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WK EDITORIAL 6/30: Spike TV rebranding and refocusing - how this could be good news for TNA

Jun 30, 2011 - 4:04:15 PM

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The Attitude Era is over. TNA seems to be living in a time warp, though, trying to go back in time and recreate that. Last Thursday's Impact, particularly the first hour, shows that TNA is still trying to relive the past. The Attitude Era worked because of:

-Steve Austin's unique breakout character, and what a contrast it was to Hulk Hogan and Bret Hart before him.

-The Mr. McMahon character, after decades being the straight-laced announcer and the unstated leader of the company, shocked people with is 180 degree turn into the mad boss.

-Degeneration X being a younger, more cool version of the rapidly over-expanded, growing-tired NWO group. Triple H, Shawn Michaels, Chyna, X-Pac, Road Dogg, and Billy Gunn were younger, fresher, and more in-your-face than the NWO was. Their skits going after WCW at the Georgia HQs sent a message that WCW didn't have the market cornered on edgy factions with star power.

-The fact that for decades before the Attitude Era, wrestling was very different, much more conservative, much more PG - especially the Hulk Hogan-to-Bret Hart years of the WWF, therefore the Attitude Era felt new and fresh, unlike anything that mid-'90s to late-'90s audience had grown up watching.

TNA isn't breaking new ground with their raunchy, tawdry language and angles and close-ups of women's crotches as they enter the ring. They just look pathetic and desperate to be cool, and that's just not going to happen with the creep-factor of Mike Tenay acting all turned on by the women and Eric Bischoff informing us of when he "took a leak" last week.

TNA's excuse for taking this approach has been that Spike TV is targeted primarily toward men 25-49. They figure if they themselves pigs, all men are pigs, so let's cater to their sleazy tendencies to want all things raunchy and lewd and sexist.

(Here's my blog from last Thursday night listing the tawdry aspects of just the first hour of Impact Wrestling last week: WK QUICK BLOG 6/24: In the first hour of TNA Impact last night, we heard this... - http://pwtorch.com/artman2/publish/wadekellerdotcom/51012.shtml)

The problem is no man 25-49 wants to spend two hours on Thursday nights with programming that seems to be written on a laptop by some sad, lonely, miserable woman-hating writer in a dank, dark corner of the trashiest, sleaziest strip club on the outskirts of town. That's how TNA comes across too often.

People have seen the Attitude Era, and it worked because of DX, Steve Austin, Mr. McMahon, along with The Rock and Mick Foley and a dose of contemporary athleticism unlike anything in WWE previously with the Hardy Boyz and Edge & Christian.

Mr. Bischoff is no Mr. McMahon, and even if he was, it'd feel like a weak derivative to those who had seen the real thing. Mr. Anderson is no Stone Cold, and even if he was, it'd feel like a rerun to those who had seen the real thing.

If Spike TV begins selling advertisers on a wider demo that includes younger men, teens, and especially women - which is sounds like they're aiming to do this year - that is good news for TNA. It will be that outside impetus for them to shift away from this tired, tawdry formula and move toward entertaining people with a product that is more upbeat, less derivative, and certainly less sexist. They can be sexy without being sexist. They can be titillating without being sleazy. They can even be horny without being creepy. They can present women as strong, independent athletes who just happen, in many cases to be attractive rather than "skanks and sluts who can't get along."

TNA Impact drives away women. It's not just because they're on Spike TV. Sure, WWE is on a woman-friendly network, so that explains to a degree why Raw does around a 1.1/1.2 rating for women compared to Smackdown doing only a 0.5/0.6 on SyFy. But Impact on Spike is 0.2 or less - not even ranking in the top 50 in any female demographic for its night on television.

UFC is also on Spike. It's men really hitting each other and bleeding. It's violent. There are no female characters on the show other than the "ring girls." You'd think Impact would do better than UFC on the same network, right? Wrong. UFC draws 0.5/0.6 ratings among that women demo, more than double or triple TNA Impact's female demo audience.

If TNA portrayed women with respect and even reverence, and if they didn't celebrate the "male pig" as the epitome of manliness, maybe they could expand that overall audience from the 1.1, give or take, they've been stuck at for years, despite massive increases in payroll and (aging) star power, expensive billboards in Times Square, the expansion of social media helping good products catch fire quickly, and the additional years to in build on their base audience.

Changing the tone and the theme of their show doesn't mean it can't be edgy. It just shouldn't be tawdry and pathetic and sad and dirty and sexist and excessively violent. And Impact Wrestling, more often than those in charge realize, comes across that way. This change wouldn't solve everything, as they still have to shore up the efficiency of the booking and the lack of admirable heros and despicable villains battling each other in situations where there's a clear reason to root for one over the other.

If they clean up their show, they might not only attract more women over the course of the next year, but more men who want to watch it now will be able to watch it in the same room as their girlfriend or wife. Whether the woman in the room is actually watching or is instead surfing the internet next to their boyfriend, they will at least be able to tolerate being in the room when Impact is on (you know, like UFC and Smackdown).

Not only that, but if they cut back on the valuable TV time given to the 50+ crowd (Eric Bischoff, Hulk Hogan, Sting) and the 40+ crowd (Jeff Jarrett, Kurt Angle, Rob Van Dam) and focus more on younger wrestlers that their younger viewers can relate to, they might draw back some of those teen viewers that Bischoff and Hogan have turned away in the last year.

Five months ago, Impact was drawing nearly triple the male teens they're drawing now. Those are Impact Wrestling's future 18-34 year olds and 25-54 year olds. Earning their loyal viewing now can pay off as they age into the relevant advertising demographics. Close ups of Bischoff's gray hair and aging angry face, both in the ring and in his office, segment after segment, talking about "taking a leak" and brow-beating the younger "bad ass" wrestlers into retreating out of his office with their heads hanging isn't appealing to male teens or women.

So if Spike TV changes direction, it could be the impetus for change that TNA should have made a long time ago. Quit narrowly focusing on viewers who either like the "male pig" sexist aspects of the show or at are willing to at least plug their noses and tolerate it while waiting around for some good wrestling and hope that younger characters will some day become the centerpiece. TNA has the roster right now to build exclusively around wrestlers and characters under 40, and with good booking the talent they have is sufficient to improve on the 1.1 they currently are drawing.

Is there a place for Sting? Yes, as a once or twice a year special mystery partner a young babyface brings in to help him fend off a faction of heels. Is there a role for Hulk Hogan? Perhaps, as a babyface "law and order" enforcing commissioner who appears once every 2-3 weeks in a special circumstances that commands everyone's attention because when he appears on TV, something big is about to be announced.

I understand Bischoff and Hogan are positioning themselves as central characters so that they stay relevant and seem indispensable and thus remain on Panda Energy payroll as on-air characters, but I think TNA would be better off with a sharp turn away from their well-earned reputation as a landing pad for WWE rejects and older wrestlers ready to cash in on their star power and coast for a while, earning their last money in pro wrestling.

Here's our original story on this, including details from a cable analyst who attended the conference and filed a report for us. This is very much worth reading...

LINK: TNA News: Spike TV formally discusses re-branding, promotes shows other than Impact at media presentation, what the re-branding means for TNA

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