The fabled Monday Night Wars changed a lot of things in wrestling. It led to the increased use of “hot-shots” – where a storyline that would have played out over the course of months is told in a matter of weeks. It led to the increase in pay-per-views across the board… and it also led to the assertion that “live matters”.
Back in the day, the usual ways to see live wrestling would be to purchase a pay-per-view, or to get a ticket when there was a show in your town. Every now and then, WWE and WCW/NWA would have a broadcast special, in the form of Saturday Night’s Main Event and Clash of the Champions, but in general, if you were watching your wrestling on broadcast or cable television, it was generally taped. In the 80s and early 90s, WWE in particular would hold marathon events, taping several weeks of television shows in one night. That had its pros and cons – in that fans saw a lot of matches, but as these rarely went long, it was very repetitive, particularly by the time you entered the third hour of these tapings. There was often no defined main event, as the big matches were usually saved for pay-per-views – these television tapings were meant as nothing more than an interchangeable series of matches that could be mixed and matched to fit into blocks of time.
Compare that to today, when television tapings build in much the same way as a live event or a pay-per-view – in that things work up to a main event. A Raw television taping typically starts off with a dark match or two, then a few matches for the Superstars show, then Raw itself (and possibly a dark match after Raw, if you’re still awake after four hours!). SmackDown is much the same, with the Superstars taping swapped out for the WWE’s Main Event. NXT follows a slightly different pattern, as their one-hour format forces them to build multiple matches – so one week you’ll get a show focussing more on the women’s division, another focussing on the NXT title, and perhaps one more on the tag titles, rather than all three belts appearing in some form every week.
People who analyse ratings patterns closely have come to the conclusion that more often than not, there’s no discernible difference in ratings between a live and taped show – if the product is good, people will watch it. That being said, there’s been a long-held belief that a live show feels more spontaneous, and gives the fans a feeling that anything can happen (which often translates to “they can’t edit out our chants or any mistakes”). That being said, there is a difference between the en-masse tapings that WWE and WCW used back in the day, and the way that the company’s B-shows (SmackDown and Thunder) were handled. WWE having Raw live on Monday and taping SmackDown on a Tuesday for a Thursday airing is a different kettle of fish to the olden days of Superstars and Wrestling Challenge (and even the early days of the Monday Night Wars, where Raw was taped more often than not.
And then there’s TNA. Their well-publicised financial (and attendance) struggles forced the company to move away from a weekly touring schedule, to a format that resembled the WWE of old. Gone were bi-weekly tapings, and in its place, TNA would tape several weeks of Impacts across several nights at the same venue. This led to several instances where the company would have to furiously edit their taped shows: such as the time Hernandez appeared as part of the Beat Down Klan (whilst still under contract to Lucha Underground – resulting in TNA editing several segments involving the Klan from Impact, and replacing them with old matches); or the instances where new champions were crowned, only to have to drop them at the next set of tapings due to injury.
For those keeping score, this has happened twice to TNA last year: Eddie Edwards won the TNA tag team titles in January 2015 (on a show taped during their annual tour of the UK), but got injured at another taping in February. The show from Manchester, England wouldn’t air until March, and the titles were vacated a week later (on an episode of Impact that wouldn’t air until April). Get all that?
After Edwards’ injury forced the belts to be vacated, Matt and Jeff Hardy won the titles in a tournament whose ending was taped on March 16, but aired in mid-April. At the start of May, Jeff broke his leg in a dirtbike accident, forcing the Hardys to vacate the belts, and new champions were crowned following a Best-of-Five series on June 25 (airing on July 1), with the new champions being… Davey Richards and Eddie Edwards. No other TNA title has been as cursed, particularly in a short period of time!
In addition to injuries and legal issues forcing the company to scrap, create and rewrite storylines, TNA’s departure from Destination America led them to spend a week at the end of July taping television shows that would form the World Title Series that aired on TNA’s final months prior to changing networks. Whilst the bean counters were clearly happy at having so much product taped, the fact that the results of these shows had been released online by the fans who’d attended them meant that there was very little intrigue apart from people wanting to see TNA for the matches themselves. Come January, and TNA’s debut on POP TV, the product was left feeling rather cold, as the company had had no new shows (save for the poorly-promoted Bound For Glory pay-per-view) in almost six months. The end result? Taping so far in advance can kill a company’s momentum stone cold.
TNA isn’t the only group that’s had such woes. Following their Takeover show in London (and subsequent TV show taping), NXT had gone almost four months until their next Takeover special, holding just three sets of TV tapings inbetween (two at their usual Full Sail base, and a four-hour block at the CFE Arena in Orlando, shortly before this year’s Royal Rumble). With nothing to aim for, the resulting three-and-a-bit months of NXT shows felt a little flat, in spite of them building up contenders for every title and debuting new faces.
With WWE hopefully moving NXT back to quarterly Takeover specials, and with a new writer at the helm (following Ryan Ward’s “promotion” to the SmackDown writing team), NXT should no longer be in a holding pattern, as they aim for the next Takeover special. Even with spoilers, NXT appears to remain somewhat bulletproof, in much the same way that TNA were in the late 2000s… As for modern-day TNA though, since they’ve moved away from monthly pay-per-views (and indeed, no future dates scheduled at time of writing), it’s hard to see how they can heat themselves back up to the point where they’re more than a footnote in modern day wrestling.