By Blake Norton
This document is written to examine how to best exploit Jeff Jarrett’s return to the ring. We want to make the event as grossing, engrossing and effective as possible.
If you’re reading this online at WrestlingObserver.com, you can download a Word Document format at www.BlakeNorton.com/articles/Jarrett.doc as the formatting can be confusing when it’s published to the website. I opted not to format it in Hollywood script format as many readers didn’t have the Acrobat .pdf reader last time.
OUTLINING THE STORY First we consider the broad framework of the Jeff Jarrett return story. We shouldn’t throw him back into the world title picture immediately; we neither want him to win the belt early, as he’s overexposed in that role and the money is in the chase, nor do we want him losing a title match. The latter would kill his comeback momentum, given the dynamics of mainstream U.S. booking styles.
Next, I’d suggest that Jeff is best off returning as a babyface. The loss of his wife Jill last year, which is the reason for his absence from television, has been well established to the TNA audience. Thus, it would be counter-productive to attempt to heel him upon his return. The entire goal of a pro wrestling television show is to build an emotional connection between fan and wrestler, so when the time comes, the fan feels compelled to pay to watch the wrestler compete. With the business so exposed in 2008, that connection is harder to achieve than ever. Furthermore, attempting to heel Jeff at this point would be, frankly, unsettling. It was “bad heat” unsettling when Buff Bagwell returned from a potentially career-ending neck injury with an immediate heel turn in WCW ten years ago, and to do something similar in Jeff’s situation would be infinitely worse.
So if we accept that the most effective way to re-introduce Jeff Jarrett to TNA is as a babyface in a semi-main program, we can jump straight to the most important part of the puzzle; the “hook.” This is the fundamental axis, the idea from which every match, angle and development is derived, the fulcrum of the story. The key to the hook is that it’s different for everyone, depending on their gimmick, their style, their strengths, their weaknesses, their character’s history, the style of the show, the marketplace and so on.
In the case of the Jeff Jarrett return, I’d consider “the hook” to be the following:
The fans know Jarrett left wrestling due to a family tragedy. Last year at the TNA five year anniversary show, in one of the classiest segments I’ve seen in the business in years, Jarrett credited his late wife with having played a pivotal role in his work, and thus the development of TNA. “The worst place for me right now is in that ring,” Jarrett told the audience via a pre-taped interview. The piece was touching, heartfelt and genuine and it opened the door to every TNA fan asking the same question:
“Will Jeff Jarrett regain the passion to wrestle?”
Now, one year on, it’s time to make people pay to find out the answer.
GETTING JEFF BACK ON TELEVISION The question we’re answering is “will Jeff Jarrett regain the passion to wrestle?” Thus our goals are to (a) make people ask that question (b) make people want the answer we’re going to give them (c) increase the tension by teasing – not swerving - that they will not get the answer they want (d) delivering the right answer at the right time to create maximum interest and harness it into pay-per-view buys.
Core to the story achieving its goal is believability. We need to get from point (a) to point (d) in a way where people can suspend their disbelief, where there are no major jumps in logic, where each character’s motivations come across as genuine, intelligent and true to form. If we create a plot hole, the tension flows right down that drain. It only takes a pin prick to deflate an entire balloon.
Jeff Jarrett is established to the TNA faithful as a member of the front office. Thus, we have a plausible reason for him being in the building for an angle on any given night. He’s also an ex-wrestler, the only qualified “tough guy” fans are generally aware of on the TNA staff. This unique qualification will be key to exploit in designing a story where the reasons for his return are plausible.
Now we need a scenario where TNA Management requires Jeff Jarrett’s unique qualifications to fulfill a front-of-house duty to explain his return to television, where we can initiate the angle. We can achieve this quite simply with a device which has been used many times in the business. A certain wrestler or feud is getting out of control, and in order to guarantee a finish and maintain order, TNA Management assigns Jeff Jarrett, who is both tough and qualified in the ways of the ring, to lay down the law in what is implied to be a somewhat low-key, one-shot appearance.
CASTING THE ANTAGONIST We need to create a credible antagonist with believable motivation for causing mayhem and destruction, as is the key to every great story of good versus evil. For this role I’m putting forward Tomko.
Tomko has proven in recent years that he can be very effective when booked in an effective manner. He possesses the size and skill to be a top heel, and what’s more, Tomko is underexposed in a main-event position. A program with Jeff can work not only to get the program over, but to elevate Tomko to the status as a top guy and potential draw in the process.
THE STORY OUTLINE
Now we have the skeleton of our story. A heel wrestler is causing problems. Jeff Jarrett is called upon to fulfill a duty for which he is uniquely qualified. Jeff, as a veteran and responsible figure of respect, performs his duties to the best of his abilities. However, a sense of fair play is rarely a trait associated with a short-fused antagonist whose pride won’t stand for anyone, particularly a retired wrestler, stealing the spotlight and telling him what to do. The antagonist, jealous and frustrated, makes the situation personal. The tragic hero, an emotional shell of his former self, has no intentions of getting into a fight. He does everything in his power to resolve the situation professionally. However the antagonist keeps pushing… and pushing… and pushing, with every passing day the fans wanting more and more to see the hero stand up for himself, until one day the antagonist finally crosses the line and takes it too far. In the third act, a sleeping giant awakens and sparks fly in spectacular fashion. Be careful what you wish for; the result is the big pay-per-view showdown, and the return to the ring of the ten time former heavyweight champion of the world, the father of TNA wrestling, Jeff Jarrett.
Along the way, we will consider important nuances, such as the balance between providing the audience with value and extras for their pay-per-view dollar without sacrificing the next big drawing match.
(Note: I do not script dialogue for wrestlers unless specifically asked to. I give them their point of motivation, time cues, and any key phrases required by the story. The dialogue is specified here for the sake of ease of reading, but if guys’ natural personality doesn’t have room to breathe, the chances of them catching on with the fan base are greatly diminished. Some of the best stuff in wrestling invariably comes from the boys themselves.)
BOOKING THE STORYLINE We can lead into the Jeff Jarrett return story via an infinite number of existing storylines. Angles change with such regularity in TNA that rather than try to adapt our plan to this week’s television – particularly as this article is being written over the period of several weeks - we’ll just take a basic scenario which reflects basic themes employed in recent months.
As we enter the story, Kurt Angle is world champion. He’s been using A.J. and Tomko as his right hand men to protect his dominance for the last year. Kurt uses his name value and the promise of expert guidance and career opportunities as carrots by which to convince Tomko and A.J. to pursue the tag titles and leave the world belt with him for the time being. A.J. in particular has been expressing doubts about whether their relationship is mutually beneficial, but Angle continues to talk him around to the idea that it will soon be his time to be champion. A.J. is respectful of Kurt’s accomplishments and status in the industry, and thus gives him the benefit of the doubt.
TNA is very fond of doing tournaments, so we’ll do a basic three-week, eight-man elimination tournament on television to create the next number-one contender to the world title where A.J. Styles meets Tomko in the finals. It’s hardly a shocking way to book it, and I’d surely do something more nuanced if that was the point of this article. Having said that, the point isn’t to surprise the fans, it’s to engage them, and most of the time the simplest solution is the most effective.
The story throughout the tournament is that A.J. is incredibly excited at the idea of challenging Kurt. He certainly wants to regain the TNA World Title, and he’s elated by the opportunity to face his friend and an Olympic champion. But with every victory A.J. achieves, it’s becoming more and more apparent to the viewers at home that the reason Kurt is supporting A.J. and Tomko for their matches is because he expects them to win the tournament (finals being held at Victory Road on July 13th) and then give him a free-ride in the ensuing title match (Hard Justice, August 10th). Tomko isn’t entirely happy about the situation, but he “gets it,” and goes along with it due to Angle offering him opportunities as part of his camp to compete in top matches in Japan and acquire merchandising deals. We can’t be vague about this, as Kurt has to specify the carrots so Tomko doesn’t come across as gullible. In classic heel fashion, Tomko is very analytical about the situation and uses his brain over his heart. Tomko sees the financial and career benefits in putting off his pursuit of the TNA title to a later time. A.J., however, is demonstrating a babyface’s pure desire to compete and be the best.
A.J. thanks Kurt for his generous offers and opportunities, assuming the best of his intentions. But A.J. makes it clear that no amount of money or opportunity anywhere in the world can compare to the honor of competing for the TNA world championship. As the weeks pass by, and A.J. is successful in the first two rounds of the tournament, it’s clear that the situation is headed for disaster. Kurt gets caught and ejected trying to help A.J. in round one. By round two, Kurt is in A.J.’s corner, but has no interest in helping him, not that A.J. would want it. When A.J. wins the second round, Kurt’s reaction makes it clear that he’s intimidated by the idea of facing A.J. for the belt.
(Note: Kurt’s desperation to keep it and A.J.’s passion to win it, puts over the TNA belt. This is in very stark contrast to Booker T describing TNA as low-rent and Kevin Nash saying he’s appearing “only for the money,” which is entirely counter-productive to the company’s image, regardless of whether they are heel or babyface.)
VICTORY ROAD (July 13th) In the finals of the contenders’ tournament at the pay-per-view, Tomko faces A.J. Styles for the right to face Kurt Angle the following month at “Hard Justice.” Angle, having approached Jim Cornette on the preceding Impact show, is granted the opportunity to be seated ringside for the match. Both men are in his camp and he ostensibly provides no unfair advantages.
As the match goes on, the camera cuts back to Angle for his reactions to key kick-outs. Angle seems frustrated when A.J. kicks out, but more relieved when Tomko does.
A.J. exhibits many babyface characteristics, but we haven’t pulled the trigger on the full turn yet so he remains guilty by association. He’s dominated through much of the match, but gets a lucky break in the fourth quarter and nails the Pele to rock Tomko. A.J. hits his comeback, and after a reversal tease or two sets up for the Styles Clash. Angle freaks out and jumps on the apron.
A confused A.J. asks, “what are you doing?”
Angle shouts, “he’s your team mate! You can’t give him the Styles Clash, you could break his neck!”
A.J. hesitates momentarily before deciding to go for the win. However, the referee is telling Angle to get off the apron, and doesn’t see Tomko hit a low-blow on Styles. Tomko hits his finish and wins the match.
(Note: It’s a huge mistake to have either your heel or your face act in an unintelligent manner; walking out on a match because a girl is standing on the apron or a heel is on the ramp makes a wrestler look like a fool and immediately lowers their credibility and thus drawing power in the eyes of the fans. The spot we wrote here, however, will work, because Angle is A.J.’s “coach” figure and is presumably acting on his behalf. Thus, when Angle jumps on the apron and tries to get A.J.’s attention, it causes a legitimate moment of hesitation on A.J.’s part.)
The bell rings as Tomko picks up the win. Angle immediately runs into the ring and tends to Styles. Styles eventually rolls to his knees, still holding his groin, and starts screaming at Tomko. Angle plays dumb, like he didn’t know Tomko had done anything underhanded. Tomko doesn’t really give a damn if A.J. realizes he’s been screwed or not and brushes A.J. off, but Angle tries to make out like the situation is a misunderstanding. Angle gives a very reluctant A.J. a hug, then turns and raises Tomko’s hand joyously. It’s clear Kurt is happy with the result. A.J. is left looking on from behind them, his eyes shooting bullets.
Angle and Tomko leave the ring. Angle tells Tomko to “hold up,” and beckons A.J. to come with them. Tomko doesn’t wait and starts walking up the ramp alone, holding his arms in the air. Angle eventually talks A.J. into leaving with him.
IMPACT (July 17th) Team Angle Promo
The following Thursday on Impact, Angle, Tomko and A.J. come to the ring for a promo. It’s clear that A.J. is the odd man out, as he appears distant and disinterested, as he’s clearly conflicted. Angle meanwhile puts Tomko over glowingly, stroking his ego. Angle finishes with…
“…and so, at Hard Justice on August 10th, it will be my honor to compete with the number one contender to the world title, the most dominating force in TNA today, this man…”
With that, Jim Cornette’s voice booms over the P.A., interrupting Angle.
“Hold it! Hold it!” he yells, marching down the ramp with no music.
“I wasn’t planning on addressing this issue until later in the show, but it only seems fair to the TNA fans to give them the inside track. You, Kurt Angle, came to me one week ago and asked to be seated ringside on Sunday because you were so proud of having your two boys compete in the finals of the contenders’ tournament. And because you had no apparent motivation to support one man’s interests over the other, I acquiesced. However, there isn’t a single fan here today that didn’t see you jump up on the apron, distract A.J., and give Tomko the chance to steal a match that may well have ended very differently!”
A.J. nods, his eyes wide, as if he was suddenly realizing that he wasn’t going crazy.
“Now as far as what may or may not happen should you face Tomko for the TNA World championship, I’ve already warned you, but I cannot make a ruling on something that hasn’t happened. (In various promos over the past month, Angle had heavily suggested that a victory for his boys would ensure that he keeps the TNA World Title.) However, I damn sure will not let you soil the integrity of the TNA World Heavyweight Championship by letting that miscarriage stand. Therefore, I am throwing out the result from Victory Road and signing a re-match between A.J. Styles and Tomko to decide the number one contender to the world title next week, right here on Impact! And YOU, Kurt Angle, are BARRED FROM RINGSIDE!”
Jim Cornette returns to the back, leaving Angle throwing a fit in the ring. Tomko is eerily calm. A.J. is overjoyed. Tomko leans his outstretched arms on the top rope in the corner of the ring. He lowers his head contemplatively. As A.J. plays to the crowd, Tomko slowly turns and gives him a look of sheer hatred. A.J. isn’t looking at him, and doesn’t notice.
A.J. leaves the ring first in celebratory fashion. Angle is distraught, but keeps it together and steps through the ropes to the floor. A.J. disappears to the back.
Angle starts to walk up the ramp. He signals to Tomko to follow. Tomko is still leaning against the top rope in the corner of the ring, staring blankly down towards the turnbuckle. Angle walks around ringside and calls up to Tomko, telling him to come to the back. Tomko doesn’t respond. Angle is in a fowl mood, and not in a mindset to play peacemaker. He quickly gives up and storms to the back. The show goes to commercial.
As the show comes back from commercial, Mike Tenay explains that Tomko hasn’t moved. There are two referees in the ring trying to convince him to move, but they’re getting no reaction. It’s clear that the show has to move on. Referee Andrew Thomas puts his hand on Tomko’s shoulder and forcefully tries to turn him around. Suddenly, Tomko shoots his right elbow back and cracks Thomas in the jaw. It’s initially unclear whether it was a reflex or intentional, but it’s apparent that he feels no remorse for his actions.
Tomko turns and stands over Thomas, his eyes cold and unaffected. Tomko looks up at the second referee. The second official, shocked, quickly backtracks out of the ring. Tomko casts a vacant stare across the crowd. He pauses; then slowly prowls across the ring, slips to the floor, and slowly walks to the back.
As the coast clears, the second ref rushes over to check on Thomas, who hasn’t moved. He turns him over. Two paramedics run down to ringside, and help Thomas, holding his jaw, gingerly walk backstage.
(NOTE: I don’t like over-ruling pay-per-view finishes, but this is the most effective way of getting from point a to point b, and as long as the other matches on the Pay-Per-View delivered their finishes, particularly the main event, we can live with it. Furthermore, despite the screwy finish for A.J. and Tomko at the pay-per-view, we did deliver a major storyline development in the process, rather than simply doing a screw because we didn’t have a finish.)
IMPACT (July 24th) Backstage Promo: Tomko (with Kurt Angle) A.J. is already in the ring for the Impact main event.
“Tomko, have you any comments on the $1,000 fine TNA Management has passed down for the incident where you struck official Andrew Thomas last week?”
Tomko opens his mouth to speak, but Angle, clearly worried about what he might say, immediately cuts him off, blurting out…
“…it was an accident!... it was an accident, that’s all.”
Angle looks at Tomko as he talks, his eyes making it clear that Tomko needs to follow his lead.
“It’s a bogus fine, the ref was clumsy. He shouldn’t have grabbed a wrestler from behind when he was standing in the ring. Of course he got smacked! But hey, we dropped a grand on the limo ride over here, that’s nothing to us, right Tomko?”
A wry smile appears on Tomko’s face, as Angle has disarmed him with his explanation.
“Just moments from now, Tomko, you have a rematch with A.J. Styles, with the winner facing Kurt for the TNA World Title. Is there any friendship between you and A.J. any more, given that you used an illegal low blow to beat him at Victory Road?”
“The situation with A.J. is the situation with everyone else in the TNA locker room. It’s not personal, just business. He takes it personal, that’s his problem.”
Angle looks uncomfortable. This wasn’t how he’d have tried to spin it.
“And what about the idea of wrestling Kurt Angle for the TNA World Championship? Is that just business too?”
Tomko looks at Kurt, as he’s uncomfortable with the question. His music starts to play, which saves them from an awkward moment. Angle leans in and gets back on track.
“Okay Tomko, this is it. You’ve done it once and you can do it again. Of course, I’m rooting for both you guys. Remember, Tomko; remember what a great opportunity this is for you. Remember that I’ll be bringing the winner of this match to Japan with me to challenge for the international tag team titles. Remember that my agent is going to be doing all she can on your behalf. You and me… and A.J., kings of the wrestling world. You remember what’s on the line!”
Tomko turns to Kurt and looks him dead in the eye.
“Yeah. I remember.”
Tomko gets his game face on and walks out of shot. Kurt looks on, concerned.
Angle puts his hand up and walks off.
Match: Tomko vs. Styles II
In the main event of the July 24th edition of Impact, A.J. faces Tomko in the rematch to decide the number one contender to the TNA World Title. Kurt Angle is barred from ringside.
A.J. and Tomko go twenty. As in the first match, the bigger heel, Tomko dominates. And again, A.J. shows great resolve and fights back near the finish. He ducks the boot and sets up the Styles Clash. Tomko blocks it, and drives the two of them through the ropes to the floor in desperation. A.J. lands on top. By the count of four, A.J. is coming to his senses. He starts to climb back into the ring, but Tomko grabs his leg and drags him to the floor. Tempers are flaring as they exchange forearms back and forth. Tomko overpowers him and whips him into the steel, but A.J. moves on the blind charge and Tomko busts his guts on the railing.
“Tomko now, smashing into that steel railing! He’s holding his ribs, he looks to be breathing heavily. I think Tomko may be seriously hurt here, Don.”
“Well here we see it again, Mike, Tomko nailing the steel full on, A.J. moved at the last second and he looks to have cracked his ribs into that unforgiving steel. We’re twenty minutes deep in this one and these guys are swinging for the fences, looking for that knock-out blow. Tomko’s slow to get up here, you’re right, Mike, I think A.J. has a shot at a count-out.”
“Styles now, rolling back into the ring. What’s he… Oh my, A.J. Styles, bad back and all, is looking to fly here! A.J. wants to finish it, he’s going for broke here, Don!”
Styles executes a slingshot cannonball dive to the floor on to Tomko, but in a great feat of strength, Tomko catches him and swings him head first (protected) into the guard-rail. Tomko collapses, grabbing his ribs under the force of the exertion as the referee counts “ten.”
“My God the carnage! This one is over and then some. I think the referee can count to fifty. Both these guys have given everything here, Don, and look at them, they’re just destroyed.”
“Here we see Tomko just starting to stir, it looks like he bruised a couple of ribs or worse, he’s moving very slowly, Mike. By God, you watch a match like this and you think both these guys should be declared winners. What a battle right here on Impact! This is what TNA is all about!”
An exhausted Tomko rolls into the ring.
Tomko grabs the middle rope and pulls himself to his feet, all the while screaming at A.J. to get up. The referee, Rudy Charles, steps between Tomko and the ropes. Tomko doesn’t pay any attention at first, but then notices Charles screaming that the match is over.
“What the hell are you talking about?”
“Double count-out! The match is over!”
Tomko starts to unravel with frustration.
“I’m here now! I’m here now! Count him out!”
“The match is over! It’s a draw!”
Tomko, sweating like a pig, clutching his injured ribs and snorting like a wild animal, burns a hole right through referee Charles. Suddenly, he grabs the petrified official by the throat. Charles flails and screams and kicks desperately, but it’s all for nothing. Tomko swings him eight feet through the air into the turnbuckle. His body contorts like a crash test dummy upon impact, and smashes face-first onto the ring with a dull thud. A fuming Tomko marches in a wide circle, his veins bulging and muscles tensed with rage. Tomko comes around, takes a quick step in and kicks Rudy Charles right in the face, snapping his neck and knocking him to the arena floor.
Kurt Angle rushes down into the ring, his world title in tow. He leaps into the ring, rushes up to Tomko and stands before him.
“Jesus, Tomko! You’re going to get suspended or fired! You gotta calm down! You’re going to screw this thing up for both of us, damn it!”
The camera cuts to ringside, where A.J. is just coming to his senses. A.J. starts to check on Charles, who’s lying motionless beside him. A.J.’s eyes widen upon seeing the referee’s condition. Two EMTs hurry to ringside and take over. A.J. may not have seen what happened, but this was clearly no accident.
Angle is still trying to calm Tomko down as a weary A.J. climbs back into the ring. A.J. confronts Tomko, stepping in front of Kurt like he wasn’t even there.
“What the hell did you do to the referee?”
Tomko registers no response.
“What the hell did you do? Rudy’s unconscious, what the hell did you do to him?”
All three men are still.
A.J. stands on, demanding an answer.
Tomko doesn’t acknowledge him.
Kurt’s eyes are wide with fear. He’s fast losing control of the situation, and with it, he feels his iron grip on the TNA world title rusting away.
Tomko abruptly starts to walk towards the ropes, shoulder-checking A.J. as he passes him.
“Ooh!” gasps the crowd.
A.J. looks down at his shoulder. He’s put up with more than enough the last several weeks, and he’s ready to lose it.
Tomko puts one foot through the ropes, then holding the top rope, turns his body back towards the center of the ring. With a condescending smirk, he acknowledges A.J. for the first time, rhetorically asking…
“We done here?”
Suddenly, A.J. steps forward and kicks the middle rope, catching Tomko in the groin.
Tomko is stunned, grabbing the top rope for support as he backs towards the corner.
A.J. charges at Tomko, driving him into the turnbuckles with everything he’s got. Tomko can only cover up as his smaller aggressor unloads with a flurry of lefts, rights, knees, kicks as the crowd explodes! Angle is totally flabbergasted. He hesitates before hurrying in and grabbing A.J. around the waist.
Angle pulls A.J. out of the corner. A.J. turns and pushes Kurt away. A.J. comes at Tomko again but is met with a shot to the head. Styles staggers back towards the center of the ring. Tomko swings again, but Styles blocks this one and returns fire. Back and forth they exchange strikes. Tomko! AJ! Tomko! AJ! Tomko! Tomko! Tomko! Styles is on shaky legs after three shots to the head. Tomko draws back for a big clothesline, but A.J. ducks. A.J. scores with the Pele!
Tomko’s head snaps and his legs turn to rubber. Tomko crumples to the mat.
A dazed A.J. rolls to his knees. He slowly gets one leg under him, then digs deep and staggers to his feet, his eyes locked on Tomko. He takes a deep breath and starts to turn around when…
Out of nowhere, Angle lays the bruised and battered A.J. out in the center of the ring with one shot to the head with the TNA world title.
All is still but for the rippling of Kurt Angle’s chiseled abdomen as he breathes in and out.
Angle stands above A.J., brandishing the world belt in his right hand. A.J., bleeding from the forehead, lays flat on his back. Angle’s eyes are distant and cold. For the first time, we know for certain that everything he said to A.J. over the past year was a lie.
“Oh my God! Kurt Angle just knocked his own team mate, his own protégé, unconscious! What a betrayal of trust! Kurt Angle never gave a damn about anything but the TNA Title! For the last year, A.J. Styles has done nothing but what Kurt Angle has asked, he’s sacrificed his own career, and THIS is how Kurt repays him!”
“It’s very clear to us now, Mike, that if A.J. wasn’t going to play by Kurt’s rules, Kurt was going to take him out of the game. You talk about Kurt’s reluctance to support A.J. in recent weeks, the distraction at Victory Road that cost him his shot at the TNA World Title. A.J. could be the number one contender for the world title today if it weren’t for what Kurt has done. How long has Kurt been pretending to act in A.J.’s best interests? How long has Kurt been using him, lying to him, sabotaging his career?”
“And who will challenge for the TNA World Title? After tonight we seem no closer to finding an answer! But I’ll tell you what IS clear is that Kurt Angle wants no part of A.J. Styles, he’s been doing everything in his power to stop him getting a shot at the TNA World Title!”
Tomko is starting to stir, holding his head.
Blood continues to flow from A.J.’s head as his body lays motionless in the center of the ring. Kurt continues to look upon him with an icy stare. The line has been crossed. He did what must be done.
Tomko finds his feet and stands next to Angle. He steps forward towards A.J. and spits on him; then with a satisfied smirk, leaves the ring as Angle continues to contemplate the future.
The show fades to black.