By Mike Mooneyham
May 19, 2002
Few people know more about the wrestling business than Jerry Jarrett. And the veteran promoter, with the help of his son, plans to prove it with his new national NWA organization that makes its pay-per-view debut on June 19.
Jarrett, in addition to working as a right-hand man for Vince McMahon and a consultant to Eric Bischoff during the 90s, was one of wrestling’s most successful regional promoters during the 70s and 80s. His Tennessee-based territory, which featured quality matches, entertaining storylines and colorful characters, was a model for other operations around the country.
Jarrett had been a top performer in his own right for longtime promoter Nick Gulas, but in the mid-70s jumped ship and, along with another local favorite, Jerry Lawler, formed Jarrett Promotions, eventually wresting control of the territory from his former boss. Jarrett’s outfit, later known as the USWA, survived until 1995 when he sold the business for a sizable profit. Jarrett has since made millions through a successful land development and construction company, although he never lost his itch for the wrestling profession.
[ad#MikeMooneyham-336×280]Jarrett, chairman of J Sports & Entertainment, hopes to rekindle some of that wrestling magic with “NWA – Total Nonstop Action.” To succeed, however, he must do it via pay-per-views, since neither television nor house shows are in the initial plans. In Demand will offer the show every Wednesday night at a price tag of $9.95. The series represents the first weekly original programming available exclusively on pay-per-view. Jarrett’s son, former WCW world champion Jeff Jarrett, thinks the promotion has more than a fighting chance to succeed.
“I think it has the best shot of creating a second wrestling organization,” says Jeff, who is president of the new group and one of its featured performers. “It’s a ringside seat every week. We’ll get the opportunity to tell our stories every week. Where can you get a night’s entertainment for 10 bucks?”
Jeff Jarrett likens the company’s marketing strategy to that used by promoters years ago.
“The core of this business has always been getting people to pay to watch the programming,” Jarrett says. “In the 70s wrestling promotions either bought time or bartered time. They used infomercials to get people to come down to the matches, whether it was the Greenville auditorium or the Nashville coliseum or the Tampa armory. Whatever it was, it was designed to get the fans to see their live shows once a week. Then cable TV came along, and the shows were infomercials to get fans to buy the pay-per-views or to get fans to come out to the shows when they came to town.”
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.” The new promotion, 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 Jarrett. “Wrestling is that magical form of entertainment. It’s not all sport, and it’s not all entertainment.”
The TNA, says Jarrett, 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.”
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. 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 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.”
Among those reportedly involved behind the scenes in the NWA-TNA include former WCW employees Ed Ferrara, Bob Ryder and Jeremy Borash. 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.
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.
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.”
There will, however, be encore presentations during the week, and the show will serve as a lead-in to NASCAR programming on Sundays.
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.
– Alex Rizzo, who as Big Dick Dudley was one of the original members of ECW’s Dudley Boys, was found dead in his apartment in Copiague, N.Y., by police on Thursday. Rizzo was 34.
– Ben Alexander, a fixture on the Florida and Mid-Atlantic circuits during the late 70s and early 80s, passed away Wednesday at the age of 51 in Charlotte.
Alexander, who had been in ill health after suffering a series of mini-strokes, was the owner-operator of a cleaning service. Following his graduation from Charlotte’s Independence High School, where he was on the wrestling team, he graduated from Central Piedmont Community College. The former Charlotte Catholic High School wrestling coach also played ice hockey and raced stock cars and go-karts.
– George Gordienko, a star whose ring career spanned from 1946-76, passed away last week at the age of 75. Gordienko, who spent most of his career wrestling in Europe and was one of the top heavyweights in England during the early 60s, later became an accomplished artist. The Winnipeg native had been regarded by the late great Lou Thesz as one of the best “legitimate” wrestlers in the world.
– Shoichi Arai, 36, the former president of Japan’s FMW (Frontier Martial Arts Wrestling), was found dead Thursday in a Tokyo park. A note was found near Arai’s body. His promotion closed several months ago due to bankruptcy.
– Headlining an indy show Saturday night at Sterett Hall on the old Charleston Navy Base will be JBE vs. Mykata (with Jasmine) and The Funkster (the former Kwee Wee). Bob Keller will meet Big Jack Spurrs in the semifinal match. Belltime is 7:30 p.m. Tickets are available at Danielle’s Flowers at 1035 Johnnie Dodds Boulevard in Mount Pleasant. For more information, call 863-9401.
– George’s Sports Bar and Grill, 1300 Savannah Highway, will air the WWE’s Judgment Day pay-per-view tonight beginning at 8 p.m. Cover charge is $5.