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David Sahadi & Kevin Sullivan Interview
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When David Sahadi and I last did an interview it was around the time TNA Wrestling made its debut on Spike TV in 2005. Since then the promotion has added new talent in the ring and in the front office. So I felt it was the right time to talk with him about the overall product and his book “Last Call of the Gods.” This time we are joined by David’s colleague from WWE and currently TNA Wrestling Kevin Sullivan. Due to their busy editing schedule this was conducted via email but is 100% unedited. Before we get to talking with David let’s get some background on Kevin.

 

Alan J. Wojcik: Thanks for taking time for this interview Kevin. Where did you go to college and how did life eventually lead you to join the WWE? What were you hired on as and what did you initially think of the organization?

 

Kevin Sullivan: I graduated from San Diego State University with Journalism major in 1995.  After working at Fox Sports in L.A. for three years I wanted to take the next step in my career.  I applied and accepted a job at CNN in Atlanta.  After going over that move in my head, I figured I would reach out to WWE.  The rest is history.   I was hired as a promo producer and had a very rewarding experience.  I got paid to do my job and I did it well.  I've given 110% at all the places I’ve worked during my 11 year career.  WWE is not the end all and be all, but unfortunately many people start and end their careers there, only experiencing one perspective of the business.  There are other things outside the world of wrestling.

 

Alan J. Wojcik: What were your first impressions of David Sahadi and how do you think he has changed from WWE to working for TNA Wrestling?

 

Kevin Sullivan: He is still the same guy.  Dave likes a shot of espresso in the afternoon and a glass of red wine at night.  He loves the business and is very dedicated, and people at TNA thrive off his energy.

 

Alan J. Wojcik: I asked David a few of these questions and I am curious to see your answers. What are your memories of working with the McMahon family, if you wish to generalize them or speak about each individual?

 

Kevin Sullivan: I think they are lucky.  They all have the same desire to make WWE the most dominant company in America.  Passion for your work is a great thing to have….

 

Alan J. Wojcik: Were there any members of the talent roster that you really liked working with and were there any that you cringed each time they were involved in a shoot?

 

Kevin Sullivan: Kurt (Angle) was always great.  It was a pleasant surprise to see him again in Nashville, TN.  I actually worked with him on one of the last spots I directed, Kurt Patriot.

 

Alan J. Wojcik: What was your interaction level with the announcing teams of Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler on RAW, Michael Cole and Tazz on Smackdown? Could you elaborate on working with them if you did?

 

Kevin Sullivan: Little to none.  Michael worked out of the TV studio.  He was always a nice guy.

 

Alan J. Wojcik: This past month saw the return of Vince Russo to TNA Wrestling. Looking back to WWE, what was is like working with Vince and Ed Ferrera during the Monday Night Wars?

 

Kevin Sullivan: I didn't really interact with either.  I have high hopes for Vince and expect a lot.  I think he has some strong ideas that will really help TNA.  I have a lot of respect for Mike Tenay, Scotty, JB, and Dutch.  No matter who writes the show I know that TNA is going to put on a kick ass 60 minutes of TV. 

 

Alan J. Wojcik: From his two interviews we know why David left WWE. What led to your departure and your eventual arrival in TNA Wrestling? What were your initial impressions to the Orlando crowd and the six sided ring?

Kevin Sullivan: I left WWE because I wanted to move back to California.  After two years, a few phone calls and an offer from TNA, my wife and I were ready to make the move to Nashville.  Too much traffic in L.A.  The crowd in Orlando is always hungry for TNA.  They will always be the heart and soul of TNA and they are the reason TNA is on Spike TV today.  I think that the six sided ring looks cutting edge, new, hip...all those 'young' words.  The other rings look classic and old.

Alan J. Wojcik: Let’s get to David for a moment. I was one of the first people to read your novel. I found it enjoyable and we talked about its subject matter in the last interview. What was some of the feedback you received on the book and is there another in the works?

David Sahadi: The feedback from those who have read it has been incredibly positive. Most speak of being inspired or touched in some way, and that gives me tremendous joy. I guess it resonates with many who feel their lives lack substance in our current manic, materialistic culture.

Kevin Sullivan: David is a great writer.  His writing is very visual and that's why he is so successful with cold opens and promos.  I bought the book, but have never read it. 

Alan J. Wojcik: While I was in Nashville for the 2005 NWA National convention I spent an afternoon with you two jokers as you did prep work for an Impact taping. Could each of you describe a typical day when you are not at TV taping or a PPV event?

David Sahadi: The weeks of a TV taping are pretty intense. Kevin leaves Orlando Monday night with the tapes of the first show while Andrew Thomas and I head back Tuesday morning. Upon landing it’s right to the edit room. We cut packages, time the show and add graphics and transitions. The first show is sent to Spike Wednesday night. Then on Thursday we begin editing the second show. During the other two weeks, well, if there is an upcoming PPV I usually head to Nashville for a couple of days to prepare and cut the cold open. If there is no PPV then I go hiking!

Kevin Sullivan: You actually witnessed the true growing pains of TNA TV production.  Promos, packages, marketing presentations, comp reels, show edits, graphic design, DVD packages...there isn't a day or an hour when there's not something being produced by our team.  Simon Edwards recently joined us from WWE.  His work is outstanding.  Jeremy Borash has been with TNA from the beginning and single handedly used to tackle TNA production on his own...I can't even imagine. Andrew Thomas is the glue.  He works his ass off, day in and day out and never says a word.  Moody Jack can slice and dice like no other.  His packages make you stand up.  Karl White just started in wrestling and has a bright future with TNA.  Last but not least, Jim Morris, our show editor.  He is the reason Impact makes it to air on Thursdays. We all jump hurdles, sacrifice our social lives, and put TNA number one on our list of things to do.  We don't have a TV studio, associate producers, or people to run out and get us lunch.  TNA TV consists of 8 people.  That's everything; Promos, International, Domestic, Marketing, Graphics, and DVD.    

Alan J. Wojcik: Several new people have joined the TNA Wrestling roster since we last talked and Kevin can add some thoughts to all of these questions. Let’s talk about each of them beginning with the former Dudley trio now called Team 3D. How have they changed since you last saw them in the WWE?

David Sahadi: Team 3D seem more intense and passionate than they were before. They believe in themselves and they believe in the product and they feel they can help take TNA to another level.

Kevin Sullivan: Hungry.  Passionate.  They have left a mark in this business, now they want to leave their legacy in TNA!

Alan J. Wojcik: Summer of 2005 saw the arrival of the “Samoan Submission Machine” Samoa Joe and his still going undefeated streak. How do you feel he has adjusted from working for a mostly DVD based Ring of Honor audience to working on international PPV?

David Sahadi: Joe is one of those guys who have the “it” factor. It is an intangible that eludes description. His presence, his instincts, his athleticism are just amazing. I truly believe he is the next big break-out star in the industry. People will be talking about Samoa Joe for a long, long time.

Kevin Sullivan: Joe has "it."  There's no bullshit with Joe.  What you see is what you get.  When it's all said and done Samoa Joe, Stone Cold, The Rock....they will all be on the same list.

Alan J. Wojcik: Another person who came over from the WWE was the “War Machine” Rhino. What were your feelings when he arrived after his personal family issues made national news and a few weeks ago were used in a storyline with Christian Cage?

David Sahadi: I really didn’t work with Rhino at WWE. It was actually at a Fozzy concert in Chattanooga two years ago that I was formally introduced to Rhino and I must confess I was very intimidated. His look, his demeanor, his presence…he just had this air about him. But once he came to TNA I quickly realized what a genuine and nice guy he is. He is intense, dedicated, and most importantly, cares. I have no problem with his personal life being used in a storyline. It’s real, it means a lot to him and if he didn’t want to go there he wouldn’t. Nobody forced him to. I actually like when storylines are based in reality. I think it enhances the believability and credibility of the product.

Kevin Sullivan: Everybody has family issues.  The McMahon’s use family issues in storylines all the time.  What's the difference? Everything that Rhino says comes from the heart.  He is passionate about this business and his family.

Alan J. Wojcik: Speaking of Cage he debuted at Genesis 2005 to a thunderous ovation. What do you think has gone right for him in TNA that went wrong in the other promotion?

David Sahadi: Christian Cage is such a talented performer and exudes loads of charisma. I think just being able to be in the spotlight and being able to simply be who he wanted to be is why he is so successful in TNA. He was kept behind some long shadows in the other promotion. He has emerged from them in TNA and is really starting to blossom.

Kevin Sullivan: Who knows what happened up north.  Who cares?  Christian is a star.  Someday when TNA and WWE are looking each other eye to eye, Cage will be one of the reasons why. 

Alan J. Wojcik: Cage’s arrival was followed by the return of Sting/Steve Borden who had done some of the Nashville weekly PPV’s. Your production staff was charged with running the hype machine so to speak. What was his overall attitude towards the promotion and what was he like to work with?

David Sahadi: When I first met Sting this past January I was very nervous. He was a huge legend and I had never worked with him before. And I wasn’t sure if he was familiar with or even a fan of my work. But those anxieties vanished five minutes after working with him. Steve Borden is a class act, a consummate professional and cares greatly about both his personal image and the product as a whole. He wants TNA to achieve heights it’s never reached before. He has a vision and is eager to receive feedback. He is a tremendous role model, too. We are very fortunate to have him full-time in TNA. 

Kevin Sullivan: Sting is one of the most recognizable stars in this business.  I've worked with all the big stars and I can honestly say that Sting is truly a professional.  He knows what we are trying to do and why

Alan J. Wojcik: While working with Kevin, Andrew Thomas and Moody Jack Melendez on production David you have transitioned into the directing seat, for Impact and the PPV’s. I saw you after your first time in the seat, talk about this experience and any feedback you received.

David Sahadi: Directing a live show is unlike anything I have ever done. Talk about a non-stop adrenaline rush! Most of my career I have been a film director, producing commercials, opens, character vignettes and promotional campaigns. In that world, you have one single camera and you create a scene one shot at a time, bringing your own personal vision to life. With film you write the story. But in live directing you became the narrator of the story, so to speak. You are reacting instead of acting, since you can’t control or direct the characters of the play. It’s right brain versus left brain thinking. It has been the biggest challenge I have faced in my professional career. When you are “live” time races as well as stands still. Every moment becomes measured in seconds and even nanoseconds. You also realize just how important every one on the crew is. The whole is truly greater than the some of its parts. One day, once I have become a seasoned veteran, I hope to re-think and revolutionize the way a live wrestling show is presented.

Alan J. Wojcik: You and TNA were put into a dangerous position during the Hard Justice PPV when the building scaffold suffered a small fire. Being in the audience I have my own memories of the experience. What was it like being in the truck during the accident and after effect?

David Sahadi: It was kinda fun in an odd sort of way. It felt like breaking news on CNN! I knew there was no immediate danger to anyone in the arena and the fire marshals were just being prudently cautious, but I truly didn’t know for a while there if the show would continue. Watching a whole bunch of guys - beginning with producer Keith Mitchell - just start to make decisions on the fly, and seeing talent cut unscripted, entertaining promos, was amazing.

Kevin Sullivan: Jeff and I were shooting some film ID's for BFG.  When we found out what was going on, Jeff ran out to take control of the situation.  What a night!  The truck kicked ass....hats off to Keith Mitchell.

Alan J. Wojcik: David and I have talked in confidence about the personal struggles Jeff Jarrett has endured off camera which I will never air in public. Do you think he is doing better, worse or the same since our last interview?

David Sahadi: The amount of class and dignity Jeff Jarrett carries himself with when he is off camera is absolutely amazing. I don’t know how he does it. I keep thinking, how anyone’s shoulders can be big enough to bear the burden of all the challenges he has in his personal life, yet he does it day in and day out. I know most fans on the internet don’t want to hear this but Jeff truly is a leader among men and a champion of life. Fortunately things are starting to get better and I believe that is testament to Jeff’s character. He is an extremely positive person and believes strongly in the power of such thinking. Through it all he also maintains a deep, undying trust in his faith. Those two things have carried him through the toughest of tough times. 

Alan J. Wojcik: Before I left for vacation the internet leaked the return of Vince Russo to TNA Wrestling in a writing capacity, working with Jeff Jarrett and Dutch Mantel. What are your feelings on his return and the sudden apparent removal of Scott D’amore, Mike Tenay and Jeremy Borash from creative?

David Sahadi: Talk about a mixed bag of emotions. First off being involved with creative is like being a carton of milk: you know you are stamped with an expiration date, and it’s just a matter of time. I am both a fan and a friend of Scott D’amore, Mike Tenay and JB, and also enjoyed their work. A lot of great ideas and stories were born between them. But I also have tremendous faith in Vince Russo. He is incredibly creative, thinks outside the box, doesn’t get enough credit for his impact on the business in the nineties and also takes a lot of unfair heat for bad ideas that he had absolutely nothing to do with. On a side note, it never seemed fair to me that so many people made so much money and fame during wrestling’s last great boom in the late nineties, yet here was Vince Russo, an integral catalyst of that boom, until recently living a difficult, humble life, having reaped none of the rewards. Of course Vince is a changed man now, a man of faith and he will be the first to tell you that he didn’t want sympathy, that everything was unfolding to a greater plan. As far as the current make-up of the creative team, it’s an interesting dynamic right now. Each member is has great ability, confidence and creativity. And each is very unique with completely different perspectives. If egos are put aside and diversity is integrated and meshed, the result has the potential to be outstanding, fresh and new.

Alan J. Wojcik: While I was on vacation TNA scored what many are calling a bigger coup then signing Sting, the signing of 1996 Olympic gold medalist Kurt Angle. Having worked with him before on projects like the Royal Rumble 2003 and WrestleMania 20 commercial shoots what was his physical and mental condition; do you think he is coming back to wrestling too soon?

David Sahadi: Wow! Unbelievable! That’s all I thought when I first heard the news. And part of me still didn’t believe it was true until the very moment I saw a beaming Dixie Carter escort Kurt Angle to our warehouse location in Nashville for a late-night shoot. Kurt was like a kid on Christmas morning. And there was emotion on both sides. Kevin and I had worked with Kurt many times in the past and I never saw him so energized and enthused. He is happy to be here. He feels this is part of his destiny and that of TNA. He wants to be the franchise guy that straps a company on his back and leads it to the “Promised Land.” I think he also feels he has something to prove, to his fans and to himself. He can’t wait to get back into the ring and the dream match-ups in TNA are endless. It’s going to be a great ride for all of us. As far as whether or not he is coming back too soon, well only Kurt can answer that. I think the answer is no. The schedule here at TNA is much lighter than he’s used to. He will never be put in a compromising position. And there’s a great internal support system here. I think he will heal, rise and carry us all to new heights.

Alan J. Wojcik: Spike TV made an announcement they will be moving Impact to 9pm on Thursday nights beginning in November. Do you think this could be risky going head to head with Nielsen rated #1 show CSI and ESPN College Football?

David Sahadi: Life is about taking risks. On every level. Yes, the competition will be stiff, but it just challenges us all to put out the best quality product we can. Hopefully, current fans will be pleased and a lot of new viewers will be impressed and embrace it.

Kevin Sullivan: I think it's a different audience.  9pm opens so many doors for TNA.  Our audience will grow no doubt about it.

Alan J. Wojcik: In closing what do you guys see happening with TNA. Do you see the promotion becoming a full time touring group leaving Orlando behind; do you see ever going head to head with WWE?

David Sahadi: To quote Bruce Lee, “no way as way…no limitation as limitation”. That is the spirit of TNA. With great imagination, anything and everything is possible. If we know no limitations, just think of what can be... 

 

Kevin Sullivan: Bigger and better things are on the horizon.  As far as going head to head with WWE, why not?  I'm currently looking to expand my production team by 5 or 6 people and I can tell you that Kurt isn't the only one looking to jump ship.

 

Thanks to David and Kevin for taking time out of their day to do this interview. For more information on TNA check out their site www.tnawrestling.com where you can read David’s column called “The Spirit of Wrestling.”