Since debuting in May last year with their Double or Nothing pay-per-view, AEW has been making a huge splash on the wrestling scene. For such a new promotion, they have already created a huge splash between their PPVs and now Dyanmite, which has now been extended through 2023. However, the show still seems to be finding their footing. I have detailed as much in other articles when it comes to their entrance music as well as their use of social media. However, I think one of the more nuanced, more interesting things about AEW is watching how they are tweaking their tone and their method of storytelling.
When AEW first announced their promotion and throughout the buildup to their TV debut, AEW emphasized the “sports-based” approach to wrestling. And, for the most part, their PPVs reflected this. Stories such as Kenny v. Page (fighting for the championship) or Janela v. Darby v. Havoc (a grudge match based on all three’s frustration at each other due to a loss) were confined to plots of what was playing out during the actual matches. Even the more soap opera-esque plots were still within the confines of a sporting world, with revenge plots like Cody v. Shawn Spears.
Their promotions in the ‘Road To…’ YouTube series were done in the style of other sporting events promos such as UFC. Extremely well put together, professional video packages with talking heads, behind the scenes look at their lives, and footage of what has led to the current match. Mix in the win/loss record, and the “sports-centered” theme was extremely prominent. The stories and characters for the most part were fairly realistic and the devices for telling those stories felt like something that would come about naturally in a real sport.
As Dynamite has evolved, however, the more comic-book style elements seem to have crept in more and more. That is not to say they are looking to shed the sports-based theme completely, but they are certainly modifying it. With additions to their roster such as Kris Statlander and Orange Cassidy along with plots such as The Dark Order and The Nightmare Collective, AEW seems to not be trying to replicate realistic promotions like NJPW, but instead take some elements of it and combine it with the more theatrical elements of a product like WWE.
Dynamite started off extremely match heavy. There were very few backstage segments and the ones that did exist where live, shaky cam style segments. Yet, the video segments have slowly been tweaked, from the simple backstage segments and an occasional stylized promo to something resembling more along the lines of Lucha Underground with a cinematic feel and a nondiegetic camera. This has resulted in videos such as MJF paying off Butcher, Blade, and Bunny or the Dark Order’s promotional videos (especially the one where they kill someone during a ritual). Not to say that the traditional backstage segment has gone away, far from it; simply that these more cinematic ones are now slowly working their way into the show.
But the video packages are not the only thing that has changed. We have seen what feels like more gimmicky, in ring promos with Jericho’s Thanksgiving celebration as well as him offering Moxley the car. Instead of having the plots within the ring, we have certain plot points which lean on these sorts of promos. Moxley being offered and then denying The Inner Circle all was outside of any matches. Cody and MJF’s feud has not had a single match yet and there won’t be one until the 29th. That is not to say that all storylines have forgone being told within matches, simply that AEW is taking up forms of storytelling which most would view to be less “sports-centric.”
I do believe that there was a certain shift in tone from when AEW was purely doing pay-per-views to the time of Dynamite‘s debut. The original PPVs had, for the most part, a more realistic feel to them (with three or four exceptions) and Dynamite has a more comic book feel to it. But most PPVs focus purely on matches and less on extra plot, so it’s hard to really say if the tone changed or if it just revealed itself once Dynamite came on. And despite the small shifts toward a more cinematic feel in some elements of Dynamite, the overall tone since October hasn’t changed at all. I believe this is thanks to some of the more over-the-top in-ring work of Omega and the Bucks, and having certain characters like Luchasaurus. These characters already felt like they belonged in a more cinematic, comic book style promotion.
That’s not to say I think that AEW should go completely in that direction. Not because I don’t enjoy that sort of thing, but because I like what they have at the moment. It’s a fine balance of different styles and I think that the changes to their methods of storytelling have, so far, benefited them.
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