Thanks to an old-school Vince Russo reveal, American wrestling’s number two promotion TNA could close down after Spike TV pulls the plug.
This all sounds quite familiar to me – a TV company drops a wrestling programme leading to fears for its future. And although it’s 2014 and TNA does its best to rise above some of the muck that WCW was turning out towards the end of its storied history, some of the same hallmarks which led to the former Jim Crockett Promotions being acquired by business rivals WWE in 2001 are starting to show in America’s current #2 promotion, TNA Wrestling.
In late 2000, WCW was staying on the air despite heavy financial losses because of Ted Turner’s loyalty to the product, a product which thanks to the likes of Vince Russo had shown a drastic decline in quality; business had seriously picked up (as Jim Ross would say) over at the WWF during the previous year with The Rock and Triple H at the head of a company that was enjoying the most success in the mainstream since the early days of Hulkamania.
When Time Warner merged with AOL to force Turner out of his own company, all WCW programming was cancelled – a decision which severely reduced the value of the company and forced producer Eric Bischoff to pull out of a deal to purchase WCW.
At the time WCW was itself beginning to pull out of a creative nosedive thanks to the reins finally being handed to younger, self-made stars like Booker T rather than having the old hands calling the same old shots. But the damage was done and, in March 2001 the final WCW Monday Nitro program featured live link-ups with WWF Monday Night Raw as the latter’s poorly-received Invasion angle began once WWF had purchased WCW.
Fast-forward to today and, while I definitely don’t see history repeating itself the way it did in Panama City 13 years ago, the same danger signs are there for TNA, beginning with Spike TV’s announcement that it won’t be renewing their TV deal for TNA Impact Wrestling. Although there’s still a long way to go before the deal expires in the autumn, losing a major source of income like TV after some very harsh cutbacks have already been made can’t be good news for fans of the Impact Zone.
Not that there are that many there, or on the road. Attendances have been anaemic at house shows, and photographs taken at their annual showpiece Bound For Glory from last October demonstrate perfectly the problems the company is having in engaging their audience.
According to reports by Dave Meltzer, Spike TV had a huge problem with TNA using Vince Russo as a creative consultant. The same Vince Russo who, in one of his trademark worked shoots, called Hulk Hogan a “goddamn politician” back in 2000, when Hogan played his creative control card to secure yet another WCW World Title – by having Jeff Jarrett lay down for him. (The same Hulk Hogan who signed a staggeringly massive TNA contract in 2009 for what turned to be precious little return, but that’s only another factor in their money problems).
During a previous Russo run at TNA, Spike were very upset at some of his more controversial angles – including regular occurrences of male-on-female violence. (Of course, none of this has anything to do with TNA’s biggest hook of late – tune in to Impact and see Bully Ray finally put TNA owner Dixie Carter through a table!) The main issue is that Spike did not know that Russo was on the payroll until recently, when he accidentally sent an email to wrestling reporter Mike Johnson rather than commentator Mike Tenay.
And so, their trust violated that TNA wouldn’t do such a silly thing as rehire a man who was persona non grata with Spike, the channel has reportedly decided not to renew – leaving TNA’s future very unclear indeed.
Despite my personal dislike of most of TNA’s work for the past decade, I personally think this is a blow for pro wrestling; their authority unchecked, WWE may not feel the need to grow and develop their offering. I’m not saying TNA were ever at the heights of WCW’s run – far from it – but with no mainstream alternative it’s going to be hard for fans to get their fix of wrestling if Spike decides not to renew.
Update – 27/9/14: Dave Meltzer (via Den of Geek US) reports that Impact Wrestling will not stay on Spike once the deal expires, and is currently negotiating with four other networks to stay on the air – any of which would carry the product to fewer potential viewers than Spike provides.
Update – 21/5/2015:
The following is a tweet from senior TNA rep Bob Ryder:
For almost 13 years some people have predicted we were about to go out of business. It’s no more true today than it was then. #StandUp
— Bob Ryder (@brydertna) May 21, 2015
This comes hot on the heels of a report by Dave Meltzer that, just months after signing to a different channel called Discovery America (which reaches far fewer US households than Spike TV), TNA could be getting cancelled again.
TNA made itself welcome all throughout the week’s schedules, with spin-off shows and ‘remixed’ highlight packages, but has been gradually wound back to a single episode of Impact Wrestling each week – and even that will be reportedly gone as of September, after the channel allegedly exercised an option to exit from the deal early.
While the ratings have been good, they apparently aren’t good enough to justify the TNA budget – especially as advertisers are reportedly keen to avoid working with them at all.