TNA – a lesson in futility

SPOILER ALERT: TNA’s current “They” turn of Hulk Hogan being a bad guy isn’t going to be the magic ticket TNA is searching for to take them to the top of the wrestling world.  Nor will next month’s move of him turning on Bischoff to fight the power.  Nor will the month after that’s move of bringing in some former star of yesteryear to “shake things up”.

Despite months and months of fail, TNA still has not learned that there is no quick fix to their company.  There is no meteoric rise in popularity.  Without doing something drastically different, TNA will never get any farther than the spot it is currently in.  The spot it’s been in for the last few years, with the exception of the move to Monday night that almost tanked the brand.

But that doesn’t mean that they won’t stop trying.  Since the beginning of the year, they’ve turned A.J. Styles heel, banned Kurt Angle from the title picture three times, teased a Hogan turn twice, then actually turned him, turned Sting heel, had Kevin Nash betray and be betrayed by the Band, brought in the Nasty Boys, launched and abandoned a contender ranking system, vacated almost all of their titles at least once, rename a belt for the second time, and had Ric Flair chug a Smirnoff Ice three times (a fourth coming next week).  And where has all of this gotten TNA?  Still far behind the WWE.

The forces behind TNA – namely Hogan, Bischoff and Vince Russo – are convinced that there is one magic moment that can propel their brand above the compitetion.  All they have to do is find that one thing, and fans from the WWE will come over in droves.  After all, Hulk Hogan’s joining the nWo at Bash at the Beach 1996 was that moment, remember?  So they bring in Scott Hall and Syxx.  That doesn’t work.  So they turn Hogan.  That won’t work either.  So why isn’t this working?  Just what is foiling TNA?

Wrestling fans are a fickle lot.  We’ll actually be the first to tell you that.  It’s not hard to get fans to pop to a moment – saying the name of the town has worked for Mick Foley for a decade.  But getting the interest to last past the moment takes effort.  Yes, Hulk Hogan’s turn was a big deal, but it wasn’t just that moment that made it happen.  Hulk Hogan didn’t just show up and turn on Randy Savage that night.  There had been months of build up with Scott Hall and Kevin Nash.  WCW had successfully made it seem like the WWF was invading the brand, and the big stars of WCW (Sting, Lex Luger, Savage) were out to protect their company.  What Hogan’s move did was not only show that Hogan was in league with Hall and Nash, but make fans realize that the good guys had failed.  And this was far larger than simply being cheated out of a title.  Hall and Nash were invaders, and WCW’s brightest stars had failed to stop them.  That was a big deal.

Compare that to Hogan’s turn at Bound for Glory.  So Hogan and Bischoff cheated Dixie Carter out of TNA ownership.  So what?  Both men had spent the last couple months showing that they could override her decisions anyway.  What’s it matter if she’s there or not?  Bischoff has been acting shady for a while now and Hogan’s been MIA.  Who cares whose side they’re on?  No revelations that came on Impact seemed to matter either.  So Fortune joined up with Hogan.  So what?  They just came out of losing to E.V.2.0, a stable of washed up ECW alumni, at the company’s biggest show of the year.  Abyss?  He just lost to Rob Van Dam.  Jeff Jarrett?  He hasn’t been relevant in years.  You’ve spent the last month showing that your “dominant force” of the company can be and have been beaten by your opposition.  Why would fans come in to see that?

But that’s the problem with the current story.  Who’s to say that the next thing they try – say, having Samoa Joe take to the rafters in Sting paint – won’t be the magic move that launches an era of TNA dominance?  Because, as I’ve illustrated, no success in wrestling happens immediately.  Stone Cold Steve Austin unleashed his “Austin 3:16” phrase in June of 1996.  In January of 1997, he was still a hated heel.  It took a big part of the year to get people turned to accept him at the level he is known for.  In early 1997, a young Rocky Maivia was despised by the fans.  It wouldn’t be until he took over the Nation in mind 1998 that fans slowly began to enjoy his act as The Rock.  Even the evil Mr. McMahon character took time to hone.  Sure, it started with the Montreal Incident in November of 1997, but it didn’t really go all out until after WrestleMania the following March.

Wrestling fans don’t take to flash in the pan moments.  While sure, the fans in the Impact Zone might cheer when something happens, the fact is that they cheer at anything.  The real trick is giving the fans at home something they’re not only willing to tune into week in and week out, but hopefully pay to see once a month.  TNA prefers not to use the formula.  They simply don’t have the patience for it.  As evidenced by his run in WCW, Vince Russo is a man who is obsessed with fooling the “smarks”, or those internet savvy fans that read every news tidbit that pops up on a news site.  Jeff Hardy turning heel?  You got us there – no one saw that coming.  But guess what?  No one wants to see Jeff Hardy as a heel, and fooling the fans one time doesn’t give you ratings anywhere else.  Remember Goldberg’s heel turn?  How about any of Sting’s?

But that’s not to say that it’s as simple as giving consistency.  Fan reaction has to be gauged and tailored to.  Wrestling fans get bored easily if not given some kind of a change once in a while.  That’s why John Cena’s year+ run as WWE Champion ended up giving him an equal mix of boos and cheers that last to this day.  Cena hadn’t changed – the fans just wanted to see something different.  Of course, the WWE accepted this reaction and tweaked Cena a bit to where the mixed reaction became a part of his overall package, and the fans accept that.  Even though nothing had changed, it was something new for them while remaining consistent.

True, fan reaction is tougher to gauge in the Impact Zone, as the fans tend to cheer any and everything done.  They might be cheering Jay Lethal one moment, then cheering Douglas Williams the next when he comes and beats down Lethal.  Such is the problem when shows aren’t taken on the road.  But then again, as evidenced by their tenure in WCW, the minds behind TNA really don’t care what the fans think, and they certainly don’t tailor their products to them.  A.J. Styles would be much better suited as a babyface defender of TNA, fighting off the invaders to his brand.  Instead, he’s simply a face in the crowd bowing down to Hulk Hogan and Eric Bischoff as they run his brand into the ground.  In fact, all the longtime TNA talents – James Storm, Robert Roode, Jeff Jarrett, Kazarian – are in this boat.  The fans want to see these guys shine (maybe not Jarrett so much), but instead they spend their days applauding and nodding while Hulk Hogan and Ric Flair say the exact same things they’ve been saying for the past 30 years.

TNA simply does not have the patience nor apparently the ability to develop a storyline that fans want to see.  Two years ago, the Main Event Mafia seemed to have some consistency to it, but the opposition force changed and fizzled so many times that the storyline fell apart.  Today, nothing lasts long enough in TNA to matter.  Frequent storyline stops and starts kill any kind of development that any of the characters could hope for, which in turn prevents the creation of any breakout stars.  If A.J. Styles were to jump to the WWE, what would they do with him?  He has no identity of his own anymore.  He’s not a big star – just a potential one.  And TNA is more than happy to squander that potential while searching for the quick fix.

 So no – this current move will not be the fix TNA is looking for.  No move they pull ever will be.  But until someone gets yanked from creative or the whole company simply falls apart, it wil never change, and TNA will forever sit in their Thursday night, 9pm slot making 1.0-1.3 ratings.

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