Without a doubt, AEW Dark shows that All Elite Wrestling knows how to take advantage of their space on YouTube.
Since its debut on October 8, 2019, the program has generated plenty of content and traffic for the channel. Each episode generally brings in hundreds of thousands of views, which are some pretty impressive numbers.
But it’s undergone quite a drastic change in terms of length and identity since then. Unfortunately, fans aren’t too keen on the direction the program has gone for a variety of reasons. So, it begs the question: What is up with AEW Dark?
When it first started, it aired the dark matches from the previous week’s episode of Dynamite. Back when there wasn’t a global pandemic going on (simpler times, I know), there were typically four dark matches in total. Two took place before Dynamite and the other two went on after the show was off the air.
Each episode ran anywhere from 20 minutes to over an hour, which isn’t bad by any means. But once the pandemic hit, AEW started to make some changes.
Instead of the usual four matches, we started to see ten to 16 matches on the card. The run times ballooned by default, with some recent episodes going as long as two to two and a half hours. That’s basically longer than a typical episode of SmackDown and just as long as an episode of RAW, minus all the commercial breaks.
This is where they began to run into some problems.
At first glance, it’s easy to see what AEW was trying to accomplish; they wanted to give talent not regularly featured on Dynamite a chance to get in the ring and gain experience. They also wanted a place where they could try out new ideas, such as The Waiting Room with Dr. Britt Baker D.M.D.
However, their execution is where the issues lie. The way the matches are booked is not the greatest. By taking just one look through the entire card, you know exactly who’s going to win each match before the bell even rings.
Don’t get me wrong, that’s not a knock whatsoever on any of the talent. But what’s the point of sitting through almost two and a half hours of a show where you already know the outcome beforehand?
It’s also hard to get invested when there’s little to no crowd there to keep the energy going. There’s normally a decent sized group during Dynamite, while there are only five or six people ringside for Dark.
Throw in the announce team barely paying attention to the match, and the whole program just screams “insignificant”.
On top of that, AEW’s second TV show is still in the works and will air at some point in the future. If Dark stays at the current quality once that happens, it will quickly reach the point of irrelevancy.
Even if they make more changes once the new show airs, AEW could be heading to the point of oversaturation in terms of content. However, that potential issue is a story for another day.
If they truly see this as some sort of developmental training program, is there really a need for the general public to see it week after week?
AEW clearly still has a long way to go to improve Dark in its current format. However, just a few simple fixes could get things back on track.
A good first step is spicing up the card. Instead of clear one-sided affairs, put together more competitive matches where you really don’t know who’s going to win. Those kinds of matchups always generate plenty of entertaining and engaging action.
They could also create some feuds that make fans want to tune in each Tuesday. For the most part, Dark matches are just thrown together with no real direction. Instead, take some talent not regularly seen on Dynamite, throw some promo work into the mix, and start some rivalries that can get viewers invested.
Next, bring the announcers’ focus back to what’s going on inside the ring. All they need to do is strike the right balance of lightheartedness and attentiveness to the matches they’re calling.
Finally, add more people into the crowd—especially the energy of Gunn Club—to bring some life into the place. Then you’ll have a program that gives fans a taste of what they can expect the following night on Dynamite.
Perhaps AEW Dark will improve once regular live shows resume, but that sadly isn’t happening any time soon. Until then, simple steps like the ones mentioned above could help move it in the right direction. It undoubtedly has the potential to be on par with its sister show on Wednesday nights.
If done correctly, having two—and potentially three—high quality programs could help AEW deal yet another blow to their competition up in Stamford, Connecticut.