‘Dark Side of the Ring’ Producer on Gaining Unprecedented Access for Filming
The Dark Side of the Ring has tackled some of the most controversial stories in pro wrestling history like never before. Now, VICE TV’s most watched series returns for Season 2 with a two-hour episode on Chris Benoit. In 2007, the top superstar sent shockwaves when he killed wife Nancy and young son Daniel before hanging himself, which changed the business forever.
Some of the intriguing episodes will also delve into the murder of Dino Bravo, Owen Hart’s stunt that led to his untimely demise, and the death of Jimmy Snuka’s girlfriend, Nancy Argentino. Other topics include the “Brawl for All” tournament, New Jack, David Schultz’s much-talked about encounter with a 20/20 reporter, UWF promoter Herb Abrams, and the Legion of Doom’s Hawk and Animal.
Chris Jericho Crowned First All Elite Wrestling Champion, Capping off Historic 'All Out' Pay-Per-View
Adding narration to the show is AEW’s Chris Jericho. A new after-show featuring a panel of guests from the wrestling and other parts of the entertainment realm will be hosted by comedian and wrestling fan Chris Gethard, and airs immediately after each episode.
Ahead of the premiere, we sat down with producer and writer Evan Husney to talk piecing the season together.
What did you learn about last season that you kept in mind this time around?
Evan Husney: We were trying to figure out what the show was about in Season 1 as we were making it. As we figured out the format, how we wanted things and our interactions, I think we used all of that to apply to the bigger stories in the world of wrestling. We wanted to approach the big marquee stories that fit right in with the themes we explore in our show. Stories that have impacted wrestling in the last several decades.
It’s incredible the access you managed to acquire for these episodes. For the Chris Benoit one in particular, you managed to have his son David and Nancy’s sister Sandra Toffoloni on board. Was it easier to gain trust this season knowing what you had done in the past?
It was a little easier in terms of getting people on board because we had something we could point to. We had work people could go out and watch. The first time we didn’t have that. It was more of a struggle. For the Benoit episode specifically, none of it would have been possible, in terms of access and building trust, without the participation of Chavo Guerrero Jr. Chavo was somebody I met almost two years ago now, and we started talking about this project. Chavo was instrumental into introducing us to a lot of people in the episode — Vickie Guerrero, Sandra, David, Chris Jericho. He came on board the project as a producer, but he was instrumental in terms of giving us access to the inner circle of the story. That was the way we wanted to tell that story, and without him, I don’t know we could have done that.
You talk about instrumental, Chris Jericho is a pretty integral part of the episode. He is also the narrator for Season 2. How did he become attached to this project?
It was pretty informal in terms of getting him on board. We had just done his interview for the Chris Benoit episode. I was standing in his kitchen asking him his thoughts of narrating season two. He said, “Yeah, I’d be really into that.” That was pretty much it. This season is a Canadian production, where last year was not. We had to secure a Canadian citizen to be the narrator for the show. It’s perfect, it all aligned that way. Chris has been great. We actually just recorded with him to put some VO on some of the upcoming episodes. He has been fantastic to work with. He knows so much about all these stories already and learning new things. It’s awesome. He is fun to collaborate with, so we’re excited to be working with him.
There are so many stories that have been told before and others that maybe fans today, and even older, aren’t so familiar with. Were you trying to find a balance in your choice of topics?
We definitely tried to keep a balance while hitting the big stories. We wanted to look at them from different vantage points. We also wanted to mix in some episodes that were a little deeper cut for some of the die hard wrestling fans. One of those that I think will be a treat for fans will be the one we’re doing on Herb Abrams and the UWF. A story of a wrestling fan turned promoter who tried to basically tried to start his own wrestling promotion in the late ‘80s to challenge WWF. It was this big-time dreamer who had these lofty goals and had money to pull it off. It pretty much became one of the most spectacular disaster stories in wrestling. Not many fans know the real story of that ill-fated federation. That’s going to be really entertaining for people.
One of the newsworthy episodes will certainly be the one on Owen Hart. You managed to engage the participation of his widow Martha. That couldn’t have been easy. What was that process like?
There is no way we would have attempted to do the story without her. It was definitely one of the episodes I think wrestling fans have wanted to see the most. We really wanted to make it happen. I basically wrote her a cold email introducing myself and telling her about the show. She responded to me and wrote out these 10 questions that were super well thought out. It was answering questions about me, the background of the show, what we were looking to do and the story we wanted to tell. It was amazing.
Essentially, I worked on responding to her for two weeks and writing this full essay, which was amazing because it made me try to discover what I wanted to say with the story and how I wanted to approach the story. I sent that to her. That prompted a meeting. I flew out to Calgary and spent an entire evening with her and her son Oje. It went super well. She really wanted to tell this story. She had been wanting to tell her side of the story. It just went off from there. They are as cool can be, and we had a great time together. I think the episode is going to be fantastic.
You touch on some heavy topics as the title suggests. What do you say to those who might argue you’re opening up old wounds and bringing negative attention to the wrestling business?
I think there is so much to unpack with these stories that has never been discussed and processed. A lot of these more tragic stories have been kind of swept under the rug. With Dark Side of the Ring, we don’t approach it like a wrestling hit piece because we’re die hard wrestling fans. We grew up fans and still love it and watch it. We would never want to damage wrestling in that way. Most of the stories we’re looking at transcend wrestling.
They’re human stories of what these families and other wrestlers had to endure and, in most cases, overcome. For us, it’s more about examining that. I also feel the themes, especially with the premiere episode about Chris Benoit, is a lot of that story is unprocessed for a lot of people. There is an important conversation to be had around a lot of the elements of that story. That’s what we want to try and do, be that platform so wrestling fans and people involved can have some element of closure on some of these issues. I think we made our best effort to do that with a lot of them.
You see that with family members, even last season’s Bruiser Brody episode. What is it like for you to see the show have a tangible impact?
That’s the best part for me personally. There is this relationship we have developed with the family members the last couple of years. We’re still in touch with a lot of them today. It’s one of the most rewarding aspects of making the show. For example David Benoit, Chris Benoit’s son from another marriage, after doing the interview, which was a very emotional and heavy interview. He remarked to us how much he felt a weight was lifted from him and that he was able to share his story. It kind of seemed to be one of the first times he ever had to explain his side in full detail in that way. Albeit an emotional experience, but that is one of the rewarding aspects of being able to connect on that human level while we’re making that show.
If or when there is a Season 3, what other topics do you want to dig into?
The next episode I would love to do if given the opportunity after this season would be looking to explore the WCW event in North Korea. That’s what I would want to do next.
Dark Side of the Ring, Season 2 Premiere, Tuesday, March 24, 9/8c