The Crow's Nest - A TNA Without Hulk Hogan...
Oct 10, 2013 - 3:35:00 AM
1) A TNA Without Hulk Hogan… (10/10/13)
Back near the end of 2009, there was a massive bit of news in the wrestling world that, by all reports, was supposed to "shake things up" and lead TNA into a never-before-seen era of greatness. Hulk Hogan, one of the biggest names in the history of the entire industry, had signed with the company not just as an on-screen character, but as someone with a significant amount of pull backstage. Hogan would have input in everything from set design to creative direction to who got signed, released or repackaged, in addition to being a character on-screen. Considering who he was and (reportedly) the desire he had to boost TNA to a level of success that would see them eventually compete with WWE, I was fairly excited to see what would end up happening. I was never Hogan's biggest fan, but his contributions to the industry can't be ignored. Sure, his history was far from spotless, but perhaps he had learned from his mistakes and would be able to actually help TNA succeed.
So when Hogan finally debuted on January 4, 2010, I was quite excited to see what would become of the company I had grown to love. For the first time, TNA would be going head-to-head with WWE RAW, with the added bit of drama that both shows were seeing the return of a legend. Hogan, of course, would make his debut on iMPACT, and Bret Hart would make his return (his first since the infamous Montreal Screwjob) to WWE. iMPACT was watched by 3 million people that night, the most in company history, where RAW was watched by 5.6 million. Sure, there was still some work to be done, but the fact that Hogan, in one night, was already providing results gave me reason to believe that TNA had done the right thing by bringing him on board.
But then the changes started.
One major casualty that caused quite a bit of ruckus was the demise of TNA's six-sided ring, which had always been a major way for the company to set itself apart from other wrestling organizations. Less than two weeks after officially debuting on-screen, Hogan had switched to a more traditional four-sided ring. While I was a bit put off by TNA losing one of its major symbols, it was reportedly a popular move amongst some of the wrestlers as it was reportedly a safer ring to work in. Fair enough, I'm all for improving the safety of the men and women who put their bodies on the line for my entertainment.
Then came some changes to the wrestlers, two in particular that irked me. Eric Young, who had just begun to find real success as the heel leader of the World Elite stable, was quickly relegated to a mentally-challenged gimmick, leading into the goofy shtick he's stuck with to this day. Sure, World Elite had already started to dissolve by this point, but Young's success was still there. When he joined forces with The Band (comprised of Kevin Nash and Scott Hall) after a very brief face turn (oddly enough feuding against the group he would later join) I assumed that this would be a launching point for Young to finally break through to the next level of his career. Then, on an episode of Xplosion, Young "bumped his head" and became "mentally challenged". He would compete exclusively on Xplosion for some time before returning to iMPACT in October of 2010 as Orlando Jordan's tag partner.
The other character casualty was Jay Lethal. Now, I don't necessarily blame Hulk Hogan directly for this release, but certainly for at least part of it. The X-Division had been one of the things that REALLY set TNA apart from WWE, and at that point the fans were ready for it to make a bit of a comeback. Guys like Jay Lethal had been becoming bigger parts of the on-screen product, thereby offering some kind of prestige to the division again, and many assumed that Hogan and Bischoff would know this much and do something to revitalize it. Sadly it seemed that the opposite was on their agenda, and when a mutiny of sorts happened that saw the X-Division stars complain to management that they were unhappy with how they were being used, it was Jay Lethal that allegedly took the punishment for the group and was fired. Whether or not Hogan was directly involved in this is irrelevant, because he absolutely had a hand in letting things get so bad that a mutiny was necessary.
And of course, there was the whole Immortal debacle. A lot of people seemed to view this as Hogan attempting to recapture the magic of his original heel turn and were disappointed with this stable. I can't honestly say I was one of them, as I didn't mind much of that storyline aside from that god awful custom belt that Jeff Hardy had made for his World Heavyweight Championship run. Seriously, that thing was just awful. The stable made sense, because regardless of your personal feelings on the man, his name still carries some weight, and for the money that TNA was paying him it absolutely made sense to pair him up with other wrestlers to boost their stock.
After the success of the special January 4th episode of iMPACT where Hogan debuted, TNA began to discuss the idea of permanently moving the show to Mondays to compete with WWE RAW. A very ambitious move, obviously, and not one that I had thought would be made before 2011, but sure enough by March 8, 2010, iMPACT had moved to Monday nights. It would be live every other week with taped shows in between. A little over two months later, due to reduced viewer numbers, the decision was made to move iMPACT back to its original home on Thursday nights.
But perhaps the biggest point of contention with Hogan's tenure in TNA had to do with the hiring of his friends that really had no business being in the company. Guys like Bubba the Love Sponge and The Nasty Boys, and eventually his daughter Brooke, found themselves not only with gainful employment, but with a fairly large amount of focus on-screen. The biggest problem with this was that other, more deserving wrestlers were being deprived of time that could be used to building up their characters and establishing a solid roster of home-grown names to really help propel TNA into the future. Thankfully these non-deserving "talents" did not last long as real life issues more or less forced them out, but it painted an ugly picture of what could be in the future with Hogan in charge.
But at the very base of it all must come the discussion about the ratings. When it was announced that Hogan was going to be joining TNA as both an on-screen and behind-the-scenes guy, it was seen as a move that would eventually result in TNA becoming true competition to WWE. I don't think anybody expected it to be an overnight success story, but I don't think it was unreasonable to think that by the end of 2010, TNA would be pulling in consistently higher numbers. 2008 had seen iMPACT average a 1.08 rating, and 2009 had increased that number slightly to 1.16. Surely by the end of 2010, that average would continue to grow, given the addition of Hulk Hogan to the company, right?
2010 saw the ratings average fall to 1.06, despite a handful of higher ratings scattered throughout the year. 2011 saw another rise to 1.17, but that success was also short-lived as 2012 saw yet another fall to 1.01, the very same average we are sitting at right now in 2013 to this point.
While the use of ratings to determine a show's success is a very hotly debated topic, I don't think it's a statistic that can be entirely ignored. While you can argue from a fan's standpoint that the product right now is of a higher quality than it has been in years with higher ratings, the ratings do point to one problem: TNA is not attracting NEW fans, which is absolutely what it needs to be doing if it wants to ever rise above its current station. Hulk Hogan was brought in as a solution to low ratings, but the numbers do not lie. Nothing has changed in a major way.
But now, with Hogan's TNA contract status stuck in the "negotiating" stage and having been written off of TV for now, what does this mean for TNA's future?
Honestly, I don't know.
More than anything, TNA needs to acquire a strong booking team. Dixie Carter, as much of a fan as she seems to be of the wrestling industry, just does not seem to have the mind to run the creative side of things. That's not even necessarily a shot at the woman, because I will forever be grateful for some of the moments that she's provided me with through TNA programming, but not everybody can run a successful wrestling company as both a businessperson and a creative genius. Vince McMahon is good at what he does because he is a businessman that also has a vast amount of knowledge and experience in the wrestling world.
Hulk Hogan leaving the company leaves more of an on-screen void than anything else, as he had been serving as iMPACT's GM for some time, but that's not even a big deal as Dixie Carter has taken on an on-screen role as an authority figure now. Had Hogan been pulling in big numbers of viewers I'd have a problem with this switch, but as I stated previously that is not the case. While this Dixie Carter/AJ Styles storyline is going on, we don't need another authority figure, so hopefully the company's creative team will take this opportunity to really consider their options for Hogan's on-screen departure.
On the business side of things, Hogan's release frees up a large amount of cash that the company can funnel into other areas. Back in 2012, it was reported that Hogan was making around $75,000 a night. Granted that figure came from an interview with Shane Douglas, who was bitter over the former ECW guys being paid very low amounts (reportedly $250) to perform at the Hardcore Justice PPV, but it doesn't seem entirely impossible. That kind of money could easily be used to sign a handful of new talents, pay their veteran talents a little extra, or even bring on a real Creative Team to help run the show. Those are the things that will help TNA grow and succeed. Those are the things that they should be doing right now.
Bringing Hogan into the fold was a perfectly logical and understandable experiment, but it obviously didn't work out as well as TNA had hoped. There is no shame in admitting that the experiment failed, and at this point it could very well be their best move as it would allow them to move on to something new. I don't hate Hulk Hogan for what he did (or had a part in doing) to TNA, because regardless of the low points during his tenure, there were also a number of great moments. Bobby Roode's record setting title reign, Austin Aries rising through the ranks with his "Option C" decision, Bully Ray becoming a must-see TV character, Bad Influence, among many others all happened on Hogan's watch. Was he 100% responsible for those moments? I highly doubt that. But to say that his time in TNA was a total failure would be foolish.
TNA needs to see Hogan's departure as an opportunity to move beyond the "home for ex-WWE guys" reputation and really grab the bull by the horns. They need to focus on their own talents and put a lot more effort into building storylines that will not simply satisfy the fans for the short term. They need to be building an environment that allows young superstars to have their breakout moments. They need to find a "face of the company" and run with him. None of these things require Hulk Hogan. The experiment has come to a conclusion, and now that he's been written off of TV, TNA is in a perfect position to let Hogan leave for real.
I imagine Hogan could easily find a way back into WWE. Not necessarily as an on-screen guy, though I'd be interested to see if he could cut it as a member of the announce team, but certainly as an ambassador for the company through media appearances and charity work. Assuming he and McMahon can work together again, they could both stand to make a pretty penny off of a renewed partnership of some kind. I don't think TNA has much more to gain by continuing to employ Hulk Hogan, and they'll likely end up remaining stagnant if something doesn't change. This could be that change.
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