As Total Nonstop Action Wrestling prepares to celebrate its tenth anniversary, wrestling fans have seen some big changes on Impact Wrestling over the past few weeks. And beginning May 31, there will be two more big changes as Impact goes to a live format and begins airing at 8 p.m. EST, one hour earlier than its previous 9 p.m. start time. With additional behind-the-scenes additions such as General Manager Hulk Hogan‘s daughter Brooke as the new Executive in Charge of the Knockouts Division, TNA is once again looking for ways to shake things up in the wrestling world. As she prepares for at least 12 weeks of live airings, TNA president Dixie Carter takes a moment to talk to Wrestling with Pop Culture about these and other developments in TNA.
With Impact Wrestling going to a live format starting May 31, what is the company’s attitude towards this change in comparison to the short-lived live Monday night broadcasts a couple of years ago?
We’ve had two or three live Impact shows in the past, but this is a completely different feeling. The fact that we’re going live all summer, it’s a new time slot shifting an hour earlier, everybody’s really excited. It’s better than a one-night kind of event because we’ve got things planned all summer long, including some new things I’m very excited about. And to be able to do them live will make them that much more impactful.
It’s also been announced that Impact will take on more reality TV-like elements starting with this first live broadcast. Following last week’s segment where Hulk Hogan was trying to determine who would take on Bobby Roode for the TNA World Heavyweight Championship, what’s your take on that form of reality being interspersed into pro wrestling?
In that very segment you saw a different view of five very important people on our show. I am more excited about doing that than anything we’ve done in our company history. Fifteen years ago, reality TV didn’t exist. But it’s permanently altered the way the landscape is for network and cable television viewing today. We’ve done some stuff in the past, such as the fly-on-the-wall backstage element and the deliberation scene that you mentioned, and I think we’ve done an outstanding job of it. But it’s really time for us to take this to another level. It’s going to be an evolution in the coming weeks and months, but it is something that is going to be, in my opinion, a very much needed way of watching wrestling.
Why did you decide to hire Brooke Hogan to oversee the Knockouts instead of giving that role to someone with more wrestling experience?
This division is very important to me as the female head of a predominantly male wrestling company. For women to get out there and do this, I feel like we have to have a certain standard that needs to be better than anything else that’s out there. I feel like we have the best female wrestlers on the planet on any roster. I met Brooke a couple of years ago and we hit it off. My past life was in the music business and she’s been pursuing a music career and we really bonded over talking about music. Quite honestly, I went in with one perception of how she’d be talent wise and I was really blown away. I’ve been guiding her more and becoming more and more involved because I think she has a lot of potential. But during these conversations, they’d always find their way back to wrestling. Here’s a girl who has been living and breathing wrestling her entire life. She has been under the greatest single wrestler that will probably ever live in the history of our industry. We were having dinner with my daughter and my family the other night and she was saying, “I remember being 7 and sitting there while my dad was talking business with some of the greats.” She’s always learned from this, she’s incredibly intelligent and I think she’s a big star in her own right. We’ve got the big wrestlers, but what we really need is somebody to give them more exposure. I think Brooke is going to be a great character on television. She is not going to wrestle, she is going to continue to pursue her music. But one of the biggest things she will do for us is shine a spotlight on the Knockouts that they very much deserve.
With TNA celebrating its tenth anniversary this month, what has been your biggest challenge so far?
If you’re smart, you listen to your fans and you listen to your criticism and you learn from it and grow. Not everybody has the perspective or the information I have to make decisions within, so that’s a unique position to be in. But I do weigh that very carefully. I am so proud that in just a few short days we will be celebrating our tenth year in this business. I’ve never been more proud to be associated with anything in my professional career and I truly, truly love the men and women that make up our roster, that are behind the scenes and that work in the office. You have a group of people who work harder and care more, we have a really great working environment and we’ve achieved so much in ten years. It’s been really tough. There were times when I didn’t know if we were going to be in business for ten months – we almost didn’t last ten weeks – but we were strong, we pulled together, we made better decisions and I’m very proud of how much we’ve accomplished and where we’re going. I look back and we’ve made a ton of mistakes. I’ll be the first to say that and I’ll take responsibility for them, both creatively and how we’ve approached certain things. It’s been a learning curve and I think we’re on a very good road. If you’ve not watched our show in a long time, I would encourage people to tune in because I don’t think we’ve ever produced such quality television as we’re doing right now.
With the live format, do you plan on continuing to broadcast from Universal Studios in Orlando or would you like to eventually air live while on the road?
I think it’s interesting to hear about the rich history of wrestling in Florida, and I’ve gotten to experience a lot of that and hear about it from some of our talent. But as far as Orlando’s concerned, I’d rather be able to go live and stay there. The goal is ultimately to go live and on the road. There’s no doubt that that would be the very best product we could put out. But I want to be in business and having this conversation with you in another ten years, and to do so we’ve got to make some good business decisions. The touring market is soft right now and we’ve got to get to a place where we can generate the kind of income that will help cover the expenses of going both live and on the road. I think the new format will allow us to utilize the Universal property to its best ability, then take viewers on a greater journey outside the other seven days a week where you might see scenes playing out from any city in the country in a variety of different ways. And I think that will, in itself, freshen up our show, even staying at Universal.
Is there any possibility of Impact remaining live after this summer series is over?
Right now the plan is to go live a full 12 weeks. There is one dangling week between pay-per-views, so I hope we will at least be able to stretch it to 13. But that’s really all the talk there’s been so far. I wanted to do something and stay with it consistently for a period of time. It’s going to take a little while for us to see what will happen. We’re not only going live, we’re not only working on some elements that are changing in our format, but we’re also changing our time slot, too. And we’re doing it during the summer, so that’s a little bit of an uphill battle. Hopefully the product will speak for itself, people will find us and it will be very successful. We’d love to do it from here on out, obviously.
What have you learned from some of the mistakes that were made during the Monday night live experiment in 2010?
We’ve got an incredible competitor that has a 25-year head start on us. But the main thing I learned was that people watch television differently today than they did back in the Monday Night Wars. Even in the last 12 months we’ve seen a huge shift in how people watch TV. I practically don’t watch any show during its initial broadcast anymore. I’m a DVR person, I don’t have a lot of time in life and I think that we’re finding that the entire television industry is facing this same dilemma right now. I think there’s going to be a shift in how we look at our ratings and that will be interesting over time. But I feel good about the changes we’re making and I think it will have a big impact on our success.
It seems like WWE‘s attitude towards TNA and other wrestling companies has changed over the past several months, specifically with Ric Flair‘s recent induction into the WWE Hall of Fame again with the Four Horsemen. Why do you think that might be happening?
I can’t speak to how they feel. My personal opinion is that to not acknowledge competition is ridiculous. I think competition is absolutely critical to the success of any business, whether you’re The Home Depot and Lowe’s, Walgreens and CVS, Coke and Pepsi, Hertz and Avis. When you look at it, it doesn’t matter what industry you’re in, it makes you better – it makes you work harder, it makes you pay more attention and it makes it exciting and fun. That’s how we feel about it. I don’t know how other people take it, but I think it’s absolutely critical for the fans, more than anything else, to have options.
Heading into your tenth anniversary celebration, and given all the changes that have been taking place on Impact leading into the new time and live format, how do you think all these changes will affect your standing against your bigger competitor? What other changes might you have planned to perhaps further elevate TNA to something close to WWE’s status?
Our thought is instead of trying to compete in the same form and format as our competitor, let’s compete in the same industry but let’s try to be different and unique and look at it through fresh eyes and try to present our product in a way we feel we can do that will be best for us. We feel that will give us a really strong competitive advantage. The thing I’m most proud of is wrestling matters. Wrestling matters to me, to us, it’s not a dirty word and it’s something we’re all very, very proud of. And we’re very excited about taking what we do best and presenting it in a unique way, pulling that curtain back and livening the focus of the real elements that go into our business. I think it’s going to be absolutely fascinating.
Since you will be starting an hour earlier than usual, do you plan on toning down any of the blood, violence and sexual innuendos that have become part of the show?
We do take all of those elements very seriously and try to present them in the right way. Too much blood means nothing, too much language means nothing. I think whatever happens has to have meaning and it’s got to make sense. And in our attempt to keep things as real as possible, some of that is going to [happen].
Is there any concern about not having any sort of filter for censorship in the live format?
Live TV is live TV. There’s always going to be some mistakes, but I think that’s what makes live TV so special. Since our last TV tapings two weeks ago, all of this has transpired. When I left that week, I didn’t know we were going to be able to go live, much less be going live May 31. This is happening at warp speed for us, but I know we’re ready and we’re going to do great. I’ve gotten more texts than I ever have before from the guys about how excited they are about going live. If an F-bomb is dropped, it’s going to be bleeped out. We have that ability and we will do so. But if you’re watching a sports show that’s taped there’s not the same desire or need to watch it in real time. DVRs are just making our lives completely different and one way for us to try and combat that is to present our show live. One challenge has been that two or three people can sit in our audience during our taped shows and give their opinion of it and tell exactly what order the show’s going to happen in. So if you’re reading that, you’re going to make a decision based upon potentially two or three people’s opinion of a show versus watching it live. You’re also going to know when things are going to happen, so you may think, “This isn’t going to happen until the middle of the show, I don’t need to tune in until the top of the hour.” This eliminates all that and I can tell you from what we are going to do in this format, you are not going to want to miss it. We’re not going to stay the same from week to week. We’re going to mix it up and we’re going to make it a real challenge not to tune in for the full two hours.
For more information, go to www.impactwrestling.com.