of constant graphics and effects will focus viewers’ eyes on the wrestlers in the ring and draw up interest in the product TNA is selling.

Athleticism and the Product in the Ring

Some of the matches that air on TNA (and WWE for that matter) look completely rehearsed. If fans watch enough of these shows, they can probably call some of the matches move for move before they happen. Matches should look like a physical competition, not an acrobatic performance. To attain this outcome, veteran wrestling minds will have to be hired to retrain the talent.

At the conclusion of each match, the referee will raise the hand of the winner in the middle of the ring and the ring announcer will announce the official decision. The announcement of the decision will take place after every match and never be brushed over. That means that the music of the victorious wrestler does not play until after the official decision.

Blood and gimmick matches are to be eliminated from the regular television programs. Both will only appear on pay-per-views and Spike TV specials. After this policy has been in place for a few years, rare exceptions can be made for special television episodes.

If there is blood on a show, it can only happen in one match. Every single pay-per-view should not have blood, as it would numb viewers to it. There should also only be one gimmick match on a show. At most, there could be two. Each gimmick match should have a reason for the stipulation.

Television Shows and Pay-Per-Views

The brand name "Impact" is a mixed bag. On one hand, it has been around for several years and does have name identification with many fans. On the other hand, it has been identified with some chaotic, lousy programming. Therefore, I have a solution to utilize the strength of the name and minimize the negative.

TNA needs to lobby Spike TV for two one-hour long weekend shows. One will feature a few original matches, as well as offer a review of the major storylines from the past week and a look ahead to the next week. The other weekend show will be called "Impact" and feature only Knockout and X division matches. Such a show will feature the elements that made TNA popular in the past with some fans, and allow the Thursday night show to attract viewers who previously viewed the old TNA as unwatchable.

The Thursday night show will be renamed and have a completely different feel. The marketing people can work on developing a name. For a description of the look and feel of the show, reread this column. Thursday nights will continue to feature TNA’s top show.

Much has been made as to whether TNA should get out of the pay-per-view business and focus on Spike TV specials. I understand both arguments and will not take a strong stand here, as either approach can work. By following the rest of this plan, TNA’s buyrates would improve.

If In Demand will allow it, pay-per-views should be moved to Saturday nights. TNA is going to be more adult and less cartoonish than WWE. The fan base will trend older and may want to gather together for a few beers, while watching TNA pay-per-views. Combine the switch form Saturday to Sunday with the new emphasis on athletic competition in the ring and the reservation of blood and gimmick matches for pay-per-views, and TNA can improve the pay-per-view business.

Staffing

Instead of looking for one savior, TNA should assemble the strongest management team possible. There are some very experienced professionals available. Some of these individuals are getting older, so TNA would be wise to take advantage of their experience now. Ideally, each veteran addition to management could try to pass along information to a younger understudy. This plan does depend on each of these individuals being hired, but I will list some possibilities.

Kevin Sullivan would be a welcomed addition to the creative team. Sullivan is a veteran and is familiar with a gritty wrestling product that elicits real emotion from fans. Sullivan has a strong record of establishing strong heel characters.

Gabe Sapolsky is a younger wrestling mind with an old-school philosophy. A former Heyman understudy, Sapolsky received praise for his performance as the booker of Ring of Honor. Sapolosky is also plugged into the independent scene and likely has ideas for wrestlers who could thrive in TNA.

Les Thatcher has worked in numerous capacities within the wrestling business. I would have Thatcher focus on the product in the ring. Thatcher is a well-known wrestling trainer, and could play a role in an expanded TNA developmental system. I propose a new role, however. Other sports have coaches who offer direction to even the most veteran players. Thatcher could work with the TNA roster and coach the wrestlers to execute the realistic vision of wrestling outlined in this plan.

JJ Dillon has worked in senior executive positions with WWE, WCW, and a number of other promotions. Dillon is a detail person and has a rich background. By giving Dillon a senior management position and giving him a young understudy to soak in his knowledge, TNA could strengthen the management team.

Bret Hart is well known for being very creative for laying out matches and coming up with finishes. While he may not be interested in a full-time office position and he made peace with WWE, deep down Hart may still want to strike back at McMahon. Hart was in the wrestling business for several decades of his life and could very valuable.

Jim Ross has the experience and knowledge to lead TNA management. In addition to being one of the greatest announcers of all time (another benefit of adding Ross), Ross spent time working under Bill Watts and Vince McMahon. Ross also loves athletics and may be the best candidate to make the new realistic, athletic vision of TNA a reality.

There are others who could make fine additions to the staff. Pat Patterson would be a great consultant, but may be unwilling to burn bridges with Vince McMahon. If Dixie Carter wants to help Scott Hall, putting him in the ring might not be the best answer. Hall actually has a creative mind and could be a creative consultant. Jim Cornette has a lot to offer, but is probably not under consideration due to personal comments made about Carter and others within TNA. Mike Graham is also someone considered effective with coming up with finishes.

Conclusion

One of the most attractive parts of this plan is that the plan is not all that expensive. While there would be costs for moving the television show and hiring new employees, production costs should actually drop. Also, TNA could pay for most of this by cutting some of the high-priced, older wrestlers. The high-priced wrestlers making $500,000 or more cost the company more than they bring in.

There is nothing unrealistic presented in this plan. TNA could implement the plan and turn around business. The status quo is not working and TNA has the ability to rise to new levels with Paul Heyman or without him.

Matt Johnson has been writing for SLAM! Wrestling since 2008. He graduated from Northern Michigan University with a double major in English and Social Studies. In addition to writing, he teachers classes in English, Drama, and World History.