Sunday, 25 November 2007 02:56
Recently I reviewed the History of TNA: Year One DVD and had a couple of issues of with it. The DVD presented a certain viewpoint of what it took to get TNA wrestling up and running. I understand seeing things through rose colored glasses, but the main feature made it seem as if TNA never had a bad idea and only encountered the most minor of bumps during their first year of business. There is also one man that was all but completely left out of the revisionist history. That man is Jerry Jarrett.
The Story of the Development of the NWA TNA is an insanely in-depth account of what it took to get TNA Wrestling off the ground as well as the highs and lows of their first several months in business. The first thing to note is that Jerry Jarrett's book is less like Mick Foley's Have a Nice Day and more like The Diary of Anne Frank, except for the whole teenage girl thing (that's more of a Jerry Lawler gimmick anyway.) It is a collection of entries from Jarrett's personal journal in 2002, which is an interesting way to do a book, and is probably more acceptable to a reader due to the phenomenon of blogging over the past couple of years. In addition to giving his thoughts, Jarrett also includes several lengthy emails that he wrote to people at the time, including several to former Pro Wrestling Torch assistant editor, Jason Powell.
"The road to hell is paved with good intentions."
Jarrett starts right from the beginning, saying that he and his son Jeff had an idea for a new wrestling promotion and needed to go about finding a way to get financing. Jarrett gave details of his flights to L.A. to meet with InDemand executives and from Day One we found out that just about everything TNA is associated with is doomed. Jarrett had a horrible experience at the meeting, which was made even worse after finding out InDemand wanted a huge deposit from TNA to assure they would continue the project. Speaking of money, the book overwhelms the reader with the financial detail of starting up a wrestling promotion. You will not believe the amount of data throughout the book and it gets to the point where it all becomes meaningless. To tell you the truth if I see the name SunTrust bank anytime soon I'm going to scream.
The Jarrett's still felt confident that their business plan was a strong one though and didn't feel that they had any competition. Jarrett said that he watched one of those WWA pay per views that Andrew McManus used to run and called it, "The worst PPV in the history of the wrestling business." I believe this show was headlined by Jeff Jarrett.
In wrestling, word gets around fast and Jerry found out that none other than Vince McMahon himself found out about TNA's plans to start a promotion after reading an issue of the PWTorch newsletter. To stir the pot even more, when InDemand agreed to carry TNA they cancelled the WWE Fanatix PPVs to clear room for it. That sure must have gone over well up in Stamford, CT. Once TNA had a PPV channel to carry the show, Jarrett went about contacting talent to appear and found out right away how insane certain wrestlers are. In particular Jarrett went back and forth with the lawyers for Randy Savage and the Ultimate Warrior many times before finally giving up. Wonderful, brutally honest stuff that you just don't get from many wrestling publications.
"My opinion of Vince Russo is that he is truly delusional."
If you are not a fan of Vince Russo then this is clearly the book for you because one of the recurring themes throughout the book is that Jarrett believes Russo to be a complete idiot that is incapable of producing a wrestling show. Jarrett felt that Russo enjoyed limited success in the WWE under the extremely watchful eye of Vince McMahon, but that he has bombed everywhere else since. Jarrett also felt Russo's style would not mesh with the rules of booking wrestling that Jarrett has learned over the past 30 years. What seems clear to me reading the book is that Vince Russo -- whether Jarrett liked it or not -- was indeed part of the early part of TNA, something the company has vehemently denied, I believe even to this day. For the entire year of 2002 Jarrett banged his head against the wall to get his son Jeff to realize what a big mistake it was to give Russo any creative control, but Russo was too close a friend to Jeff for the words to make any difference.
"Jeff is learning the hard way about some or most professional wrestlers."
The ridiculous and absurd antics of wrestlers show up throughout the book. Jarrett told an amusing story of how Dusty Rhodes tried to hold up TNA for more money, while Buff Bagwell and Sean Waltman have their share of moments that will make you wonder why companies continue to book them. One of the stories about Waltman included Waltman's demand about a girl he was seeing at the time being booked on a show. The girl, Alicia Webb - who also happened to be a former girlfriend of TNA wrestler Ken Shamrock - was offered $350 for the show, but she wanted $500. Waltman told TNA to just take $150 off of his pay and give it to her. Lest we forget that now Waltman has heat with Ken Shamrock for dating one of his former girlfriends. You can picture Jarrett pulling his hair out just by reading his account of the story. Tremendous material.
"If we do 15% of the WWE buyrate nationwide, we will get between 90,000 and 100,000 buys. Our break-even point is about 55,000 buys."
Talk about your fuzzy math. I thought about this stupid sentence for a few days and still can't figure out what the hell Jarrett was smoking, unless he thinks the WWE was getting 750,000 or more buys for their PPVs. This just in: they weren't. This is also the area of the book where the Jay Hassman (who Jerry calls "Haussman") story starts to develop. At first, Jarrett said that Hassman was estimating huge success for the TNA PPVs, but over the course of the following weeks all hell broke loose. You won't believe how crazy this story got as eventually TNA was absolutely convinced that Jay Hassman was -- get this -- a saboteur for Vince McMahon. Jarrett personally couldn't imagine any other reason for Hassman's actions even though it seemed every person he told the story to informed him it was probably more about Hassman's incompetence than anything else.
Long story short, TNA immediately had to scale back production costs because their buyrates were nowhere close to what they were led to believe. We never actually find out what the buyrates were because, as Jerry said, "Our buyrate is terrible. We really don't know how bad because there are few sources available that know this business." I found this to be confusing, because every other business that uses pay-per-view, including the WWE, gets their buyrate information and yet TNA claims it can't. Because of the dire money situation, Jarrett saw what looked to be like rats jumping off a sinking ship. He mentioned several people who refused to work for TNA unless they got their paycheck right now (despite Jarrett being in dire straits) and at the same time really put over others (such as Jeremy Borash) who said they would stay with the company through thick and thin. Borash is one guy who comes through this book smelling like roses and is another guy who really didn't get any credit during TNA's own DVD.
What I thought was interesting was the way Jarrett would talk about the early shows. He does bring up that they made mistakes, but for the most part was proud by just about every show they did. Jarrett said that often he went to the Internet to check out what feedback was and almost inevitably it was positive. This is not the TNA I remember watching in 2002, although I do recall the X-Division getting a lot of love. Jarrett often brings up the disastrous Dupp Cupp, mostly because it wasn't his idea, but didn't really touch on any of the other what-the-hell-were-they-thinking stuff like a midget beating off in a trash can.
Jarrett actually included a forwarded email in the book and is something probably all of us get in our email boxes with the subject "TOUCHING STORY PASS ON!" The difference between most of us and Jerry Jarrett is that we delete that email without even reading it. Jarrett puts it into his book. Not long thereafter, Jarrett went into a story where he tried to compare the love he had for the New York Yankees and how it diminished when he read about the reality of sports, such as players leaving for more money. This story was told to basically slam the dirtsheet industry. I don't know how to take it seriously, because professional sports have a million times more scrutiny than the world of wrestling and yet it doesn't drive the fans away. A lot of people "in the business" such as Jerry Jarrett and most of the industry try to blame guys like Dave Meltzer and Bryan Alrvarez, among others, for ruining the business, but to me that is one of the lamest excuses they have next to the laughable cyclical nature of business. Even weirder was that it seemed Jerry was in constant communication with Wade Keller and Jason Powell. I guess it is kinda like Eric Bischoff slamming dirtsheets in his book, and then finding out Bischoff was talking to Meltzer a lot during his hot run.
We get to see Panda Energy go from a prospective investor in TNA to bankrolling the company, which, for all intents and purposes, kept TNA in business. Jarrett was really sweating this one because he and Jeff were personally liable for something like 1.5 million dollars, and if Panda would have backed out, they would have had to declare personal bankruptcy. This was another one of those moments that made me scratch my head because Jarrett repeatedly mentions how successful his construction business was, to the tune of millions in profits every year. Panda told Jarrett they didn't want to pursue litigation with Jay Hassman and Jarrett still wouldn't let that go as he felt that if he dropped the case he would lose locker room respect. Can you imagine? Jerry gives his account of meeting Dixie Carter (who was already working for TNA) and how that led to the entire situation with Panda. Sometimes it really is a small world.
"The mindset of the professional wrestler is unique. Failure to understand is to fail in this business."
Truer words may never have been spoken. Somehow this led to yet another attack on the dirtsheet industry in general and the Torch in particular. I wonder if Sony or NewLine send out corporate emails telling their employees that websites such as DVDActive.com or magazines like Entertainment Weekly are out to destroy them? Regardless, Jarrett brought up more great stories of just how insane some of the wrestlers who passed through TNA were. One night Jarrett was getting sick of Buff Bagwell and here's how he described Buff shooting a simple promo: "We finally began the simple interview segment with Buff and he screws up his lines five times. The director finally whispered to me that he has worked with Buff numerous times and this is as good as Buff is capable of doing the interview. I'm not sure if Buff's mind is deficient or Buff just prefers to write his own interview." Surprisingly, Jarrett had nothing but good words to say about Scott Hall, other than to keep mentioning Hall had to bail out on some shows because of all the problems he was having with his ex-wife.
The Pros: As I said earlier, Jarrett reprints several emails throughout the book and these are really enlightening. You can not imagine the length to which Jarrett goes to explain his points and it is very powerful reading. This guy knows wrestling and explains himself in thorough detail. The book could definitely have used more of these and less of the interminable interview halfway through the book (we'll get to that later.) It also would have been nice if we had been able to look at some of the emails Jarrett was responding to, but who knows what legal situations we would be talking about.
If you want to start a wrestling business, or just want to see what goes into starting a business, then YOU MUST BUY THIS BOOK. There are so many of the little things that no one really talks about when starting a business that are discussed often here and it make you wonder why anyone would ever want to put themselves through all the stress. I would say half of Jarrett's entries have something to do with him going to or dealing with a bank. Believe me, the hoops they made Jarrett jump through make you understand why he needed to have a pacemaker installed shortly afterwards. I would have had a stroke months earlier than Jarrett and I'm half his age. The book also uses specifics, and not stupid vague terms, about the financial aspect of this business and while they may bore some readers I found it very interesting. I should add that after a point it became tedious because the exact same figures and banks were brought up repeatedly.
There are tons of great little details about the business that Jarrett drops throughout the book. You get to read his thoughts on the WWE's Katie Vick angle, the people who won bids on TNA's Silent Auction (remember that?) but couldn't pay, and the NFL's Monty Brown trying to squeeze more money out of TNA, among many other items.
The Cons: Jarrett explained early on that this book is his journal, reprinted "as is," and that nothing has been touched up. I can see where Jarrett was going with this, but clearly this book needed an editor for several reasons. The first is the most obvious: there are a lot of typos. I don't think that making basic spelling changes would impugn the author's work. Let's face it, we all make stupid typo mistakes, but to not correct them when given the opportunity is mind-boggling. Jarrett also misspells many names throughout the book (Kimala instead of Kamala, Jay Haussman instead of Jay Hassman) and this drove me absolutely up a wall.
Midway through the book there is a mind-numbingly long thirty page interview with Jerry Jarrett that was just inexcusable. Anywhere else this interview would have been fine (such as on the TNA website), as it's a very in-depth look at Jarrett, but putting it in the middle of this book just took away all the momentum. After the first fifteen pages I started to laugh out loud when I turned the page and saw that the interview kept going. I cannot get over what a bad taste this left in my mouth and have no idea why it was left in the book, other than fear that the book would appear too thin without it.
Jarrett repeats himself. A lot. This would be another job of the editor as there are countless examples of entries that say the exact same thing as earlier ones. A small complaint, and this had no bearing on my enjoyment of the book, is that there are no pictures. I only add this because due to the long career Jarrett has had, he undoubtedly has access to an archive of photos that would make diehard fans - the core audience for this book - drool all over themselves.
OVERALL THOUGHTS: While there were certain parts of the book that I wasn't a big fan of, most notably the never-ending interview that completely derails the book, I think there is more than enough material for me to make a strong recommendation. In fact, I would highly recommend this to anyone interested in the finer points of creating a wrestling promotion because it is certainly more work than figuring out which guys you want to book. Seeing that TNA has actually made it past five years, it is very interesting to go back and see how hard it was just to get the company started. Jarrett is very passionate about TNA and it shows. The narrative jumps all over the place, but you get some laugh out loud stories along with an insanely detailed account of everything – and I mean everything – that it took to get this wrestling promotion up and running. An interesting companion piece to The History of TNA: Year One DVD as they both tell the same story from two wildly different perspectives. CLICK HERE to get your copy of The Story of the Development of the NWA TNA: A New Concept in PPV Programming by Jerry Jarrett.
DVDs: Guest Booker with JJ Dillon, Wrestling Society X: The Complete First and Last Season, XPW TV: The Complete First Season, Before They Were Stars: Samoa Joe, Shoot Interview with Scott Hall, Shoot Interview with The Sandman, Rey Mysterio: Biggest Little Man.
Books: Brody: The Triumph and Tragedy of Wrestling's Rebel, , Pain and Passion: The History of Stampede Wrestling. James Hold's Remember the Aloe, Moe.
COMIC BOOKS~! Headlocked, Scarface: The Devil in Disguise.