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He’s one of the most divisive voices in British wrestling, having seen the rise and fall of British wrestling on his own watch and being instrumental in its recent resurgence thanks to coverage on local TV channels and Challenge through WrestleTalk TV and British Wrestling Round Up.
Without doubt, Alex Shane is a man that many admire, yet many dislike but, regardless, he’s a man with a vision and a passion that is captured whenever he chooses to speak.
On a recent episode of the Daily Squash podcast – Britain’s only, to my knowledge, daily wrestling podcast – Alex Shane answered questions that have been oft discussed on social media, but rarely asked to the man who can answer them. If you haven’t listened to it, the podcast can be found here – http://bit.ly/1xyxGU1
In particular, he discussed why NGW is the promotion most commonly featured on British Wrestling Round Up and British Wrestling Weekly, the programme that features on many local channels around the country. He revealed that he’d had talks with other promoters, including Progress and PCW and, whilst he wouldn’t go into detail, it appears that an agreement couldn’t be reached. He explained that NGW had embraced the arrangement he was proposing and worked towards producing enough content to feed a weekly and monthly television programme whilst other promoters, for reasons that weren’t made overtly clear, often didn’t get him the footage he needed in time.
He finally explained that, it’s much better to be one army fighting for a common cause than a number of armies fighting each other for the same cause, warning that the latter could lead to an external agent sweeping up the pieces and taking over.
Naturally, and as should be true of every businessman, Shane didn’t insult other promotions, he didn’t name and shame (beyond mentioning he’d discussed his plans with other promotions), nor did he air dirty laundry. He didn’t reveal too much, but he said enough to get his point across; that the offer to work with him is still open, but alluded to the fact that it’s important to realise that there’s more to this than putting on matches before a camera – producing national TV isn’t the same as producing DVD for the fans, and this is something that’s often missed.
Wrestling fans will buy those DVDs, they’ll snatch them up on the merch table. The TV viewing audience, however, expect, rightly or wrongly, that their viewing looks a certain way and the expectations are high. The most common argument laid at the feet of British television is that it doesn’t look as good as US television, without thought for the economics of scale – that commercial television in the US can spend millions on one episode, whereas the UK is lucky to spend a fraction of that.
It’s similar with British wrestling – whenever British wrestling is represented on British TV, take a look at Twitter – wrestling fans love it, some will be converted, but there’s still the large number of Tweets comparing it to WWE or the heyday of yesterday, World of Sport.
Now, pick up any of your wrestling DVDs, and I’m excluding NGW and Progress from this, and put it on. Forget the matches for a moment – depending on the promotion, they’re going to be fine – but look at the technical aspects. Can you hear the promo that’s just been cut? Are there multiple camera angles – ideally a fixed camera and a roving camera, somewhere – to capture all the best bits? Is any of the action missing? What’s the lighting like? (Not sure how to gauge this one? Is there more focus on the in ring action, or can you read the signs on the wall?) What’s the crowd like? Are they vocal and into it, or is it like you’re in the theatre with polite clapping? Even more important, how many people are in the crowd? You know those pictures of TNA house shows that are tweeted, sneering at the row after row of empty seat? Is your favourite promotion packing all of fifty people into a hall for ten times that many?
Let’s step into the wrestling for a moment. How about the presentation of the product itself? Where are the wrestlers coming from? Is it that door at the back of the hall? What’s the commentary like? Are the guys on commentary knowledgeable, funny and clear to hear? Do they drown out the interaction between the wrestlers and the crowd? How about the entrance music? Is that a copyrighted track? Does the promotion have copyright clearance? We all know what happened to Like a Prayer when TNA wanted to use it on TV? No clearance, no music!
It all builds up. What’s fine for the merch table may not be for TV and there are few promotions out there that do more than build a product for DVD.
Exceptions, and I’m sure there are more, include NGW, thanks to their association with Alex Shane and the drive of Rich Dunn, NGWs promoter, and Progress. The latter, especially, is easy to see – watch their early shows, the ones at The Garage and then watch their later shows – look at how they’ve evolved, not because they’re on TV, but because Progress think of the big picture – they’re not selling memories of the show, or a “well you had to be there” experience. They’re selling a product that those of us who can’t get to London can enjoy as if we were there. Testimony to this is Progress and their treatment of Chapter 13 – there was an issue with the hardcam and, as a result, the quality wasn’t where it should be. They chose to release the show for free because it wasn’t up to scratch. Realistically, a lot of promotions would kill to have the quality of footage that Progress through was subpar!
Part of this awareness of the product is no doubt down to Jim Smallman and Glenn Joseph’s history in stand up and on the stage – they know what they need to do to look good and there’s a huge chance that, with a few tweaks, they’d be TV ready.
It’s the same with NGW – from their early DVDs to their latest shows that make up British Wrestling Weekly and the monthly British Wrestling Round Up. Their product looks the part – it’s well shot from multiple angles, with at least one fixed camera. You can see the crowd, but they’re not the focus, the focus – thanks to an exceptional lighting set up – is in the ring and each match shown on TV is a TV ready product. Sure, there’s issues, but NGW work to improve upon their product; they have no choice, they’re on TV.
Triple H commented that Fergal Devitt was frazzled one day after working on his entrance; Devitt, for all his talent, had never been taught to be aware of the camera… he came out to his music, wrestled and left the ring as winner or loser. Now look at him on NXT, every single aspect of what he does has been tuned to make him TV ready, not just his wrestling. Every wrestler that steps through the doors of NGW has to work for TV, they have to be aware of the hardcam, aware of the roving came, perform to it and the crowd. It’s a big ask and it’s tiring – just ask anyone who’s gone on stage or been filmed – but these guys do it and, after the first few minutes, it becomes second nature.
It’s all about, to paraphrase Spinal Tap, turning it up to eleven. Taking that next step, making it louder and better, to highlight what every British wrestling fan knows – British wrestling, thanks to the breadth of talent, has never been better and deserves to look even better. But, it’s time to take it to the next step, and who doesn’t want to be on TV?