AEW President Tony Khan was recently on the Le Batard & Friends South Beach Sessions podcast and discussed what his initial conversations with his father, Shahid Khan, about AEW were like, and how AEW is like the Curb Your Enthusiasm of wrestling (Curb famously doesn’t script out all of their dialogue and lets their actors improvise a lot of what they say). Highlights are below.
Tony Khan on his initial conversations with his father, Shahid Khan, about AEW: “The initial conversations were like, this is kind of interesting, he wasn’t really going to commit to anything. And then I had brought in my good friend Kevin Riley, who also had shown some interest in the project. Kevin is the President of WarnerMedia and is the President of TNT and TBS Networks, and Kevin is the first person I’d really approached about this idea when the TV rights for wrestling had gotten very valuable and his network was going to be looking at getting involved. They didn’t end up bidding on the WWE TV contracts to the point where they were going to be seriously considered to air RAW or Smackdown, but they had taken a look at that and done their due diligence, and I think he realized that there’s a big audience for wrestling and for live TV viewership, it’s really a great way to bring new viewers to your channel, and TNT had a great history of broadcasting wrestling going back to WCW and even before WCW to Jim Crockett Promotions and different wrestling companies out of Georgia. So really, with Kevin coming in, my Dad was, of course, interested because here’s the President of WarnerMedia, the President of these huge cable channels, TNT and TBS, and he’s showing some interest in this, so my Dad’s thinking, I think, ‘OK, I probably should show up and show some interest in this.’ He knew that when that happened, ‘OK, if the networks are taking a look at this, this must be a serious deal.'”
Tony Khan how things got tricky at the end of 2018 when AEW still had not secured a TV deal: “But where things got kind of tricky, and it’s funny, because I was actually in Miami of all places last year around Christmas time, and we had no TV deal, and I had no commitment from TNT or any other network partners that they were actually going to do this, all I had was they were definitely interested. I had no commitments from anybody really and it was going to be a big leap of faith on his part that all this stuff was going to come together, that our PPVs were going to be successful, that all these wrestlers that I believed were going to sign with us in the new year, that they would sign with us in the new year, and he ended up believing me and I was really thankful. He’s done interviews since where he said he’s really glad he took that leap of faith, because it’s worked out so well, the company has grown, but he’s been the first to admit, he was really skeptical and honestly didn’t believe it was going to work.”
Tony Khan on how worried he got when AEW did not secure a TV deal from TNT right away: “I was worried but I believed I could get them because I knew there was interest. I had heard from other TV channels that they had had serious interest in it if this hadn’t happened. I believed in the wrestling community, I believed in the wrestling fans, and I believed that this was something that everybody had been wanting for so long, for somebody who had the resources and the love of wrestling to step up and put together a roster, start a new league and do something with the production values that are really going to make people sit up and take notice. Because there hadn’t been a second major company running a live weekly television show from a different, nice arena every week. I think people have tried doing weekly TV shows that toured, and people have tried with much, much lower production values and much less of a production budget than what we have for our show, and they’ve tried taping in theme parks and stuff like that, but it just doesn’t have the same look as when you tour the country and you can run a great basketball arena like we’ve done.”
On how AEW is the Curb Your Enthusiasm of wrestling: “I think that’s kind of part of the appeal of the show, it’s old and it’s new, it’s like the newest, most exciting, fast paced, high flying wrestlers of today, and it’s new and it’s old in that, our promos are, we’re almost like the Curb Your Enthusiasm of wrestling because I really don’t believe in sending a wrestler out there with a 10 page soliloquy and a script to memorize, and I find when I watch other wrestling shows it’s often like painful to watch people talk, and sometimes these are really charismatic guys that could hold like a really, really, really interesting conversation, but they’re being force-fed dialogue that no actual human being would ever say in a realistic, conversational situation, and somehow, these guys, we’re supposed to believe them, and believe in them, and when I was a kid, I would have never gotten behind someone that was reading that kind of a script. I really believed in the charismatic wrestlers of my childhood.”
If using any of the above quotes, please credit South Beach Sessions with an h/t to 411mania.com for the transcription.