Jeff Jarrett

Jeff Jarrett

By Mike Mooneyham

May 26, 2002

Jeff and Jerry Jarrett know it’s going to be an uphill battle, but if their hunch is right, the wrestling world is ready for their new “NWA – Total Nonstrop Action” promotion that debuts on pay-per-view June 19. The NWA/TNA, as its name suggests, will mix a little bit of the old with a little bit of the new.

“You have to know how this business operates,” says Jeff Jarrett, the 34-year-old company president and son of longtime Tennessee promoter Jerry Jarrett, who is chairman of J Sports and Entertainment. “Wrestling is that magical form of entertainment. It’s not all sport, and it’s not all entertainment.”

The TNA, says Jarrett, officially stands for “Total Nonstop Action,” but the implications go beyond that.

“There absolutely will be T&A, but there also will be nonstop action. We’re going to be a fast-paced, two-hour show. Television – whether it’s a sitcom, a drama or a newscast – dictates a certain pace. The people who pay the bills are the advertisers. We’re commercial-free. If a segment needs to go 15 or 20 minutes, it’s going to go 15 or 20 minutes. That’s another advantage to our programming. The viewer will get to sit down and watch a movie – an action-packed movie with drama, comedy, and maybe even some gore and some serious T&A. It truly will be a variety.”

[ad#MikeMooneyham-336×280]The broadcast will carry a TV-14 rating, meaning it can contain violence, intense sexual situations, strong language and intensely suggestive dialogue.

Jarrett, though, hearkening back to his old-school roots, agrees that there is no substitute for good, old-fashioned storytelling.

“A good book or a good movie or a good wrestling show are basically all the same,” says Jarrett. “They have to have compelling storylines, a protagonist and an antagonist, good vs. evil. In the movies maybe it’s a believable fight scene, or when the actor has to turn on the tears and really draw out that emotion from the audience. Wrestling is no different than that, and it never will be. You have got to get that emotional attachment from the viewer. Whether you watch ‘Spider Man’ or ‘The Way We Were,’ you have to release that emotion and suspend that disbelief.”

Using the old NWA (National Wrestling Alliance) banner was a no-brainer for the Jarretts, since Jerry’s Tennessee territory had been a staunch NWA affiliate for many years. Although the NWA’s glory days ended when Jim Crockett Promotions was sold to Ted Turner in 1988, the Jarretts reached a deal with the current NWA board to allow them to use the name of the oldest professional wrestling sanctioning body in the world. The NWA’s heritage is the foundation for professional wrestling today, and this new venture repositions the NWA brand for the 21st century and gives the NWA new life, says Jarrett.

“That’s part of why we brought the NWA name in. That’s real. It’s a real storyline. Dusty Rhodes and Dory Funk and Terry Funk and the Briscos and Harley Race – they were really the NWA heavyweight champions. The NWA is the foundation on which this business is built today.”

Race and Dory Funk Jr. are both expected to make appearances on one of the group’s early shows. “When Harley Race is out there talking, the true lineage is there,” says Jarrett. “We’re writing a story. To me, this fits the story better than any governing body.”

Jarrett realizes that the promotion will have to create its own new stars while providing its audience with a niche product not necessarily offered by the competition.

“There’s nothing worse than a stale wrestling product,” says Jarrett, who added that was a major consideration regarding the company’s pay-per-view deal. “The creation of new, edgy characters, comedy characters, monsters, freaks, geeks, midgets. We’ll have the whole array.”

Jarrett says the key to running a successful promotion is taking it slow and making the right decisions. In no way, he says, does the company plan on going head-to-head with Vince McMahon and the WWE.

“I don’t even think we’re on the radar screen with Vince McMahon. He’s definitely the Goliath – not just of the wrestling business, but the entire pay-per-view business.”

Unlike the WWE, Jarrett says, overexposure won’t be a problem with his company.

“Being on every Monday and every Thursday really churns up characters and storylines. That’s another advantage for us. We’re on once a week for two hours. We’re an exclusive type programming. If you miss that week’s episode, you miss your programming. You can’t catch a recap show.”

NWA-TNA will air a live two-hour show every other Wednesday, while taping two additional hours for airing on alternate Wednesdays. Jarrett stresses, though, that other features will be mixed in with the actual wrestling. “We’re going to have interesting segments – historical looks back, maybe like ESPN’s ‘Sunday Conversation,’ not 100 percent in-ring action. That, of course, has to be carefully done.”

Jarrett sees pay-per-view as the natural progression of television. “Technology is affording us this opportunity,” says Jarrett. “Wrestling is truly that hybrid of entertainment that works on pay-per-view. It’s not a maybe, it’s an absolute truth that 92 percent of all pay-per-view revenue was generated by wrestling this past year. Fifty million homes are wired. They’re adding between half a million and a million homes a month. The numbers on availability are just staggering. Some of the highest-rated shows on television are on premium cable channels. There is a great opportunity for niche programming at a very affordable price. In a month’s time you can have eight hours of our programming (at a cost only slightly higher than one WWF pay-per-view). And it’s exclusive and not a rerun.”

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Among those involved behind the scenes in the NWA-TNA include former WCW employees Bob Ryder and Jeremy Borash. Ex-WCW creative chief Vince Russo, a longtime friend of Jeff Jarrett, is currently involved in a lawsuit with WCW and isn’t expected to play a role initially. The play-by-play team will consist of former WCW announcer Mike Tenay, Ed Ferrara and Don West.

Former ultimate fighting and WWE star Ken Shamrock has signed a short-term contract with the company. Jarrett preferred the organization’s lighter, 26-date-a-year schedule over the heavier demands required by the WWE.

Jarrett says the company is looking at “any and all available talent.” Regarding some free agents not currently affiliated with the WWE and whose characters might be perceived as being stale, “We might bring them into the year 2002 or give them a new edge or update,” says Jarrett.

Among those who have been contacted are names such as Scott Steiner, Randy Savage, Bret Hart and The Ultimate Warrior.

The first broadcast will feature country music star and CMA and ACM Male Vocalist of the Year Toby Keith and current NASCAR Winston Cup point leader Sterling Marlin.

The group is represented by Monterey Artists, which books Dave Matthews Band, Aerosmith and other top acts. The first few shows will be held in the Nashville area, with the debut show scheduled for the Von Braun Center Arena in Huntsville, Ala., but the company plans to eventually branch out, particularly in the Southern states.

“Once we get our groove on, we’ll keep moving,” says Jarrett.

- “British Bulldog” Davey Boy Smith, one of wrestling’s top performers of the late ‘80s and ‘90s, passed away on May 18 while vacationing in British Colombia with girlfriend Andrea Hart, the wife of Bruce Hart, Smith’s former brother-in-law. Smith, 39, was stricken inside his hotel room as Andrea lay beside him. A coroner said he most likely died from heart failure as a result of years of steroid use.

For the past five years Smith had battled an addiction to prescription drugs, a messy and very public divorce with Diana Hart, and a near-fatal motorcycle accident.

Survivors include Smith’s two children, Harry, 15, and Georgia, 14. Smith, who had reconciled with most of the Hart family, was trying to “get off drugs and get his life back,” said Diana Hart, the youngest daughter of wrestling great Stu Hart.

“We saw him on Friday before he left, and he said he wanted to be closer to us and spend more time with us,” daughter Georgia told the Calgary Sun, adding she would always fondly remember her dad for his kindness and his lust for life.

“Davey was caught up in a cesspool of nonsense,” said Bruce Hart, referring to the story of Smith’s relationship with his wife as “an unfortunately contrived Camelot fairy tale.”

“I loved him very much, I know he loved me, and I know I’m really going to miss him,” Andrea Hart told the Edmonton Sun. “I think I just lost my soulmate.”

Smith, who rose to fame as one of the British Bulldogs along with cousin The Dynamite Kid (Tom Billington), fought his last match in Winnipeg, Manitoba, on May 11. The night before, he teamed with son Harry in Brandon, Manitoba. The matches were Smith’s first in 16 months, after the wrestler was involved in a serious motorcycle crash.

Smith’s body will be shipped to England for burial. A service will be held Tuesday morning in Calgary prior to a Smackdown event in that town, and a large portion of the WWF crew is expected to attend.

- Smackdown drew a disappointing 3.6 for Hulk Hogan’s hotshot retirement angle Thursday night. The previous week’s episode had drawn that same number, but it was up against first-run competition.

Raw, meanwhile, drew a 3.7 rating on Monday night, the lowest rating for a regularly scheduled non-holiday show in four years.

Wrote Jim Ross in last week’s Ross Report: “Lots of mixed reviews and criticism of our TV broadcasts this week, including our pay-per-view, cable and network efforts. There are many reasons that we are not where we want to be with our on-air presentations, contrary to the net reports we do not realize what our problems are and don’t know how to ‘fix them.’ Simply put, we are not providing the product our fans want to see. We need to create new rivalries, elevate more young and athletic talents and effectively introduce some well-prepared new faces. The brand extension, an abnormally high number of injuries and the challenging economy all have contributed to our challenges also. As long as our talent refuse to ‘phone it in’ and continue to give our fans great effort, we will get back on track, hopefully sooner than later. The balance between time devoted to in-ring action and talk must also be addressed, from where I sit. All involved in this process are working very diligently on this solvable problem.”