AEW has time and time again labeled itself as ‘sports based’ or ‘sports centered.’ One of the ways that has materialized is less of a focus on promos during the episodes and more focus on matches. The promotion is fine with character motivation and plots being established off air and online rather than showing it all on TNT, just like you would tune into the football game for just the game and check Twitter for the personal drama. The issue, however, is that while football can be enjoyed without knowing much about the personal lives of the players, it’s harder to simply sit down and watch a predetermined match in the same way you would football without plot lines and characters. AEW not establishing certain plots or characters directly on the show does give the show more of a realistic feel, but it is a risky move for those not following their online content.
For instance, one of the biggest plot lines of the show currently is the decline and possible demise of The Elite. Very little of this is shown to the casual viewer, and is only made explicitly clear on the YouTube show Being the Elite. Most episodes of BTE have between 150K to 200K views, while the TNT show itself gets ratings of about 850K. That is a large portion of viewers not getting one of the major plots.
Likewise, some character motivations are not made clear on the show but are in interviews — for instance, in this interview where Cody explains why he trusted MJF. This rationale he gives is something he has said in multiple small interviews, all of which are available online, but require digging. Sure, Cody did repeat something like this on December 4th’s episode of Dynamite, but that was well after the betrayal, thus leaving that moment without its full context.
AEW often does this, and not just with plots but with characters. Take for instance Michael Nakazawa. I myself was a bit unfamiliar with who exactly he was until a couple weeks ago, having not followed NJPW. The casual Dynamite viewer probably doesn’t know anything about him other than he really likes baby oil. His relationship with Kenny is completely lost. And if he is seriously considering joining The Dark Order, as we saw in this week’s BTE, it should be made very clear who he is before this plot starts.
Some of the background knowledge is too unknown for all but the most diehard fans. Take for instance The Butcher and The Blade’s appearance. The audience’s reaction was confusion followed by light booing as if the audience shrugged and thought ‘they seem like heels, no idea who they are but we should probably boo them.’ Even JR was confused; granted, that may have been on purpose to show that BBB were new and hip.
There have also been some amazing, genuine online moments which could only have happened online. My favorite example is before the MJF and Brandon Cutler match when MJF tweeted about how stupid D&D was, which caught the eye of the D&D community. Having no idea what was happening, they all hopped in and defended the hobby they love, which led to a huge community of people being genuinely worked online. It also got other wrestlers commenting, including people like Matthew Mercer. Just from one stray tweet MJF threw out there, a lot of heat was generated in a way that could have only been done on the online arena.
So what can AEW do to capitalize on that Twitter heat? Or to rectify the obscurity of some of their characters? Or the keep viewers aware of plots not being shown on TV?
AEW Dark could be a huge solution to their problem. Dark already has a SportsCenter-esque vibe to it; why not embrace that and actually make it a SportsCenter-esque show somewhat similar to Talking Smack? Have interviews and also address some of the online plot points. Feature soundbites and clips from press conferences on the show. Not everyone is willing to scavenge the internet, following different sites and people, and AEW Dark can easily become the hub for all that to help those who, unlike me, have responsibilities but want to keep up with all the details.
Dark still needs exposure itself though. It needs to be pushed and the announce team need to constantly refer to it. Hell, even if they don’t use AEW Dark in such a manner, they can still have the announce team push their YouTube channel and catch people up on what they need to know. However, Dark would have a more authentic, less awkwardly expository feel than the commentators simply rattling off plot points. Nevertheless, the burden of either explaining things or pushing Dark falls on Dynamite’s commentary.
All this being said, there does need to be a certain amount of balance to the whole thing. Ensure that viewers understand who’s who and what the plot beats are. However, also give people who want to go deeper a reason to. An excellent example of this is Sammy Guevara’s vlog. No major plot points are talked about on his vlog, but he remains quasi in character. It gives Sammy time to develop himself without the confines of the time he’s given on the show and it gives more depth to AEW without keeping anything important from the casual viewer.
AEW is trying something interesting and promising: trying to have storylines that are not limited to just what is seen on the TV show. Granted, it’s not a new idea in wrestling by any means, but it has not been taken to this extreme before in a major promotion. It has great potential, but they need to ensure accessibility, otherwise their viewership will start to drop as the casual viewer gets bored with the matches that don’t seem to have any significance whatsoever if you don’t follow everything online.
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