HEYDORN’S TAKE: AEW fans need AEW Dark to be more actively relevant

BY ZACK HEYDORN, PWTORCH COLUMNIST (@zheydorntorch)


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It’s hard to believe, but yes, AEW in fact has two different television shows. AEW Dynamite on TNT every Wednesday night. AEW Dark on YouTube every Tuesday night.

We all know Dynamite well. It’s AEW’s flagship show during primetime and the competitor across the ring from the other Wednesday night wrestling war combatant, NXT. Just as sure as Lana getting put through an announce table on Monday nights, each Wednesday night the battle rages, both brands clash, and we gleefully digest the numbers and debate the merits of each show on Thursday.

What about AEW Dark? Can this show get a little love? A little open relevancy perhaps?

I ask, not because its become a can’t miss product, as its certainly not that. Dark serves as AEW’s performance center and is the breeding ground for potential talent to show off and make a name for themselves in an effort to sign the dotted line on an AEW contract. I ask this for Dark because it’s become a product that drives significant stories that play out on AEW Dynamite. To properly serve the company in that way, the fans need the show to matter infinitely more to them than it does right now.

This week’s episode of Dynamite was a perfect example and should serve as the catalyst for more recognition of Dark as a key AEW product.

The Butcher and the Blade took on Dustin and QT Marshall of the Nightmare Family in what turned out to be an entertaining and bloody Bunkhouse Match. Was I the only one uncomfortable, though?

The match was good and it certainly wasn’t my first toe dip into bloody wrestling matches, but as these teams started fighting, it felt like they went from 0-100 on the odometer in a matter of seconds. It was awkward and unsettling. Then, the questions started flowing. Do these guys really hate each other this much? So much that they want to unveil crimson red masks on the other? Why do they hate each other? What did I miss? And on and on and on.

The missing ingredient for that match was AEW Dark. The entire feud between both teams took place on AEW’s secondary show, yet, there wasn’t any relevant mention of it on Dynamite. If there had been, the Bunkhouse match would have mattered more to fans and the audience wouldn’t have been squirming while watching it and attempting to put missing pieces together at the same time.

In this instance, if the Bunkhouse blow off match is the endgame, show the Dynamite viewer the story of how they got there. That means talking about Dark and making it relevant to the audience. Not only does that strategy set the table and prepare fans for a violent match, but it clues them in on the fact that Dark matters and that they should watch it and take it seriously. Instead, we got a parade of hardcore spots without context and an audience full of people scratching their heads as to why.

Also, on this week’s Dynamite and in their first promo since defeating FTR and becoming the AEW World Tag Team Champions, the Young Bucks called out Top Flight and challenged them to a match on next week’s episode. Now, if you’re an indy wrestling junkie, Top Flight is a name that has meaning. Many of AEW’s million Dynamite viewers aren’t diehard indy fans, though. So, what does that announced match mean to them? Well, unfortunately, not much.

Top Flight is a premiere tag team and one that is sure to make an impact wherever they go. They just aren’t nationally known names yet and in turn the announcement won’t pop the rating in the way that Tony Kahn is dreaming. Mr. Kahn, make AEW Dark relevant and that dream may just become reality.

How? Well, Top Flight competed on Dark just this past week. If the Young Bucks vs. Top Flight is going to be a top match on Dynamite, talk about Top Flight’s performance on Dark. The strategy should be to use their Dark performance to put them over ahead of the match with the Bucks. The goal should be to define them as a big deal with their Dark action as the foundation. It frames them in a way that makes them worthy of facing the AEW Tag Team Champions, but also in a way that makes them appear to be a big deal and a top tier “get” in terms of talent acquisition. This would put over a new tag team on the show, but also begin to cultivate the notion inside the heads of fans that Dark is appointment viewing because it’s the starting point for potential big stars.

We’re over a year into regular AEW programming now. AEW Dark needs more than a scroll at the bottom of the screen on Wednesday nights in order to serve the company how it wants it to. The fans need it to be more obviously relevant in order for them to take it seriously and so AEW can continue using it as a place where storylines for their company live and grow. Altering the perception of the show pays dividends. It helps Dynamite give perspective on potential matches, it shows off new talent in a brighter light, and it also will inevitably get more interested eyes on the product which is good for the Kahn bank account long term. A win, win, win.


NOW CHECK OUT LAST WEEK’S TAKE: HEYDORN’S TAKE: Don’t hold me to this – AEW Full Gear 2020

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