(Note, some of this is rehashed from an earlier blog now deleted.)
One year ago at this very moment, the second Monday Night Wars began. While some hoped a new great era in wrestling was begining, the truth was the second Monday Night War was not even a war, it was more of a skirmish.
The original Monday Night Wars, when WCW aired Nitro head to head against WWF Raw, is considered to be one of wrestling’s greatest eras. It lasted from 9/4/95 to 3/26/01, ending when WWF bought out WCW.
In the wake of WCW’s demise, wrestler Jeff Jarret started his own company in 2002, TNA, or Total Nonstop Action. It started small, initially broadcasting exclusively on Pay Per View. Eventually it got a weekly show called TNA Impact on Spike TV, broadcasting on Thursday Nights. In late 2009, it was announced that Hogan and Eric Bischoff, (Who ran WCW) joined TNA.
On Monday, January 4th, 2010, Impact aired from 8-11pm with the TNA debut of Hulk Hogan. This was the first time in almost a decade that a wrestling program went head to head against Raw, which airs 9-11pm. TNA did not beat RAW, but got 2.2 million viewers, it’s most ever.
On the heels of this they broadcast Impact every Monday starting March 8th, from 9-11, the same time as Raw. The ratings were not as good, and it moved from 8-10 on April 5th as a trial run, continuing that time slot the next week. However, the last Monday Impact was May 3rd, as it moved back to Thursdays on 5/13, hence ending the second Monday Night War.
The ratings were never even close (Impact did rate higher than secondary WWE shows like NXT and Superstars). Management said from the beginning they didn’t expect to beat Raw, but just grow their own audience, they did neither.
In fairness they brought as many big names as they could. With Hogan came Bischoff, Ric Flair, the Nasty Boys, and Hogan’s friend/shock jock Bubba the Love Sponge, Mr. Anderson (WWE’s Mr. Kennedy), and their biggest in ring acquisitions of course were Jeff Hardy and RVD. Later in the year WWE diva Mickie James returned to TNA. (She had wrestled there in 2003) They also had Hogan’s daughter Brooke in the audience, but wasn’t utilized much. Brooke has her own fanbase, which could have been tapped more by giving her a music segment. She could have even had a conflict with the women wrestlers, maybe help manage one of them similar to the Cyndi Lauper/Captain Lou Alabano angle of the 1980s. Even more outlandish would have been something like Abyss kidnaping her, using viral media to build a story about trying to find her. Speaking of female talent I like that they have a women’s tag division. With the women wrestlers they have real matches as well as girly stuff.
Bischoff said when he started Nitro back in 95 he thought of every way he could to make it different from WWF. Hence he aired live (Raw was taped at the time), used wrestlers real names, had international wrestlers, smaller acrobatic wrestlers like Benoit and Guerrero etc. Biscoff did not follow his own logic this time around. TNA used to have a six sided ring, which made for innovative matches, especially in the tag team division. The six sided ring was ditched immediately last year in favor of a traditional 4 sided ring. The X Division, their championship division of high flyers was not pushed enough. They could have shook that up for example by Hogan declaring the title vacant and holding a Super X Cup tournament, a tournament they had in the past.
In short what TNA needed to do was sell the image to the general public that TNA is the place for cutting edge wrestling, and has been for a number of years. One thing wrestlers like about TNA is the easy schedule because all the IMPACTS are taped in Orlando. To grow their audience they need to have a few tapings on the road, (They’re just now considering this) with Hogan and TNA originals doing autograph sessions. TNA needs to sell the notion that they are the future of wrestling. They have a partnership with youtube where old matches can be viewed in their entriety. They should have advertised this on Impact and featured some of those videos on their website to show the general public the kind of wrestling they had in the past and promise more was to come in the future. (They did a short lived tv show called TNA Epix, but I’ll get to that later.) All the different matches that made TNA unique needed to be featured last year, World X Cup Tournaments, Super X Cup Tournament, King of the Mountain, etc.
Instead they recycled old wrestlng angles like the Montreal Screwjob, NWO, Hogan turning heel, and ECW. Not that that’s bad by itself, but many of these angles were just kind of there without the impact or shock value that originally had or still could have had.
They’re tried to recreate the NWO angle with Nash, Hall, and Waltman in a group called The Band. It didn’t have near the impact the NWO angle had, as they obviously weren’t invading from the WWF (The initial idea of the NWO) and didn’t really shake things up. They were just another group vying for the tag team titles. The Band needed to truly disrupt the show, attack the announcers, get kicked out of the building etc, They could have even teased the possibility that they were invading from WWE, by saying they were getting orders from “Vince”, and tease that “Vince” was coming on the show at X date. On said date reveal that “Vince” is in fact VInce Russo, former WWE writer that now works for TNA. They briefly had a championship ranking system where fans voted for who got a title shot. A young TNA star could have been billed as a computer whiz and hacked the system to give, say Kevin Nash a title shot. If TNA pushed the X-division, The Band could disrupt the matches, insisting they’re the real show, resulting in Waltman getting the X-title and spray paint The Band on it. That would have really upset people, and led to a program with Jeff Hardy trying to win it from them/conflicting with the band. These are the kinds of disruptions and chaos a group like the band needed to have.
Things got a little better when ECW alumni were brought in for Hardcore Justice reunion PPV (usually called Hard Justice), but it didn’t mean much. What would have really shaken things up would have been if at the PPV Sabu beat RVD for the title. Have a title controversy, as some thought it wasn’t a title match, but RVD willingly turns the belt over on the next Impact. Sabu has a few title defenses before RVD regains it.
I said last year I couldn’t understand why Abyss was the guy Hogan passed his legacy onto, it creatively made no sense. Now it’s evident that the Hogan heel turn using Abyss was the plan all along. Still I think the legacy thing didn’t work, and Abyss is much better as a monstrous heel, with his spiked board he named Janice. That was good stuff. Ric Flair making A. J. Styles the next Nature Boy is great stuff too.
There were lots of little things in production that need sharpening. There’s too many commercial breaks during matches, especially special matches where the circumstances change off air. They have the news ticker on screen but it comes on at odd times. For example, one episode had the return of Samoa Joe, a great emotional high point of the broadcast. However right at this emotional high point they ran the ticker. We don’t want to read news while a big star is returning and smashing everyone.
Speaking of which the crowd goes absolutely bannanas for Samoa Joe, and instead of main eventing he’s losing fake MMA matches to Jeff Jarret (Who should have been in The Band).
Finally TNA jumped the gun by announcing Hogan’s coming too soon. In October of 2009 Hogan had a press conference in Madison Square Garden to promote his new book. Eric Bischoff had the idea of announcing then that he joined TNA. Much was made of the announcement being made “Right in Vince’s (WWE’S) backyard. A lot of good that did. They should have waited until a few weeks after Wrestlemania to go head to head. January to March is Wrestlemania season, where all WWE TV builds up to their biggest show of the year. In the last few years RAW ratings were high in the early months, then fell off after Mania. On March 29th, the night after 2010′s Mania, the rating was 3.66. The next week it was 3.15. They should have waited to the week or two after Wrestlemania to go head to head. Hogan always gets publicity, because he’s Hogan. TNA could have started 2010 by announcing Hogan was coming. They’d have three months to build that up. Meanwhile keep “The Band” on the payroll but have them hit the gym and appear on TV to tease a Hogan led NWO (Which wouldn’t happen), meanwhile play up other wrestlers reactions/expectations of Hogan’s arrival. See what Angle, Sting, etc, feel about it. Some would be for it, some against it, play that up until March.
Then a week or so after Wrestlemania start going head to head. Bring Hogan in, clash with The Band. Start the Flair angle, push Samoa Joe, have an X-division tourney with Band interference, music spots by Brooke Hogan, 6 sided ring, championship ranking system with fan participation. All that talent makes potential for great TV.
Instead for the first time in five years the average rating for Impact actually decreased instead of increased. In 2005 the average rating for the year was .79. In 2006 it was .89. 2007 was 1.04. 2008 1.06, and 2009 1.14. 2010′s average rating was 1.07. TNA probably couldn’t have beaten RAW this early, but they at least could have had a fighting chance.
But it’s all in the past now. TNA now needs to regroup, and put on the best shows possible in 2011. The live audience is really into it, but that needs to reflect in the ratings. TNA can still change the whole game, by making Thursday nights the new night to watch wrestling.