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By Mike Johnson on 2021-04-07 09:00:00

Mike Johnson: You mentioned "Winter Is Coming" and the big reaction Sting got. Last week, Chris Jericho commented on his podcast that TNT reached out, and I'm paraphrasing here, but basically said, "Don't do the surprises like that on the show, we'd rather lean into announcements" like you guys did for Paul Wight to help with ratings, help with the audience. If you don't mind, talk a little bit about that and how you balance the storytelling of what your vision is with what your broadcast partner wants and needs out of AEW Dynamite as an asset. How does that mitigate your vision and your booking?

Tony Khan: It's a mixed bag..I wouldn't say that's exactly how it happened. Some of that, maybe through different..point being, I don't think that's exactly how the conversation...I know, because I was the one who had it, that's not exactly how the conversation with TNT went but there's a balance between announcing things in advance like we've done with Mike Tyson coming in for this week or with Paul Wight coming in, telling fans in advance when something's coming or surprises that came out of nowhere like when Sting showed up. And I think that's a great balance to have and I think we'll be doing both. So with Mike we announced in advance but I would never, and let me make it clear, TNT never said, "Don't do surprises." They thought that was great and they've had a huge reaction to Sting and in doing the announcement with Paul they were excited to do one with a press release and it was a great strategy, we did a great number and it was a huge interest and it built huge search traffic and it built a lot of buzz and now Paul is a big part of our family and for everybody that's been involved in Elevation, he's brought a lot more eyeballs on Elevation, it's been a huge, huge success for us. We just did by far our best month ever on YouTube, the views for Elevation have been a huge success but also, that's only one part of what Paul does here, on screen is that. Behind the scenes, he's been a huge, huge presence, mentoring young talent, giving notes to all the wrestlers on Elevation on their matches, on what he thinks they can improve or what he thinks they should keep doing and where their strong points are. And also, I don't want people to think...Paul's going to, Paul's going to wrestle [laughs]. I really think this was a great way for Paul to come in because you're going to get...there's a little bit of that mob mentality in all things now, and wrestling is no exception, and for Paul to come in this way - Elevation, he's elevating young talent, he's added tons of value for the young wrestlers, he's put thousands and thousands of new eyeballs on young wrestlers that are going to be making new fans and it's a great opportunity for them, he's mentoring them on the show, he's not taking anybody's spot, he's adding value to the young wrestlers. If anybody says that Paul Wight came in and took some young guy's spot and is holding back the young wrestlers, that is crap. That is the opposite of what is happening, that is not the case and that would be an example of that backwards mentality that some people have. You have to actually look at how people are being utilized and in Paul's case, he's helping elevate the talent. Now there will come a time when it'll make a lot of sense for Paul to get involved in a wrestling storyline. He's one of the most recognizable athletes in the world, he's one of the most recognizable big men in the world and he's going to have a huge, huge, huge presence here but the way he's come in, the way he's helped elevate the talent, and the way that young wrestlers are benefiting from Paul being here, nobody can deny.

Mike Johnson: You brought up Paul, but I was going to bring up Christian Cage. Thoughts on what he will bring during his tenure - he just had his first match a week ago against Frankie Kazarian, but thoughts on his tenure thus far and what he's bringing to the AEW culture.

Tony Khan: That was a great match and it did a really great number. I really thought he did a great job and I can't say enough about him. He is somebody's a little bit different, how he's come in and he's helping the young talent in a lot of ways too. He's working with the young talent, he's gunning for a top spot right out of the gate, so it's different than coming in and doing the commentary and the mentoring, but he is going to add a huge amount of value to our shows with his knowledge, but also in ring. He's still one of the best wrestlers in the world, he's actively one of the best workers on the planet right now...tremendous match he had with Frankie. They have great history and he's also going to have great matches with many people he's never wrestled before, and I thought that would be a really good one for him to start with, for the fans to go out and see where he stands versus Frank who's been one of the winningest wrestlers in AEW, part of our first ever tag team champions and somebody who's got one of the best records ever in AEW.

Mike Johnson: You have such a crew right now - I was watching the show last week and thought, "There's a lot of people on this show." You pack the shows every week, you try to give as many matches and segments as you can in the course of a 2 hour broadcast. 

Tony Khan: While still doing long, great wrestling matches. There are a lot of people on the show, but there was a lot of really, good, long wrestling. Kazarian and Christian went like 17 minutes uninterrupted with no commercials. The trios match with Lucha Brothers and Laredo Kid versus Omega and Gallows and Anderson, that was a great match. There was tremendous bell to bell wrestling on the card and I think that helps set the show apart, if that makes sense. So I do try to get people on the shows but I also try to give the fans great wrestling matches consistently every single week.

Mike Johnson: So my question was going to be - as the booker, how hard is it to make sure you're servicing all these different stories, matches and personalities so that someone isn't swept off to the side and they disappear for a month and the fans are like, "Wait, where did QT Marshall go?"..just to use a name as a random example?

Tony Khan: It's very difficult, that's why you can't take for granted the value of new property like Elevation and being able to have over a million fans watch the first episode and consistently having these big audiences, close to a million, for a show that features a lot of our wrestlers and gives them a chance to go out and have great matches there too. But for Dynamite, it's really a challenge every week, absolutely, with such a great roster, but it's a good challenge. I mean, you want to have depth on the roster where injuries or anything else that can happen, you're always set with great people here at every show. If anybody ever gets sick or gets hurt, we've always been able to step up with great replacements and consistently at times we've been able to use that to our advantage. If someone is out for any reason, we put a new opponent in there and turn it into a new, great story. Eddie Kingston benefited, I think. Look, Eddie Kingston was going to get to wrestle Mox anyway, it was going that way, I think it was very obvious when I put Eddie and Lance as the final 2 guys in the battle royal, that I had plans for both of them. But it wasn't supposed to be Eddie versus Mox yet, when Lance and Brian, both completely separately at home, got sick. That was a great example of being able to have a deep roster and make a change. Going forward, I'm really excited about the 3rd hour on TNT that's going to launch this year in 2021. That's another reason why I've put together such a deep roster because in addition to Dynamite and our YouTube shows, Dark and Dark Elevation, we're going to have another hour on TNT where I want to have the top stars and I don't intend for that to be a backseat hour. I think it's going to be every bit as strong as Dynamite. I want it to be one of our flagship shows.

Mike Johnson: Let's talk about the reality show with Cody and Brandi. It's very different from what we've seen on AEW thus far - thoughts on expanding the AEW footprint with that sort of reality show storytelling and how did that entire project come about?

Tony Khan: Well I certainly talked about from the beginning of of partnering with TNT was the opportunity to do other shows in addition to Dynamite and the projects that we talked about for a long time were another hour of wrestling, which I was really excited about and I think probably, honestly, if not for the pandemic, would have happened already. My contract said it would launch no later than the end of 2021, which obviously we're still well within that timeframe, but it felt like it was on pace to launch in 2020 before the pandemic hit and now with the fans back and the excitement building to these shows, I believe that's there's time for us to develop more shows and more programming that is not all necessarily focused on the matches because we already offer so much great wrestling every week and across Dynamite and the 3rd hour there's going to be great matches every week, for Elevation and Dark there's great matches, and for learning more about the personalities of the wrestlers and their wives, I think reality TV is always an area we wanted to explore and always a place in the beginning when I first started AEW I felt like it would be an opportunity for us. So I remember talking to Cody and Brandi about doing the show that has effectively become Rhodes To The Top several years ago. It's great that it's become a reality. I think it's a very interesting life they have together and now with Brandi being pregnant and them bringing a child into this wrestling world, the different roles they play in AEW, the things they do on screen and off screen, I think it'll be really an interesting show and a great chance for a lot of fans to get to see some personality that you wouldn't see from some wrestlers that are going to be featured on the show. You get to see a side of the production you might not see, you might see some of us at Gorilla, which you never get to see on Dynamite or our pay per views but that could be something you get to see here, which is the kind of footage I think fans are really interested in, the behind the scenes stuff, so this is a great form to capture some of those things, and I think it's a great chance for the fans to get to know Cody and Brandi better but also know some of the different personalities in AEW better. 

Interview concludes on Page 5!

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