Will wrestling's infamous "Monday Night Wars" start up all over again? Possibly.
Over the holiday weekend, it was announced that starting March 8, Spike TV wrestling brand, TNA will be moving its primetime show, TNA Impact to 9:00 pm on monday nights to go head-to-head with the WWE's flagship of 17 years, Monday Night Raw.
While the uninitiated might be wondering "so what?," or just try to drop an unsolicited "revelation" that wrestling is fake (wha, whaaaat?,) this may be the start of some REAL behind-the-scenes drama that could put the Jay/Conan/NBC triangle of hatred to shame. Let's try to put this into context.
Wrestling Gets "Real." (Sort Of.)
Ideally, this move could lead to a rivalry of companies similar to the one during the late 90's boom where wrestling's popularity was at its apex and it seemed to be seeping its way into all aspects of pop culture. It was the Ted Turner-funded WCW, helmed by Eric Bischoff (who is now a member TNA's creative team,) that turned up the heat on Vince McMahon and the WWE (then WWF,) by procuring much of the company's big marquee former talent like Randy "Macho Man" Savage, and most notably, the icon of all icons, Hulk Hogan. (Although, who will ever forget where they were when WCW stole Virgil?)
With that set in place, WCW created a new primetime show in 1995 called Monday Nitro, which would air on TNT to go head-to-head with Monday Night Raw in one of the most bitter professional rivalries in TV history. After taking about a year to settle, WCW stumbled onto what may be the most defining moment in the modern wrestling business: The "nWo" storyline.
In this story angle, former big-name WWE talent (starting with Scott Hall and Kevin Nash) had "invaded" WCW. This lead to the biggest storyline swerve in wrestling history, when Hulk Hogan, the perpetual "babyface" good guy had been revealed to be behind the invasion itself. It was a storyline that changed the way wrestling scripts were written, and had adjusted to the changing, post-Internet environment where fans became more aware of backstage gossip and the legitimate aspects of the business. Viewers were now treated to storylines that were based on elements of those "real life" occurrences, as the line between story and reality became blurred like never before. The evil nWo group of wrestlers was a nuanced jab at Vince McMahon and the WWE, that managed to solidify a very real rivalry between his company and theirs.
The story seemed compelling enough, and WCW's Monday Nitro would dominate WWE's Monday Night Raw in the ratings for 84 consecutive weeks. It forced McMahon and the WWE to drastically change their product towards a new direction. This resulted in the company's "Attitude Era" of the late 90's-early 00's, which brought about the rise of gimmicks and attractions like the porn star, Val Venis, "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, Degeneration X (pictured above), and (future "Tooth Fairy,") Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson. The violence and raunchiness was ratcheted to maximum levels, which lead to an eventual turnaround for the company. Meanwhile, at WCW, backstage drama and politics affected the in-ring product, as the company fell and eventually imploded in 2001, leading to WWE's victorious purchase of their former competition.
Art Arm-Locks Through Adversity?
Nearly a decade later, while wrestling remains popular, it is quite far from the pop-culture juggernaut it resembled during the "Monday Night Wars" heyday. A lot of those fans have moved on, and the WWE product has since been toned-down to a PG level. It's a move, which tends to accommodate a business model that's based on courting cash-heavy younger fans. However, there is a general feeling among the fanbase, that due to lack of legitimate competition, the overall product has become stale and predictable.
Now, Spike TV and TNA Wrestling (helmed by president, Dixie Carter,) are attempting to recreate the magic that was present during the brutal era of company rivalry. In January, in a huge media spectacle, TNA procured Hulk Hogan and put on a three-hour live broadcast that went head-to-head with Monday Night Raw. While TNA still lost the ratings battle to WWE that night, it did so with 2.2 million viewers. (A .6 gain from their regular performances on Thursday nights.)
However, as easy as it is to get lost in the romantic notion of recreating history, one must wonder if the playing field is just too different. The respective players are putting up the typical PR fronts, with TNA espousing their excitment at being upgraded as possibly a huge player, and WWE downplaying the news with the comment, "we're not too concerned."
Let's take a look at the elements at play. Speaking from a purely objective stance, they don't look to be in TNA's favor.
1. The acquisition of Hulk Hogan last fall, was TNA's first big move in this drive towards Monday night. The reality is that Hogan, who as of late, has spent more time in the tabloids than a wrestling ring, will not and cannot actually wrestle due to the abuse that 30+ years of performing has taken on his legs. His presence will merely be as an on-screen character who holds "executive authority" in the storylines. (Although his contract gives him a good deal of legitimate creative influence.) The star power of Hogan, while great, can still run its course quickly. Nostalgia also has its limits and at the end of the day, it's about whether they can produce something that will be compelling enough to hook (and KEEP) new viewers. TNA, while in posession of some great performers, has still yet to prove themselves.
2. TNA is already following the old WCW playbook by making acquisitions of major former WWE stars. However, as WCW proved, a major influx big-name talent can upset the delicate balance of the product itself. The company's existing stars can quickly become alienated by the politicking of the new arrivals. As the notorious stories from the old WCW depicted, the stars tended to throw their weight around to get more TV time and favorable control of their storylines. This translated into WCW content that was dry and dull. There are already rumblings and rumors of this occurring in the TNA locker rooms.
3. Raw will air live, Impact will be pre-taped. This will definitely be a factor in grasping the audience with the gimmick of immediacy. Back in the day, it was WCW that brought a live broadcast, while Raw was pre-taped. At the height of the Monday Night Wars, WCW boss, Eric Bischoff would exploit this, by actually reading out the results of the taped Raw, essentiallly "spoiling" audiences away from WWE's show. Nasty stuff.
4. WWE is rounding the home-stretch towards its signature event this March, Wrestlemania. With its current storyline featuring the 12-year in-the-making return of Bret "The Hitman" Hart, Raw's hugely successful celebrity "guest host" concept, a great stable of rising stars, and the vast majority of the biggest names in the business at its disposal, TNA picked a really BAD time to attack. They may have to endure some crushing ratings defeats, which may force Spike TV to rethink the move before they even get a foothold.
What do you think about this development? Does TNA really stand a chance? Will this nonetheless revive the rather dull state of wrestling?
Source: The Hollywood Reporter