TNA in the UK: Lessons to be Learned
At the tail end of January 2013, TNA Wrestling embarked upon their most ambitious tour yet, with their top tier talent playing to roaring UK crowds at house shows in Dublin, Glasgow and Nottingham. But what was always destined to catch the world's attention were the double TV tapings in Manchester and London. Comprising four whole episodes of Impact Wrestling, the company took care of the entire month of February's programming in a matter of days.
With last Thursday's edition, they finally came to the end of the footage. Whether it be Impact, Xplosion, Backstage Pass or ReAction, the UK is officially in the rear view mirror for another year. However, before embarking upon the next big challenge of permanent road tapings on March 14th in Chicago, I think it important to look back upon these shows with a critical eye and take note of their strengths and weaknesses.
For starters, let me just say that the live experience itself was second to none and I can completely see why TNA feel they need to get out of the Impact Zone in Orlando and out on the road permanently. Crowd reactions are the lifeblood of this industry and as loyal as they've been to Universal Studios, that kindness was never repaid in the volume of it's fans. Blowing such meager in-house showings out of the water, the UK events took interaction between talent and fan to the next level, inspiring a rare level of spontaneity from both sides of the barrier. Where Florida would greet world-class wrestlers like Bobby Roode and Austin Aries with the noise of crickets chirping, the UK gave them a hero's welcome and cheered them vehemently throughout the night. Thus providing a more accurate indicator of popularity than the tone-deaf amusement park patrons they're used to.
Unfortunately, while the roar could be deafening, the presentation of that rabid fanbase left alot to be desired. Production values will always suffer somewhat when taking a product abroad, as costs rise astronomically, requiring small sacrifices where normally there would be none. In this case, the lighting was the main offender. Away from the elaborate lighting rigs of the Impact Zone, TNA struggled, both in illuminating their talent and their crowds. This resulted in the ring almost being in a bright spotlight, whilst surroundings may as well have been pitch black. I'm not usually one for complimenting the WWE, but with their thousands of lights in any given arena, you can see everything from the front row to those up in the nosebleeds. This is where TNA looked most minor-league, with both Manchester and Wembley arenas littered by patches of blur and darkness. They finally had a crowd worth showing us and they physically couldn't.
Speaking of production values, I've heard complaints aimed towards TNA's lack of stage and videoscreens. These criticisms do not hold any weight with me. While we all enjoy the glitz and glamour of a good entrance, in recent years this has gone a long way towards distracting the audience from the true show i.e. what's happening in the ring itself. By reducing entrances to their bare minimum and refocusing on the ringwork, I feel it could benefit the wrestling industry as a whole. It can be something as simple as walking through a black curtain, just as long as the talent coming down to the ring can speak for themselves, whether with words or actions. I fully expect TNA to construct a more elaborate stage for their upcoming live debut in Chicago and all domestic shows going forward. But for now, simplicity works.
As for the content of the shows themselves, the two episode taping format comes with perks and limitations both. While it must be extremely useful, not to mention cost-effective, to be able to film two editions of Impact Wrestling at once, I do wonder whether the combined four hours of story prove to be excessively draining for the wrestlers themselves, the audience watching and the writers scripting. In filming two episodes together, there is a distinct tendency to treat them almost as if they were one giant show, simply split in half. A person will film a promo for show one, setting up a match for show two later in the night. Certain people may miss an entire episode, but no one bats an eyelid, as they are still technically working that same event. Some lucky/unlucky souls may even have to work both. To tape blocks of shows like this, while easier, has to be tightly plotted and planned to the smallest detail. If only to avoid slip ups from absent minded talents who don't know when in the calender they're meant to be speaking from.
The UK tour turned out to be a fantastic trial-run for the new on-the-road taping initiative and I'm sure it was no coincidence that TNA President, Dixie Carter, announced the big move on the very first week's programming. This gave Impact Wrestling a major league feel for, at the very least, these four episodes. However, I can't help but find the timing a tad ridiculous, as for all the good work this past month has done in portraying TNA as a major force in professional wrestling, there is still a worrying period of two weeks back in the tiny Impact Zone before heading out on the road once and for all. They would've done themselves a massive favour by following the tour's lead and diving straight into the Chicago tapings without pause for thought.
On the whole though, I am hugely looking forward to seeing TNA on the road on a weekly basis. If they can translate the skills learnt from the UK tour to their home country, they will already have a solid foundation upon which to build towards future success. I don't think they're quite the powerhouse they'd like to believe they are at this point, but they're making the right noises and it's only a matter of time before they've carved out their portion of the live event scene.
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