Cult of ROH: HDNet Debut

In classic ROH fashion, the company competed with itself last week by having a supershow in New York City the same night as their HDNet debut. Last week’s column dealt with the anniversary shows, so this one is about their TV debut. You can check them out every Saturday night on HDNet, if you get the channel. But if you don’t get the channel, there’s good news.

Youtube content provider ROHBrazil ripped HDNet’s show into high quality six chapters for Brazilian wrestling fans who live in a country where the channel is out of reach. Then ROH’s official content channel favorited them, unofficially endorsing web syndication of what was intended to be a free show. HDNet technically owns this program, not ROH, but one can scarcely imagine management being foolish enough to lend this kind of endorsement without having HDNet’s blessing. Total class, ROHBrazil links to HDNet’s website and acknowledges their ownership of the content. One can expect this will continue. So if HDNet isn’t available in your area, why not let a chapter load while you read on?

PART 1

PART 2

PART 3

PART 4

PART 5

PART 6

ROHBrazil’s post also gave us some interesting data. While we don’t have TV ratings yet, Part 1 on Youtube garnered over 7,000 views in the first three days. That’s more than many of ROH’s DVD’s have sold, and presumably, hit many people who hadn’t seen one before. But it’s also notable that Part 6, the end of the show, only received over 2,000 views in the same timeframe. There was a drop of nearly 4,000 views between Part and Part 2. Meanwhile, almost everyone who stayed to part three watched to the end, if we presume the numbers are stable.

It’s also noteworthy that in the days following ROH’s HDNet debut, their official website was slammed with visitors. Nearly every day since Saturday their main page and message board have had at least one period of significant slowdown. It suggests ROH is getting attention. The question remains whether it’s the kind of attention that gets 7,000 clicks to start, or the kind that stays to Part 6.

ROH’s presentation is so old school it won’t be recognizable to regular WWE and TNA viewers. It’s even more straight-laced than ROH DVD’s, opening with Mike Hogewood and Dave Prazak talking for a minute about ROH’s handshaking and professionalism. The rest of the show is all about the matches: Tyler Black and Jimmy Jacobs are interviewed separately for about two minutes a-piece, while every other wrestler gets about fifteen seconds to talk about himself picture-in-picture while he’s on the way to the ring, ala how Smackdown was introducing new wrestlers like Scotty Goldman last year. There were two video packages, one of ROH history and one on Jacobs and Black splitting.

And that’s it. Everything else is wrestling in the ring, with no build to anything on future shows beyond a 30-second commercial for next week’s episode at the very end. No discussion of wrestlers who aren’t on this episode. They don’t even have a name like Raw or Impact; every reference to the show calls it “a special presentation of Ring of Honor wrestling on HDNet.”

How is this new commentator, Mike Hogewood? He’s obviously from college sports, and obviously hasn’t watched that much ROH. It’s in his enunciation and how he tries to get excited. For many, he’ll sound like a very amateur Jim Ross. While his sportslike play-by-play needs work, he’s already better at this than Dave Prazak is at monotone heel commentator. Fortunately Prazak scaled it back for TV. Given time, I can see them finding a niche. The big problem is turning down crowd noise to make it easier to hear the commentary, a traditional tactic in sports recording, but one that hurts the entertainment of matches, especially in the ROH style where the “Ohhhh!” of a thousand fans in attendance is more important than the sound of the chop that made them scream.

The entire episode went about 52 minutes, with four matches:

-Jerry Lynn Vs. Delirious
-Kenny King Vs. Sami Callihan
-Brent Albright Vs. Rhett Titus
-Tyler Black Vs. Jimmy Jacobs

The first three went less than ten minutes each, with Lynn Vs. Delirious being longest. That left about 15 minutes for the main event. The undercard was all about a few neat moves, more athletic exchanges, and establishing one guy as superior. Lynn was a smarter vet who could trade big offense with the masked nutcase, King was a better total package than Callihan, and Albright was simply too big for Titus to sustain offense against. Everyone made sure to include some neat moves, even Albright who uncharacteristically hit a plancha and a couple of athletic dropkicks on a guy who he otherwise was easily able to manhandle. Of the guys on the undercard, King shined the brightest, with a good cocky attitude in his intro video and great counters, like a spinning handstand headkick on the guy who just shoved him away.

The goofiest impression was Callihan pronouncing his “New Horror” nickname sound like “The New Whore.” Fortunately he looked decent enough in the ring. With his brooding attitude, he’d make a good lackey for Jacobs.

The main event was not the brutal fight ROH fans expected following their break-up. It seemed deliberately slow and dispassionate, ending in a lucky pin counter to Jacobs’s End Times submission. You knew they were downplaying the storyline when Prazak opened the show saying “[Jacobs] sets his own rules, whereas Tyler Black? He’s just got a world of potential as an athlete.” While they made reference to their team and split in interviews, the match was obviously about how important management wants Tyler Black to be. It was still a competent match, leaving the whole show feeling worth watching for free. Getting used to a free ROH is going to be strange for some fans.

They featured a music video supposedly about ROH history and the company’s beginning in 2002, but was actually a highlight reel of all the stars who visited or graduated from the company: the Great Muta, Samoa Joe, James “Noble” Gibson, Mickie James, Mick Foley, Ric Flair, AJ Styles, and so-on. It was sharper, better-cut and looked better than anything ROH has ever done. It spoke to the whole production of the show, with slick editing, closer and more dynamic camera angles, and syncing video to the beats of audio. ROH’s wrestlers are finally being done service by their producers.

To the big question: is this better than everything else on TV?

Honestly, it isn’t. It’s different. You run into none of the insipid backstage segments of an Impact, and get none of the feeling that someone is being pushed because he’s married to the booker. You don’t go fifteen minutes wondering when you’ll see a match, and at an hour, it’s over when Smackdown is just getting underway. I got a little concerned at the lack of longterm direction in this episode, but that’s nothing compared to how angry I was at wasting two hours on the most recent Raw (and boy, was I angry). When they do interviews, most of the wrestlers aren’t as charismatic as Edge or Mick Foley. It is low on frills and story, which will make it unbearable to some people, and it’s got some talented wrestlers doing some moderately cool stuff, so it’s going to appeal more to others. Even hardened ROH fans should check their expectations.

Being one hour, it can only be fairly compared to ECW. ECW is changing as SciFi changes to SyFy, which makes it even more imperative to have some kind of alternative approach than what dominates Raw, Smackdown and Impact. Those shows are overrun with promos, whereas this week’s Money in the Bank Lounge segment was a rarity, with an emphasis on getting young guys enough mic time, but also enough ring time to shine, every episode packing about four matches with a longer main event, sprinkling Finlay, Dreamer and Christian (and previous, Chavo Guerrero Jr. and Matt Hardy) in with younger guys to help them learn. It is an unpretentious program where the best talent, like John Morrison, Jack Swagger and Evan Bourne, actually do rise to the top and graduate to bigger shows. Now Tyson Kidd is being the most impressive, and unsurprisingly he’s rising right up, while an unimpressive wrestler like Ricky Ortiz sinks down. The show has its formula, has enough guys who know what they’re doing to deliver on that formula, and seldom embarrasses me as a wrestling fan, even with a midget turning the tide of a tag match. It’s a sin that it’s disappearing, especially to help a channel shed its “nerdy image.” Not to be glib, but if they didn’t want to appear nerdy, perhaps they shouldn’t make their living on a Battlestar Galactica remake, Sanctuary, Eureka, myriad Stargate programs, a vampire crime show, atrocious original movies about CG monsters, and reruns of Lost, X-Files and Star Trek.

If ECW is going to change, for better or for worse, we’ve got to cross our fingers that a decent ROH program improves and persists. Right now, ECW is my favorite wrestling program. One week in, I’m happy that I have ROH as my #2.

I can’t wait for the Aries Vs. Danielson episode in two weeks.

If you’re still jonesing for ROH on TV coverage, Bones Barkley and Pulse Glazer each have 10 Thoughts lists on the initial broadcast. That’s twenty thoughts there.

Meanwhile, Big Andy Mac has a thoughtful live review of Saturday’s show here. Bones Barkley also checks in with his own review.

Also on Pulse indy news, Jonathan Kirschner previews Chikara King of Trios tournament, which looks stacked beyond belief.

And lastly, if you like my writing check out my blog at www.johnwiswell.blogspot.com.

Tags: , , , , ,