After more than a month off from television, and more than three months since their last live event or taping, TNA Impact Wrestling returns tonight with a live broadcast from New York on their new United States cable home of Destination America.
Featuring a main event match up between the current TNA World champ, Bobby Roode, and the man he defeated for the belt, the Bellator-contracted mixed martial artist Bobby Lashley, tonight's show will be fans first look at the new Impact that President Dixie Carter and Vice-President in charge of talent and creative John Gaburick have been promising since signing with Discovery Communications, parent company of Destination America.
In an Associated Press article promoting the new show, Carter and recently re-signed star Kurt Angle spoke to writer Dan Gelston about what to expect from the re-launched program. Dixie spoke a bit about incorporating the fans via social media and incorporating more reality TV elements into Impact:
We're going to pull the curtain back and have cameras where they've not been before. You're going to see some changes that will help the viewer feel a stronger connection to the show and the characters. It will be a new way of watching it compared to what we've had in the past.
The company has made noises along these lines before, especially in their #IMPACT365 initiative from 2013 which promised, "cameras everywhere give you unprecedented access to the lives of your favorite TNA Superstars with exclusive footage delivered 24/7. Check out exclusive content through all of TNAs platforms including IMPACT WRESTLING live events, shows on SPIKE TV each week, on impactwrestling.com and through our social channels".
Dixie doesn't go into detail regarding how the new plan differs from that one, but she is banking on a more supportive partner in Discovery Communications. In addressing Gelston's statements that the small number of homes with Destination America (under 60 million) and a regular Friday night time slot usually considered a ratings "graveyard" would make even reaching similar numbers from TNA's days on Viacom-owned Spike TV a stretch, Carter said:
Of course, it's a small concern. But the most important thing is, how important are we going to be to them and what are they going to do to build our brand using the muscle of Discovery.
It's unclear, however, what that muscle will do for TNA. Comments from the general manager of Destination America, Marc Etkind, seem to indicate both a passive approach to marketing their new product and a cursory review of the audience for that product:
We felt there was an audience coming to Friday already looking for wrestling and we expect them to find `Impact'. What we like about the wrestling audience is, it's an all-American audience.
Viewers looking for wrestling will find a familiar face in Angle, who is quoted in the piece as believing that his TNA career has been better than his WWE one. Gaburick has been teasing a major announcement from the two-time Olympic Gold Medalist, and Kurt hints that it will involve his return to the ring after missing most of 2014 with a knee injury:
It looks like I'll be wrestling here sooner rather than later, if that gives you a hint.
The AP article is not a fluff piece, but rather a fair assessment of TNA's past struggles and the challenges it faces as it attempts to reinvent itself with smaller budgets than it's had in the past. Unfortunately, there hasn't been anything in all of their promotion leading into tonight's 9PM Eastern time debut that sounds like a compelling reason for either a new viewer or a disgruntled former viewer to seek out Destination America.
Gelston paraphrases Dixie saying they want to return to quality wrestling and sensible angles (using the never resolved 2010 "Samoa Joe kidnapped by a van full of ninjas" segment as an example of the things from which they want to get away), but more time is spent talking about how behind-the-scenes footage will help fans connect to the performers. Which sounds all well and good, but also requires an explanation for how your "new" product will make this work where your "old" show couldn't.
What do you think, Cagesiders? Will you be tuning in tonight? Is it because you're a TNA diehard or consumer of any & all pro graps, or has the publicity surrounding the relaunch convinced you to give Impact a try (again or for the first time)?