The following is another post that was put up on the popular blog about TNA Wrestling, TNAsylum.com. The piece written by yours truly was once again posted on the popular blog for a larger audience to see. For those interested, I touched on some of the small things TNAWrestling could do to help connect their characters to casual wrestling fans. You can either read the piece on the TNAsylum website, or below.
It's The Little Things in Wrestling
How often does the term, "it's the little things in life that matter" come to fruition? We've all heard it, or experienced it, and sometimes, we all can see it in a situation before the lesson rises to obvious proportions. Even in the world of pro wrestling, that ever cyclical saying rings true. In a world that presents itself as larger than life, It's the little things that often makes the difference in the quality of a wrestling product.
Often (actually everyday), booking, storyline direction, and talent relations are topics of debate and discussion. All of these issues are the meat and potatoes of a wrestling television show and it's product. While I find it very uncomfortable to harp, complain, or even rationale on such topics because of the fluidity, fluctuation and sheer difference of what each viewer gets out of the pro wrestling experience, there is indeed something I would like to touch base on that is a constant for all wrestling fans. For any wrestling fan. A must have within the product. And this aspect, in my opinion, is something TNA has struggled with since it opened it's doors for business back in 2002. Something it struggles with today as it looks to attract and retain casual wrestling fans.
That aspect is...character development.
Character development (or character connection) is one of the underlying issues that is often misconstrued for "poor booking". One of the reasons for the lack of a catch-on with Gutcheck is rooted in character development. In a business where "being over" is your money maker, TNA puts unknowns on television in hopes of cashing in on the ever-popular talent evaluation/reality style presentation that is often seen on television.
Another example is the state of the X-Division. For years, the talent has been there, but once again, the development of characters within the division has been lacking. For example, Sonjay Dutt has been in TNA for years, but other than being an "X-Division" guy, there is very little depth to him on TNA TV. The best I can remember was his feud with Jay Lethal over So Cal Val. Even WCW's Cruiserweights had distinct personalities and characters to them with guys like Ultimo Dragon, Juvi Guerrero, La Parka, Eddie Guerrero, Chavo Guerrero (How can you forget Pepe? And if you aren't aware, please youtube!), Chris Jericho, Dean Malenko, and the always dangerous and charismatic, Silver King! I'm kidding on the last one. Well, slightly joking.
I love the X-Division, but for it to truly blossom and to really connect, there needs to be more than the broad stroke of guys who are really good at flipping around and diving.
Now before you skip down to the comment section with quick fingers and a fiery response, let me explain. I do not think the character development of TNA wrestlers are flat out terrible. After all, TNA has wrestlers and characters that are entertaining enough to have a prime time show on Cable TV. However, I don't think they are great, or better said, as great as they can be. Many of them have room for growth. Often times, when it comes to the packaging of the wrestlers in TNA, their characters or their development and connection with the crowd lack the little things which can really put the character over the top. Possibly, maybe, with a slight chance of developing a big star.
It's about presentation, and there are a few small things that can make a world of difference for TNA's product and their character development.
TNA actually does these very well. Whether you hate Eric Bischoff or not, the production value of Impact has improved vastly since he arrived. But often times the introduction of new wrestlers or the return of favorites lack some serious well, ummm, impact. The use of the video package is underutilized in TNA, and its really a shame, because TNA is damn good at producing them. Look no further than the return of RVD to the WWE. Is RVD doing anything significantly different or spectacular since his time in TNA? Not really. It simply boiled down to the WWE making RVD seem like a big deal. Something quite frankly, the WWE is very, very good at.
Other examples could be that of the Wyatt family, who have done nothing really, but because of those video packages and constant reminders, they are intriguing enough for any viewer. Another example could be that of The Shield, who were given those "handheld" promos that lets the viewers connect with them individually, so we can further connect with them as a group. Something, as a TNA fan, I don't have with the Aces and Eights.
The last time I recall TNA going this route (and I very much could be wrong), was during Chavo Guerrero's debut, which some might hate to admit, was met with a good response from the live crowd.
The latest poor example was this week's "future of the X-Division" participants. While we knew a little about Rockstar Spud, the casual fan has absolutely no connection with Rubix or Greg Maris...ummm Trent Barretta. Diehards do, but I still find it to be a bad route to simply throw random guys onto valuable television time with little to no introduction or connection.
Obviously, TNA has only two hours of programming a week, but sometimes a fifteen second clip, once or even twice a show, can drum up intrigue or a connection for a new or returning wrestler and their character.
Look what those videos did for the story and moment of Chris Sabin winning the World Heavyweight Championship. It added to the story, and helped a new viewer understand what was at stake later in the night.
Quick, name your all-time favorite wrestler. Chances are, you can also hum his/her entrance song as well. The entrance song is so vital to the connection of a character as it gives him/her something unique, something recognizable, and something that triggers the fan's attention. Entrances themes sometimes are so synonymous that they never change for years (Booker T, Vince McMahon, Shawn Michaels, Ric Flair, etc..). Sometimes, a wrestler's theme is so good, it can help get the wrestler get over (Sandman, Fandango). This is an area that TNA needs vast improvement. As we've discussed here on this site, TNA's entrance themes are either really good or simply just blah.
Music in it's purest form is so influential, regarding of what genre, type, or style you listen to. We all feel or can be persuaded by music. Which is why I feel this minor issue can really make a big difference.
At times we read that TNA has a department that specializes in theme music, but often we still get the generic electric guitar riff themes that you couldn't tell apart even if you were in the studio when they were being produced. Themes that are unrecognizable is a good way to hurt a character. Good songs help a viewer and a live crowd connect and stay engaged in a show.
Whether it is Serg Salinas (Whatever happened to the lyrical version of Aces and Eight's theme?), Brooke Hogan, Christy Hemme, Dale Oliver, or whoever is in charge now, TNA needs to improve the theme songs of their characters. Which is very ironic for a company with so much musical recording talent already working for the company.
Do any of the TNA wrestlers have a special entrance? I've struggled to come up with one. Who is that guy or girl? The best I could come up with is Velvet Sky, which, let's be honest, is only special to a certain demographic.
Who has that entrance on the TNA roster that really steals the show? An entrance that is an event in itself? The last special one in TNA that I can think of was D'Angelo Dinero's money falling from the ceiling. Once again, I understand TNA has limited programming, but once in while, a special entrance at a pay per view, or even for a big fight like this past week at Destination X can really help round a character into making him/her must see. An entrance of Wrestlemania proportions is not exactly necessary, but you can still make it an attraction within a reasonable manner. Someone like Kaz Okada's entrance in New Japan Pro Wrestling (Which is oddly similar to Dinero) is evidence of that.
Sometimes, it doesn't have to be an entrance of grandeur. Heck, a guy like Daniel Bryan stayed consistent with a chant followed with an mannerism that eventually became the foundation of why he is such a favorite today. What is there to Bryan without those "YES" chants?
Personally speaking, until this day, the entrance of Macho Man Randy Savage with the large robes made him feel like such a big deal. It's one of the reasons I became a fan of his as a kid, and stayed so throughout his career. Once again, it was minor, but such a big deal.
Things like special entrances help make certain characters connect, and also help make a pro wrestling events feel like a bigger deal to the casual viewer.
Finishers and Signature Moves
This was a strength of Todd Kennelly. Calling the action, putting over the finishing moves and the signatures moves of the wrestlers, thus further adding to their character. TNA has such great wrestling, however, sometimes the generic calling of their finishers, or even the absence of a finisher for some are missed opportunities to establish the character. Often times we would hear calls refer to Bobby Roode's "Pay Off" as a simple fisherman suplex, or James Storm's "Last Call" as a superkick. Or worst, the random screaming of "oooooohhh he connects", followed by the call of the pinfall. Little disconnection like this hurt the overall character from becoming a total package that fans can connect with. I'm sure a casual viewer might wonder, "why was that such a big deal?"
In pro wrestling, or at least as I've understood it since being a little child, is a big deal. Everything, in the world of pro wrestling should be larger than life.
On that same wave length of that thought, there are those who don't have distinct finishers. What is Bully Ray's finisher? Bully bomb? Cutter? How about Sonjay Dutt's moonsault double foot stomp? Which is so impressive it deserves a name!
Often times TNA fans hate hearing comparisons to or about things that WWE does very well, but the fact of the matter is, whether you enjoy the product or not, you can't deny that they are superb at all of the above. Actually, you can make the argument that it is one of the reasons they are the worldwide leader in the industry. The WWE does a tremendous job of packaging characters with distinct songs, entrances, along with making them seem like a big deal. Sometimes a HUGE deal. Look no further recently than the re-introduction of RVD, the repackaging of Curtis Axel, and the debut of the Wyatt family. All tremendous jobs by the company.
TNA often gets flack for "copying" WWE, but when it comes to the example of presenting characters and connecting them with your fan base, taking some notes from the industry leader should not be looked down upon. After all, WWE takes things from others to apply it to their programming as well. And as TNA diehards, we know this.
Booking, talent acquisitions (or releases) and backstage rumors often fill the crux of what we like to uphold as the focus for developing the brand that is TNA. However, while the aspects described above might seem like minor tidbits in the overall spectrum of pro wrestling, it's those little things which can help build, develop, and sustain on-air characters into connecting with your audience.
And connection, is very ,very vital towards growth and expansion.
Sometimes, it's just the little things that make the big difference.
What do you think?