A funny thing happened while Hunktears and I were watching AEW Dynamite last night. We were talking, as geniuses do, about Diamond Dallas Page, doing our level best to ignore an SCU promo, when Adam Page showed up on the scene, three fingers of whiskey on hand, to sploosh that liquor all over Christopher Daniels’ hideous shirt and shit-talk the AEW Tag Team Champions. We had the same question:
— hunktears has a mullet now (@hunktears) January 16, 2020
I don’t know how much time our beloved Fanfyte editor puts into All Elite Wrestling, but since it started running on TNT I’ve only missed the New Year’s Day episode. To say that I was confused about Page drinking a prodigious glass of brown fluid that totally wasn’t apple juice is an understatement. My Wednesday Night War column is no more (there was never a war, and now Mer gets to cover NXT in her weekly recaps of WWE), but I watch AEW pretty closely, and Page developing a sudden addiction had me wondering if I’ve been watching AEW Dynamite less carefully than I should have been.
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The answer to that question, at least to AEW megafans, particularly megafans who are very into the Elite, is “yes.” Had I (or Hunktears) been watching the Elite’s long-running YouTube show Being the Elite, I’d know that Adam Page’s issues went beyond feeling like he was the least successful member of the team, that he’d been finding solace in a bottle to the extent that even wrestlers like Private Party, whose gimmick is that they’re probably worth paying money to get drunk with, no longer want to hang with the Hangman.
I know that now from searching for recaps of the show, but from AEW Dynamite all you’d really know about Adam Page is that he’s a little bummed out and wants to distance himself from his friends. Beyond Daniels sniveling about making Page pay to dry clean his direct-to-garment t-shirt, nobody in a speaking capacity who could have explained this to me seemed to notice or care that Page was acting out under the influence, probably because Jim Ross and Tony Schiavone aren’t getting paid to watch Being the Elite.
I don’t find the Adam Page story interesting—I’m a sober person who is familiar with the mechanics of alcoholism, and this story ain’t it—but I’m bringing it up here because it is canon AEW narrative, and most of it has taken place off television. This is an issue unique to the company in that it was largely built on the cult of personality surrounding the cast of Being the Elite, the purpose of which shifted from being an unscripted docuseries about professional wrestlers making a life out on the road before AEW to being scripted (at least as far as anything in AEW is scripted) pieces of content meant to advance storylines and build characters that AEW Dynamite doesn’t have time for.
If this seems like a great release valve for that kind of thing, it isn’t. Being the Elite is a successful YouTube show, but at its peak the number of cumulative views for one of those videos has beaten or equaled night one views of AEW Dynamite a handful of times. Since the drunk Adam Page saga began, only one episode of Being the Elite has hit 200K views, meaning that the gap between an episode of that show and an episode of Dynamite is upwards of 400K every week. So it couldn’t have just been Hunktears and I who were confused about Hangman Page’s drinking problem.
But AEW hasn’t really had much of a choice—they have a massive roster, one that’s too large for the two hours of television they’ve got, and while AEW Dark tends to pull in a third of what Dynamite does, that’s a show for wrestling matches that don’t have a lot to do with plot. So venues like Being the Elite are necessary and, given that the Elite are draws, they can bet on the people who tune in to AEW for the Elite will be caught up enough on their drama that they can fill in their elderly fellow viewers like myself. It’s a bad trade-off, especially considering that episodes of Dynamite are still so overstuffed that matches and promos often feel like they’re serving seven different masters, but relief may be on the way, as tucked into the announcement that Dynamite has been renewed until 2023 was the announcement that AEW is getting more television time.
What that show is called, where it’s airing, and when it’ll debut were not in the press release, but it serves as a pretty big vote of confidence on the part of Warner Media, and confirmation that the way cable networks view ratings has changed significantly since 1998, which is where much of the coverage of the AEW/NXT “war” seems to be stuck. It’s great news for the company, even if it’ll have people like me wondering if major cable television can handle another hour or two of professional wrestling, as it gives people like me hope that, rather than cramming even more storylines into the pipeline, AEW will give their narratives the space needed to breathe and actually be seen by the majority of their audience.
That extends beyond expecting people who don’t necessarily care about the Young Bucks to watch Being the Elite to figure out Adam Page’s deal. It means that built-up, anticipated matches like Riho vs. Kris Statlander don’t have to end in a clusterfuck debut of a new member of the Nightmare Collective. It means that Cody and Dustin Rhodes can have their poignant reunion without Ten Guy crushing a chair over Cody’s head. It means that Page and Kenny Omega can have their issue while Pac tortures Omega’s pal in a different segment. It means that AEW can make hype videos that give purpose to acts like the Dark Order before they debut. It also means that wrestlers like Darby Allin and Joey Janella aren’t left off of television for weeks after having what’d otherwise be a star-making match.
On the other hand, it’ll be interesting to see if AEW continues to have issues with narrative redundancy. There are a lot of cults in AEW, and a lot of one-of-a-kind Ford muscle cars being offered as incentive for a wrestler to do something they’re unlikely to do. It feels like Cody Rhodes and SCU and Chris Jericho are involved in every single big angle in the company, and it’d be nice to see other wrestlers begin to flourish outside of that paradigm. The company has to mature with the additional airtime, or be weighed down by the narrative lapses that result from letting YouTube shows and five to seven wrestlers carry the load.
I want to believe AEW capable of that maturation, though I do so a bit selfishly. I want to watch more wrestling and less wrestlers dicking around. If that means Hangman Page bellies up to the bar on AEW Thunder or Saturday Night and pounds Jack and Cokes on picture-in-picture while Sonny Kiss or Bea Priestley or any number of wrestlers I’m interested in actually get TV time, I’m good with that. Just don’t make me watch the Young Bucks having fun with their friends, please. I can only handle them when they suffer. Please, new AEW television show, make the Jacksons suffer.