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TNA IMPACT MAY BE THE MOST UNDERRATED WRESTLING TV SERIES RIGHT NOW, SO WHERE ARE THE FANS & WHAT CAN TNA DO ABOUT IT?

By Mike Johnson on 2016-02-19 16:36:00

If you are TNA Impact Wrestling, you must want to beat your head against the wall after the last few weeks of seeing the audience dropping on Pop.   You've seen AJ Styles, who was meant to spark interest in your company, slip right through your fingers and end up on WWE.  You've seen WWE cultivate NXT and now a Global Cruiserweight Series that will pull additional attention  from you and even Ring of Honor and other companies, from EVOLVE to Progress, have gained ground.

What has to be especially frustrating for TNA is this: Impact Wrestling has been REALLY good lately.  As much as the World Title Series was just an excuse to more or less burn time off when the company was on Destination America, TNA's product on Pop has been the exact opposite.  I can say that I'm personally enjoying and personally looking forward to watching Impact every week for the first time since Hulk Hogan and Eric Bischoff came into the company.  It's not a slight at Hogan and Bischoff - it's just a realization that for the last six or so years, TNA lost who they were as an identity and it was an identity was haphazardly built at best, at times.

But since 2016 has come along, TNA has seemingly found a lot more energy and a new voice.  In recent weeks on the series we've seen:

*Matt Hardy's TNA title win and subsequent new character as this condensing, smarmy villain that has, for the first time since Hardy was in WWE, felt like he's a reinvigorated personality as much as he's a hard worker.

*The ascension of EC3 as a babyface obsessed with winning with promos that were so good, they made people sit up and become fans where before they had dismissed him. 

*The Beer Money reunion, which, while well traveled ground, gave TNA a return to a franchise that probably never should have been broken up to begin with.

*Some solid to strong X-Division matches where talents have been giving their all in the ring and trying to put together some really fun, high flying, well paced matches.

*Grado (or is it Odarg?)  being the first person in the history of Feast or Fired being so great at his reaction to being "let go" that it created some genuine sympathy, setting the stage for what's been some awesome Odarg stuff thus far.

*Kurt Angle willing himself to some really good final TNA matches, highlighted by an amazing career performance by Drew Galloway, who just drips passion at what he does to the point you wonder what the hell WWE was thinking when they let him go.

*Crazzy Steve stepping out of being an after-thought as part of the Decay group while old-hand Abyss feels like he's back to being where he should be in terms of being a character with an aura of danger.

That's not all.  The storytelling has been good and solid and logical, a far cry from some of the silliness of the past few years.  There's not a Claire Lynch in sight and even Dixie Carter has been kept to a minimum of appearances.  The Awesome Kong direction had to be discarded but I thought the idea of her leading the Dollhouse was interesting.   There's been some  good to great tag team wrestling from The Wolves, some underrated performances by the likes of Eric Young and Lashley, the introduction of Mike Bennett and Maria and well, it's been a pretty damn good two hours of wrestling lately.

Behind the scenes, Matt Hardy has been far more involved.  Billy Corgan has come on board.  Shane Helms gets raves for his work producing and arguing for logic within the TNA creative space.  Dave Lagana and Matt Conway continue to craft a pretty damn solid show every week.  As much as John Gaburick is in a position to have his every move criticized, it should be noted that in many ways he was inheriting a closet full of skeletons and past problems that he now had to carry as his legacy - and he has worked to clear a lot of the dreck from the table.

TNA Impact is a pretty good TV show now.  As the saying goes, "All they need is people."  So, where are the fans?

Certainly, some of them don't get Pop, but there's no argument TNA is in a better position now vs. Destination America a year ago.  Impact is routinely popping up in the Top 150 series on cable every week, something that never ever happened on Destination America.  Certainly, some of the fans were turned off by the lame duck feel of the World Title Series and the changes from network to network to network and from day to day to day.  That's certainly a percentage of it, especially when TNA doesn't have tons to throw into a major marketing campaign nationally to educate the casual viewers where they have landed.

But a bigger issue is that, while no one in the company will openly admit it, in 2016, TNA is in many ways scorched Earth.  There's no argument about it.  They've bounced across cable networks for the third time in two years.  They've cut back expenditures in every corner of the company, from office space to talent to marketing and promotion.  A lot of that was their own doing.  It takes time for the forest to grow back after a wildfire and I think TNA, despite some good efforts thus far, is still hampered by the wildfires that came before - bad mistakes, previous creative regimes, loss of talents, you name it.  TNA was decimated, by themselves and by others. 

But, they aren't dead yet.  Not with the type of series they are producing weekly.  At the end of the day, when the bell rings, in 2016, TNA's been giving the eyeballs on the show a pretty good show and honestly, one that deserves a far better viewership than what it's had the last few weeks.  TNA has at times, and a number of times, had a far better first few months of TV programming, just in terms of solid stories and good wrestling, when compared to Raw.  Now, in some ways, it's apple and oranges because of differences in the production and style of the shows, but trust me.  There are weeks where Impact is pretty damn entertaining and Raw is flat.  Compare them for yourself sometime.

All that said, I don't know what TNA can do to dig itself out of the hole it's in right now, but I can attest to this - when it comes to the matches in the ring and the stories on their TV series, they are on the right track, in my opinion.  I hope that continues.  There's always room for tweaks and improvements but if there's anyone blameless right now for whatever negativity surrounds and haunts the TNA letters, it's the performers.   They're already doing the heavy lifting.

TNA also needs to admit (at least privately) that it's going to take many many months, perhaps years, before TNA can earn back the trust of some fans they've burnt and capture the imagination of new fans, especially here in the United States, but the first victory has been won - compared to six months ago, a year ago, and hell, three years ago, TNA TV has greatly improved and we can see there's indeed been work, not just lip service, to try and truly right the ship.  Lip service would have meant the old TNA pattern of a good week or so of TV and then the series going right back into the hell it had just crawled out of.

TNA certainly needs more talent to play with it as one of their biggest issues, in my eyes, is that so many of the potential stories and combinations in the ring have been done to death - something that greatly afflicts the long-time personalities that have been there.  They also really need an overhaul in terms of trying to get some positive outlook of the company out there, but there are no easy fixes or magic bullets that is going to flip the coin from tails back to heads. 

The general wrestling fan isn't going to fall in love and sing the praises of TNA tomorrow - they've been teased with too many Earth shattering surprises and have been felt lied to or let down too often.  The only thing that TNA can do to change the perception and hopefully get the audiences moving back up is to continue on their path of producing good to great wrestling and add some new personalities as they go, building them from within over time.  It may take years to change the way TNA is seen.  They need to not make promises or tease surprises - just deliver them with no foreshadowing, so fans take a moment to go, "Wow, didn't see that coming" and hopefully, become more engaged and interested where before they might have dismissed the company due to a laundry list of past transgressions.

There also has to be a realization internally where the company admits there is no "big get" that's going to change the game for them.  CM Punk isn't going to walk in tomorrow and be their top guy.  John Cena isn't jumping ship.  There's no AJ Styles return.  There's no Sting.  Bill Goldberg isn't the answer, either.  If Hulk Hogan didn't change the course of mighty rivers for TNA when he arrived (with Ric Flair, RVD AND Jeff Hardy to boot!), there is no Superman out there to help the company leap tall buildings with a single bound.

Superman will fail. TNA needs Batman. 

More importantly, TNA needs to think like Batman.  They need to be patient, be smart, be prepared and know exactly how and when to strike. 

It's going to take time for TNA to evolve in the eyes of the fans and redeem itself.  The good news is that in the ring and in front of the cameras, they are already taking those first steps.  If you pay attention, you'll see it...and hopefully none of us will see TNA dropping that ball anytime before they strategize a way to defeat their two most dangerous opponents at the moment, the time they need to pass before fans will, on their own, recognize the positive changes that have been made and the patience to stay the course until then.

Thankfully, TNA's international TV deals are strong enough to keep the company going while they are in something of a cocoon, attempting to re-grow their wings.  They've laid the foundation - I invite you to see for yourself - whether they have the time and patience to learn to fly again - we'll only know that answer in hindsight....and only you can decide if and when you are going to see how improved Impact has been of late.

Mike Johnson can be reached at MikeJohnsonPWInsider@gmail.com.

 

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