Some of professional wrestling's biggest controversies, tragedies and legendary figures are explored in the Viceland docuseries Dark Side of the Ring. Producer Evan Husney describes the show as The Blue Line meets Unsolved Mysteries meets the world of wrestling.
"We really wanted to see these crazy stories we've been obsessed with on a larger scale," he said. "We wanted to see them blown out, taking the true crime documentary-style approach and giving it to the wrestling world, which has never or rarely been given that treatment.
"We really got interested in the Bruiser Brody story. That was the one that hooked us and showed us the potential that there is a lot to uncover and that these stories can sustain an hour of television and be really cinematic."
Along with the killing of Bruiser Brody, the first season also delves into the Montreal Screwjob, "Macho Man" Randy Savage and Miss Elizabeth's roller coaster love story, the mysterious death of Gino Hernandez, the heartache that befell the Von Erich family and allegations regarding the treatment of female wrestlers by Fabulous Moolah. Husney bonded with director Jason Eisner (Hobo with a Shotgun) over the last 10 years in large part because of their love of wrestling. However, it was important for the team to maintain a journalistic approach for each of the episodes.
"Wrestling has been stigmatized in the media for years and many times been portrayed in a negative light," Husney said. "You combine that with wrestlers from this era who have been pre-programmed to withhold their secrets a bit. Family members have gone through extreme loss, so having to approach them and earn their trust, it was very challenging.
"We didn’t rush in with cameras. We really took our time to develop relationships with these people so they could understand that we are not just pure wrestling fans or nameless TV executives. We tried to be a balance of both as fan and professional. We wanted them to know they were in good hands with their story. The fact is we didn't have an agenda other than our passion for all of this stuff. We really wanted to give them the opportunity to share their story. It just took time.”
The crew worked independently without any involvement from outside entities, including WWE. Knowing this would limit them in certain departments, they arrived creatively at the idea to film reenactments to help visualize the stories. Husney admittedly wasn't able to secure everyone he wanted for the series — like Hulk Hogan, who took to social media to critique some of the details in "The Match Made in Heaven" episode.
"In terms of telling all sides of the story, we reached out to people and gave them the opportunity," Husney said. "Hulk Hogan was one of the first people we reached out to for 'Macho Man' and Elizabeth. I think it was Macho's brother Lanny Poffo first for the Randy Savage story. Hulk was number two. Unfortunately, it didn't work out and he didn't want to participate.
"Also, for that episode we tried to get Lex Luger to share his side of the story, mostly based on Eric Bischoff having Lex on his podcast. That podcast was so moving to us when we first heard it. It was actually one of the big reasons we wanted to do that episode. It was like, 'Wow, he is so honest and open about his story. That is really admirable.' We thought we would definitely be able to get him, and we actually weren't able to get him. That's why we tried to work in his voice in the podcast.”
The series is getting buzz within the industry as wrestling stars give their reviews. A big stamp of approval came at the hands of WWE superstar-turned-Hollywood heavyweight Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson.
"'The Rock' thing was blindsiding because it was so incredible. Words don't even describe getting his validation on the series," Husney recalled. "The fact he gave us as filmmakers a shoutout too just blew me away ... It's fun to see people in this business having their own takes on it and having their own opinions. That's what it was like when we were shooting it, so I didn't expect it to be any different airing it. That is one of the qualities that drew us into this project to begin with. Everyone has their version of what happens. So, it's cool to see that kind of take on its own life again after the show finished.”
Beyond the grim and despair, there is a level of optimism in many of the installments. Husney thinks about the unfathomable tragedy Kevin Von Erich, the last surviving Von Erich, has endured. Yet the retired veteran maintains an appreciative and blessed outlook on his life in Hawaii.
"It's not [that] we are manufacturing it that way, but [we're] sort of bringing it out. It is called Dark Side of the Ring," Husney said. "We didn't want it to have a tabloid feel either. We wanted it to be as human as possible."
The ambitious show called for production changes along the way, causing the team to adapt and make difficult decisions. They had to scale back and leave two episodes half done. The hope is for another season, which would be welcome given the success and social media chatter so far.
"One we did a considerable amount of work on is an episode about Dino Bravo," Husney said. "As soon as the trailer came out, people were asking about a Dino Bravo episode. If you are familiar or not familiar with the story, Dino Bravo was a hugely successful wrestler in Montreal in the 1970's. As he was getting older — by wrestling terms — in his 40's, he went to WWF and wrestled as a mid- to low-card guy.
"He didn’t really make waves in WWF. I think he was let out of his contract in 1992. Then he got involved in this crazy criminal underworld in Montreal. He was executed in his living room mafia-style while his daughter and wife were at a ballet class. We went to Montreal. Most of the episode in French, which gives the series a different kind of vibe. We uncovered new information and talked to people who have never talked before, including family members. I can’t wait to finish it.
“The second episode would be on the [WWE] Brawl for All tournament. Obviously, people got hurt and it wasn’t good. It ended a few careers. But when you compare it to stories about homicides, family tragedies, it is more on the lighter end of the spectrum. That for us was a lighter-hearted episode, so to speak. We have obligations to everyone who gave us their stories that we need to finish those two.”
Dark Side of the Ring airs Wednesdays, 9/8c, Viceland