The world of television has changed.
Remember turning to channel three just to play a video game? Tuning in to late-night talk shows with hosts like Conan O’Brien? Checking in every week to see the weekly shows instead of binging all at once? Your parents calling you into the living room on a Saturday morning to watch cartoons? What about the jokes from Saturday Night Live you’d repeat to your co-workers ad nauseam until they dread hearing from you?
Most of these are still ever present in the world of television. You can still experience television as it was in some cases. The world has just changed. Those shows you once waited in anticipation for are right there on streaming services, ready to be run through like a used toy. The new content can be streamed, but you can always go back there; you can always revisit the classics over and over again.
Wrestling, however, is its own beast of sorts when it comes to American television. It has been since the territories would broadcast their shows on cable television, until they either dried up or were bought out.
The monopoly that bought them still broadcasts their own shows today, of course. WWE’s Monday Night RAW, Friday Night SmackDown and NXT take up slots of broadcast television, while shows such as LVL Up exist on the WWE Network within the Peacock streaming service, alongside predecessors 205 Live and NXT UK. Dig a little deeper, you’ll find some indie promotions like Evolve or wXw.
But it wasn’t always this way.
Many wrestling fans will reminisce about the days of WCW’s Monday Nitro, maybe even WCW Thunder alongside a wise man’s Philadelphia-based ECW Hardcore TV, helmed by Paul E. Dangerously. The glorious 90s when there were alternatives. WCW provided the jam-packed crowd that preached the gospel of professional wrestling, enough to beat WWF in the ratings for that famous 83 week stretch. Meanwhile, ECW was the grungy, edgy, cool company where the future and the past were embraced as one. Soon enough though, they fell.
The only promotion to attempt contention with WWE, an attempt to diversify the art of wrestling on television in the U.S. in the 2000s and 2010s, was TNA (later IMPACT! Wrestling). But they could never reach the heights that WCW once did.
That’s not to say that modern wrestling could not be found on American television. There were means for fans to watch Lucha Underground on the El Rey Network, New Japan Pro Wrestling on AXS TV and MLW on Reelz.
But nothing quite reached the levels, especially not as fast, as All Elite Wrestling has. Honestly, it should be astounding but has stopped and is just an expected norm. The company is routinely changing the industry.
All because a billionaire fan took a chance on an indie tag team, an international super-talent, a generational wrestler and a bloodthirsty outlaw.
From the ashes of 2018’s All In came the flame of 2019’s Double or Nothing, and from that spawned AEW’s Wednesday night Dynamite. The independent scene’s new and big prospects, talents from IMPACT and former WWE superstars would populate and make a stew so delicious fans have kept coming back for more. The ratings would increasingly rise as wrestling was left to be wrestling. There have been falls, but Tony Khan’s promotion has learned from them and to this day continues to learn, each subsequent fall a chance to make the product stronger.
Overcoming the loss of Brodie Lee; opening the Forbidden Door; pulling off long-term storylines (that are going on to this day); treating legends like Arn Anderson, Jake Roberts and Sting with respect without patronizing them; and signing monumental talents like CM Punk, Bryan Danielson, Adam Cole, Saraya and Jay White.
The company took chances, polishing stars that would otherwise not get the spotlight, such as Eddie Kingston, Ricky Starks, Ethan Page, Adam Page, Willow Nightingale, Danhausen, Orange Cassidy and Wardlow.
There are many who can claim to be the heart and soul of AEW, but to me, it’s all the talent that go in and bring what they bring. Backstage promos, in-ring action and all the intangibles needed, but it goes deeper than that.
All the people coordinating the action, the referees, the announcers, commentators, time-keepers, cameramen – all of them. They are the frame that seals in the picture that maintains our focus. This brings in the grit of the company while maintaining a big-time feel that contrasts so well with the over-produced rival in WWE. In this, it feels human. In this, it feels real. Nobody feels as though their intelligence has been insulted and staying tuned in feels rewarding when everything pays off so well.
That’s why AEW’s newest weekly TV addition Collision feels like such a big deal. With the rumors of talent not working well together backstage, the impending talent coming in and never knowing what is “shoot” or “work”, it still doesn’t overshadow the monumental accomplishment of this brand split.
Cutting away all of the drama is going to do so much good for the company, maybe for the industry. Seeing different groups and styles on different programs, all while delivering a product that viewers want to see be successful will be good for the fans, but also give outside talents something to aspire to. The indie scene will always find a way to thrive, and international promotions find their way to lure fans in, but to be a big star on a product some wish WWE could be, this is hope. This is something to aspire to.
As for the talents, they get to tell different stories with people they get along with and push along a new channel that is AEW television. Without so many people clogging up a product at once, there’s more breathing room. There’s a chance to spotlight talent not being given the chance that will create more memories and more stars.
The main eventers, legends and stars we’ve come to know and love aren’t going to be with us forever. It’s up to those ready to step up, the hungry among the hungry to make the most of what they’ve got with what is here, now.
As Collision’s logo dons the appearance as a link to the past with the Monday Nitro vibes, it’s time to mix the familiar with the unfamiliar and make the most of taking risks.
After all, taking risks is what makes for captivating television.