4 play-by-play announcers (excluding Chet Lemon).
5 color commentators (excluding Black Snow).
11 theme songs.
Say what you will about IMPACT’s current home on Twitch and Pursuit, any show remaining on the air for 15 years is an accomplishment. WCW Monday Nitro aired 288 episodes—IMPACT has aired nearly three times more. The January 4th, 2010 episode of IMPACT had 2.2m viewers—more than recent episodes of Raw and SmackDown Live. Putting TNA’s accomplishments into perspective is always difficult because so much of what they are becomes a let down given what they could have been—but IMPACT has been a weekly nationally televised fixture in pro wrestling for 15 years now and that is no small achievement.
Airing initially on Fridays, the show then moved to Saturday, to Thursday, to Monday, to Thursday, to Wednesday, to Friday, to Wednesday, to Tuesday, to Thursday, to Friday again. It is short of a run on Sunday for airing every day of the week. And yet despite its clear rise and fall, IMPACT has been the most prominent non-WWE television program since the end of Nitro—a platform for rising stars and legends alike to make and remake their name.
As TNA sought a more stable platform for their product than the ludicrous weekly PPV model, an opportunity with Fox Sports Net arose in the summer of 2004. TNA agreed on a time-buy deal with FSN and on Friday, June 4th, 2004 at 3pm IMPACT aired for the first time. Hardly prime real estate and less than ideal to have to pay for your television time, but it was a much larger platform than the ever-diminishing PPV audience.
With IMPACT’s debut on Fox Sports came a number of interesting innovations. In order to stand out, TNA introduced the six-sided ring—which would become a trademark of the company and an integral part of the branding before Hulk Hogan dismissed it as a playpen holding TNA back. They also introduced rigid time limits (ten minutes for regular matches, thirty minutes for title matches) as well as the Fox Box – a sports like on-screen display showing the competitors and the time remaining. Given the value of always informing your audience who wrestlers are, it is baffling that the Fox Box concept never returned – neither in TNA nor elsewhere.
The Fox Sports run was largely uneventful as the show settled into a groove of short squash matches and promotion for upcoming PPVs. Every couple of months a strong match would come out of the show but not nearly often enough. Despite an injection of star power from the likes of Scott Hall, Kevin Nash, Randy Savage and Diamond Dallas Page—the show lacked the energy and quality to become appointment viewing. Not to mention airing at three in the afternoon made appointment viewing difficult in the first place.
IMPACT didn’t renew their 52-week agreement with FSN in May 2005 and sought a more beneficial television agreement. There was the expectation that a move to WGN was imminent given they were deep in talks at the time. Talks with WGN fell through as TNA eyed a different prize. WWE and Raw would be departing Spike TV in September that year and TNA spotted an opening.
IMPACT continued taping television and airing it on the internet—along with a guide to downloading BitTorrent to boot—as they chased a new broadcast home. Arguably TNA’s most famous match—the AJ Styles/Christopher Daniels/Samoa Joe triple threat at Unbreakable—occurred while TNA was off television. Rather than falling back on FSN or jumping to WGN, TNA went all in on Spike and on July 21, 2005, it was made official: IMPACT would begin on Spike TV starting October 1st.
IMPACT took Velocity’s old time slot—11pm on Saturdays straight after the Ultimate Fighter—and they started with a bang. Kevin Nash returned and Team 3D debuted on a show that fizzed with energy and confidence in a way the FSN broadcast never had. “You’ve never seen anything like this on Spike TV!” Mike Tenay swiped at WWE as Styles kicked off the show defeating Roderick Strong while ex-WWE stars Rhino and Jeff Hardy battled in the main event. After two years of false starts and desperately grasping for attention, it had finally felt like TNA had arrived—the best creative year in company history had reaped the rewards it deserved.
The debut episode of IMPACT on Spike attracted 850,000 viewers—a notable increase on what Velocity did in the same time slot—while the audience grew to 994,000 in week two. This began a healthy relationship between IMPACT and Spike TV. IMPACT would move from 11pm on Saturdays to a prime time spot on Thursdays, the night the company would call home for nearly eight years.
The show expanded to two hours in October 2007 and begin broadcasting in HD in October 2008 all the while recruiting a series of name stars like Scott Steiner, Christian Cage, Sting, Kurt Angle, Booker T and Mick Foley to bolster the company’s star power. The company went from struggling to survive with a non-existent viewer base on weekly PPV – to the true US number two delivering 1.2-1.6m viewers every week on national television for the best part of a decade.
All that expansion was building to one moment, the most watched episode in the history of the show—on January 4th, 2010 2.2m people tuned into IMPACT airing head to head with Raw to see the debut of Hulk Hogan.
WWE, so alarmed by TNA’s decision to run against them, counter-programmed IMPACT with the historic return of Bret Hart to the company. That episode of IMPACT, which featured a thrilling Kurt Angle vs. AJ Styles match as well as the debut of Ric Flair and the return of Jeff Hardy, was in many ways the high point of the series but also in retrospect the beginning of the show’s shaky foundations.
Hogan and Bischoff decided to take IMPACT to war. However, after firing the first hugely successful shot on January 4th, the company wouldn’t strike again until March 8th—when IMPACT moved to Mondays full time. IMPACT even went ten days without a new episode after Hogan’s debut, the next episode didn’t air until January 14th. If there ever was a chance for IMPACT to take on Raw, the momentum was already long gone by the time they chose to do so—even with the debut of Rob Van Dam as well as a main event of Hogan and Abyss vs. Styles and Flair on March 8th.
On March 8th TNA still posted a respectable 1.4m viewers—similar to a regular Thursday show—against Raw but it was all downhill from there. Less than two months later—two months filled with desperate booking and little in the way of a coherent vision to take on WWE—TNA admitted comprehensive defeat, tucked their tail between their legs and retreated back to Thursdays. On April 26th, IMPACT posted it’s worst rating on Spike TV to date— worse even than anything on Saturday nights at 11pm—and that was the last straw. The war, more a minor skirmish, in the end, was well and truly lost.
While ratings rebounded, TNA felt creatively stagnant for the remainder of 2010 and much of 2011. It was clear there was little in the way of clear direction from the Hogan/Bischoff regime. They had no idea how to inject life into TNA’s product and its characters and mostly resorted to booking the show around themselves and their Immortal faction. The company had no direction and its young stars had no upward mobility.
That changed as a youth movement finally emerged in late-2011. The split of Beer Money led to Bobby Roode as the company’s top heel and James Storm as the company’s top babyface. That spurred life into the company as Bully Ray emerged to do the best work of his career, Austin Aries reinvigorated the X-Division, Magnus found sure footing as Samoa Joe’s tag team partner, Jeff Hardy entered the best year of his career as he sought redemption for his Victory Road 2011 low all while Sting, AJ Styles, Kurt Angle and Rob Van Dam continued to deliver strong performances and productive star power.
Offering the company as a platform to its new generation of stars, TNA seemed to pick up steam in 2012 but as is wont for TNA, disaster wasn’t far away. TNA, which historically taped two episodes in advance at a time, went live weekly in the summer in 2012 but that wasn’t enough. In the spring of 2013, TNA took IMPACT on the road. An initiative pushed heavily by Eric Bischoff as the next brass ring holding TNA back from the next level, it was a disastrous move that bled money.
The company began to lose money at such a rate that it entered a death spiral from which it would never leave. Big money contracts like Sting, AJ Styles, Rob Van Dam, Mickie James and Hulk Hogan no longer became affordable. As the company lost stars, it lost viewers. No episode of IMPACT has been watched by more people since the last episode on which Sting appeared.
That brought IMPACT management and Spike TV to an impasse regarding the valuation of the show in 2014, coupled with TNA misleading Spike TV regarding the employment of Vince Russo, and the unthinkable happened. Spike TV opted not to renew IMPACT. The nine-year relationship that brought TNA from the graveyard on Saturday nights to two hours of prime time live on Thursdays had come to an end. And TNA’s role as a major player in US wrestling ended with it.
TNA landed on Destination America and the relationship seemed to end before it even began. IMPACT went from attracting 1m+ viewers on Spike to 300-400k on Destination America. Destination America quickly and quietly disposed of all the ancillary programming that came with IMPACT. Dixie Carter embarrassingly CC’d Destination America management on an email criticizing them and Destination America dropped IMPACT before the year was done (however not before picking up Ring of Honor as well as IMPACT in a bizarre time in wrestling where IMPACT, NXT, Ring of Honor and Lucha Underground all aired on the same night).
Pop TV was the next home of IMPACT. IMPACT held the same approximately 350,000 viewers on Pop that they had on Destination America—as it was clear what the new normal for the much-diminished company was. The death spiral continued as TNA failed to hold on to stars like Kurt Angle, Bobby Roode, Drew Galloway, Bobby Lashley, EC3 and The Hardys. Despite three years as the strongest performing show on the network, Pop shifted directions and IMPACT wasn’t part of their plans. The show was moved to 10pm before IMPACT departed once again.
And that brings us to the IMPACT of today: airing weekly on Twitch and Pursuit to likely the smallest weekly audience in the US since the weekly PPV days. Yet the show soldiers on—and will continue likely far into the future.
The rise and fall of IMPACT as a television show is pretty easy to track—the show built from a time buy on FSN to 2.2 million viewers live on Spike before losing it all. However, there are fifteen years of strange, fascinating and wonderful archives there to explore.
In many ways IMPACT is the ideal wrestling product to revisit. It was rarely boring—usually full of wildly ambitious television, the good kind of awful television, and simply tremendous television. AJ Styles wrestled over 250 times on IMPACT against the likes of Kurt Angle, Samoa Joe, Austin Aries, Christopher Daniels, and Jeff Hardy. It is the source of countless hidden gems and forgotten moments. From Kurt Angle’s debut confrontation with Samoa Joe to Scott Steiner’s reinvention of mathematics to Jay Lethal’s brilliant imitation of Ric Flair. Not to pretend the show has always been some masterpiece—it won Worst Television Show six times in the Wrestling Observer awards—but with the benefit of distance, in hindsight, even some of the bad can be enjoyed. There is much to find and someday people will go through the trouble of finding it.
The show was, and hopefully will long continue to be, at its best when it was a platform for invention and reinvention. Where people like AJ Styles and The Motor City Machine Guns could make their names while the likes of Matt Hardy and Sting could prove what they have left to offer. For 15 years—through good times and bad—IMPACT has been a staple of televised wrestling.
For 15 years, IMPACT has been a stage for performers to grow and evolve and develop. As it moves into its 16th year let us hope it continues to be that: a show that leads the world of professional wrestling rather than follows. Regardless, 15 years is no mean feat.