In part two of our incredibly in-depth conversation with Dark Side of the Ring producer Evan Husney, we dive into the Chris Benoit episodes that took the wrestling world by storm and set Vice TV ratings, the research process for the Benoit story, developing a relationship with David Benoit and Chavo Guerrero Jr. Also, we get Husney’s thoughts on a Hulk Hogan documentary, future projects, and more!

This season obviously, you kicked off the season with the Chris Benoit episodes, which were the talk of the wrestling world. What was the research process like for that? Because rightfully so, you guys told three stories to tell that one story. You told Eddie, Nancy, and Benoit’s story to properly tell the murder/suicide tale.

“That was definitely the longest research period, I guess, that and Brody because Brody was our pilot episode. That was the proof of concept story that we did back in 2017. That was the first episode we ever made, and that was the only time we had to focus on one episode of the show, whereas any other circumstances, we’ve pretty much been working on all episodes at the same time. So for the Benoit episode, that again was supposed to be something that was going to be in season one. Obviously, if you’re going to make a show about exploring some of the more controversial moments in wrestling, the Benoit story is definitely at the top of that list.

It was something that we talked about doing for season one. We made some minor inroads in trying to put it together, but I’m so glad that we didn’t because we were not ready for that. Again, going back to street cred, I don’t think we had enough or any street cred to approach the folks involved in that story to begin to try and tell this. So after season one was done, there was a little bit of a hiatus period because Vice didn’t air season one right away, we were basically waiting several months to find out when our show was going to go on the air. During that period, we never envisioned a season 2. For whatever reason, it just wasn’t in the cards, or in our line of sight at that time.

While we were making season one, we made acquaintances with Chavo Guerrero Jr., and I had started to talk to Chavo. He’s a great guy. Super down to earth. Just great. I can’t put him over enough. We started talking about the idea of doing this story, and we had shown him the Bruiser Brody episode. He dug it and then started to see that maybe we could do this together. But it wasn’t in the cards for season one. But we still kept in touch with Chavo, and then, I think it was probably in the months after making season one, and before it was going to air, in that period of time, we started developing the Chris Benoit story as a project that we could perhaps take somewhere else. That we would make as its own standalone documentary or documentary series, maybe as a HBO or Netflix thing.

So in that whole period, we had researched for about five months on that story. Pretty thoroughly. And we were thinking about who we would want to talk to. How we would want to approach the story, reading any materials we could, or watching any materials that we could. So we were really prepared, and when the conversation for season two happened, it was like, “Okay, let’s do it.” If we were going to do it, we need more than an hour. There was no possible way we could tell this story in an hour. We were basically trying to bargain to get a second hour, and it required a little salesmanship, but they let us do it. And then we were off to the races. As soon as season two was greenlit, we were pretty much off to the races in terms of trying to get access to all of the folks that you see on there, and Chavo was instrumental in introducing us to most everyone you see in those episodes.”

Chavo WWE Cruiserweight champ

Yeah, you mentioned in the Jericho podcast, he was instrumental in getting Jericho for you guys.

“(Laughs) I mean, Jericho reminded us a couple of times during the whole making of this that if it weren’t for Chavo, “I wouldn’t be doing this.” Also, the other thing was there were other documentaries that were being made about this story. And it was like, the timing of that was perfect because it was also like…”

Beat them to the punch?

“Not necessarily beating them to the punch. More so, just like, if other people are going to tell the story, we can come together and tell our story. By our, I mean Chavo, Jericho, Sandra, David, and everyone who’s involved in it. So I think that was kind of a motivation for people to want to tell the story. If other people are gonna tell it, let’s try and do it as definitive and from the heart as we can.”

I’m curious, what was the hesitancy on Vice’s part in giving you two hours for Benoit?

“Um, maybe just not the familiarity with the story when we were pitching it, and it being outside of the format of the show. I mean, it wasn’t major hesitancy. You know, when they want ten episodes of a show, they’re thinking that they are getting ten different stories. And, of course, if they’re giving us two hours, it’s more like nine. I guess it’s just trying to put that into context, I guess, and it wasn’t like a major struggle or anything. It just needed to be a conversation, which, of course, they let us do.”

One of the things that’s very clear, especially in the Benoit episodes, is you talk to a select few individuals to really tell the story. It’s not crowded with names. Other documentaries can often include people for the sake of it, which is something you guys don’t do.  

“Yeah, that’s always kind of been a thing we’ve wanted to do with the show, is to keep it more intimate. Well, there’s two reasons (laughs). One is we only have so much budget to fly to so many different places. Also, that kind of confines us in a way to really get the people that are the most important, and to try and keep it as intimate as possible. I know with the Bruiser Brody episode, that was something that was really important to us. To keep it to a very particular amount of people, just for the sake of intimacy.”

What was the most challenging part of the whole Benoit project, do you think?

“The most challenging is just getting everybody on board to tell the story. I mean, just gaining access and developing relationships. It just takes time. Nothing that we blame anyone for. We spent time with David Benoit, well before we filmed. We had several conversations with Sandra before we filmed. Taking Chavo Guerrero’s lead on a lot of stuff, and just trying to earn that trust, and develop relationships with people because we are all in this together to tell this story. That and taking the time and putting it all together. Then, of course, for us, the challenge is always, “Well, this is the biggest story in wrestling. It’s a big responsibility to be telling this story,” so you want to make sure that hopefully, we can do this justice as well. While being under a deadline.”

Chris Benoit & Eddie

I think David (Benoit) comes across so well in the documentary. Even him praising Chris Benoit, you can’t criticise it because you understand where he’s coming from.

“Absolutely. We always wanted to have David be in the show. I remember attending a Starrcast event in Las Vegas last year, and he was there, just as a fan. I just remember seeing him and immediately thinking, “I’m just so curious on his perspective on this whole story.” I hadn’t really seen him talk about it. It was just a vital thing for us. I think to want to have that perspective on the show. Yeah, it was obviously not an easy interview for him to do. It was something he went back and forth on a lot, and to his credit, he wanted to suss us out and check us out well before doing it. So we invited him here up to Toronto where we make the show, and we spent a weekend with David, essentially hanging out, playing video games, playing GoldenEye (laughs), and just getting to know one another before either one of us opened up to tell the story or to talk about what we wanted to do.

I just commend him so much for being so brave to do it because, I mean, I think that it was clear to us that while he was telling his story, he hadn’t really spoken to anybody much about this before. It was a very therapeutic, cathartic experience for him, I think, but for the better. In the times I’ve talked to him since, like when we went backstage at ALL OUT, Jericho even noticed, who’s known David for a while. He seems like a weights been lifted off of him, and he seems like he’s standing up a little more straight, and that was great to see having this whole experience. Not just the episode being released, but the process of talking about it more has had a positive effect on him. I think that’s great to see.”

Yeah, and that’s amazing to see because you’re able to kind of give a happy ending to that story, which I didn’t think was possible.

“Yeah, well, that was one of the things that we didn’t know going into this. I hadn’t known that Chris (Jericho) had connected both of them, and that was something that came to light as we were talking to these folks. And then, just organically, outside of us, Sandra and David had made plans to be in Chicago together to go to that show, and that be their first time that they would be in the same room with each other since 2007. Obviously, as a producer of television, that’s something that makes you go, “Wow, that’s gonna be an amazing thing to capture.” So then it was kind of like, we didn’t want to do the cheesy reunion, and insert ourselves in their private moment, which they deserved to have when they first see each other. But we really wanted to try and tag along to the experience of when they go to the show together because it is really amazing to see that through these tragic events, these two can come together and they can even watch wrestling, and still be fans. It’s pretty wild.”

Yeah, it’s almost like a full circle thing.

“Right.”

Dark Side of the RIng S2 E2

We all know WWE has almost rinsed their hands of Benoit, and he’s not to be spoken of. Did you ever have any sort of interaction with anyone from WWE as far as not talking about Benoit or anything like that?

“No, nothing really from WWE on that. I think, just because being a publicly-traded company and the complications of this story within a corporation, there’s not much I’m sure that they can say about this story. Which has had a trickle effect of having this story be suppressed and becoming more taboo, and I think it’s just kind of a net effect of that. I think that a lot of folks involved, they haven’t spoken about it, and it’s something that there has never been an avenue for them to talk about it. One thing that was apparent to us in first talking to people involved in this story was that they wanted to share their side of the story. They’ve been carrying this around, and it’s been something that’s been very difficult to come to terms with.

I think because of that, it’s finally something that people involved in the story can talk about, and I think that’s just a positive thing. I think people would have a tendency to say, “Why dig up these old wounds?” I think there’s a lot people can learn, and I do think there is a lot that in this tragedy, that people can come together as you see at the end of the episode, but also that it might be inspiring to somebody who’s experienced grief and loss on a monumental scale. To find out that there is life at the end of the tunnel. I think those are the stories that people should talk about, and people should see because I think it’s better in that way to have a positive, constructive conversation about it rather than a destructive conversation.”

You’ve mentioned previously some of the “Hollywood” people you’ve dealt with in the industry have not been very receptive towards wrestling. How important was it for you to show wrestling in a more respectful way, so the people you’re working with don’t think of it as a silly industry?

“Well, Jason, the director of the show, he and I have been wrestling fans ever since we were kids, still are. We find ourselves spending way too much money on action figures every week, and that’s still a part of our everyday routine.”

I’m with you there by the way.

“(Laughs)”

My shelf is just full of Mattel figures (laughs).

“Exactly, exactly. So even though we’re exploring stories that are on the darker side, I mean, not all of them are. Most of them are for sure, but those just happen to be the more compelling human stories from within the world. I mean, we’re just as fascinated with this side of the business as most of the hardcore fans are as well. Wanting to know more, and wanting to know what happened in these incidents because, like I said before, sometimes it’s more interesting. So I think we always wanted to try and approach the show from a position point of passion for the industry, which we do have. Hopefully, that comes through, but that’s always guided us in terms of wanting to make the show. And this show is not an easy show to make. It’s been challenging on a number of different levels, but the thing that always kind of keeps us going every day is our passion for wrestling because if we didn’t have that, we’d be making a show about something else.”

Yeah, I understand. I actually interviewed Fulvio Cecere last year, the director of the 350 Days documentary, and he was the furthest thing from a wrestling fan. However, once he took on the project, he felt this responsibility to help others understand what this business truly is.

“Yeah, and I think for us it’s like we’ve been able to live out so many of our fantasies and dreams as wrestling fans, which has been such a cool opportunity to be in the same room as some of these people. The Road Warriors episode this season is definitely more or less an excuse for us to get some shoulder pads made from our costume department. That’s literally why we’re doing it (laughs). No, no (laughs). At the same time, it’s been so great to get to know a lot of these guys as the people they are, and not just as the characters they played on TV, and that’s been really cool.”

Road Warriors WWF

Have you seen a shift in the mainstream perspective of wrestling? I feel like it’s certainly better than say ten or fifteen years ago. Perhaps not a huge change, but still a change.

“I would say not huge. It’s definitely become a bit more mainstream for sure, now that it’s kind of firmly positioned itself as entertainment, and, of course, the fact that you have big stars like John Cena and Dwayne Johnson. People that truly, truly transcend the sport. So I think that it has. But like I said when we talked to Chris Jericho, our experience in Hollywood, trying to get projects made – we’ve tried to get other scripted or non-scripted projects made. It just always seems like one of those things that’s still stigmatised, and we find that across the board. Even our experience with Vice to some extent, like in the very beginning, there was scepticism around wrestling being a niche thing or ratings not meaning much in the wrestling world because wrestling fans don’t translate to advertising dollars or things like that. I think there is that stigma. But now that wrestling is on major networks, TNT, FOX, and USA, it is becoming a bigger thing than it was in the last fifteen years, for sure.”

You mentioned ratings. You guys, set the Vice record, I believe for combined platform viewings of the Benoit episodes, right?

“I guess so (laughs).

That must be vindication for you guys, and wrestling in general?

“Yes, it is because I don’t think Vice ever imagined they would be in the “wrestling business” ever. I don’t think that was something they ever thought would be a part of their DNA, and it is funny because it wasn’t an overnight thing, in terms of them wanting to make the show. There was a lot of salesmanship. There were a lot of times where it was absolutely dead in the water as a project. Not only before we ever filmed anything, but after we filmed our pilot. After we filmed our first season (laughs). It was definitely always a fight. Always an uphill battle to get folks to champion and believe that this show can bring in an audience. So, of course, seeing that there is an audience, and people are interested in these stories, and I want to also be clear, it’s not just wrestling fans. We are hearing from a lot of people that don’t really care about it (wrestling), but are absolutely hooked, by the magnitude of these stories because they’re so fascinating and unlike anything in any other arena.”

My elder brother is not a wrestling fan, but the Benoit episode had him hooked. And if I’m honest, I think Vice should thank you guys because I had never heard of Vice before this, so…

“(Laughs) Yeah, so there you go.”

I spoke to Rory Karpf, who directed the Ric Flair ESPN 30 for 30 a few years ago, and he said there has never been a definitive Hulk Hogan documentary. Is that something you’d love to explore if given the chance?

“Me?”

Hulk Hogan WWE Crown Jewel

Yeah, you guys. Considering he’s had quite the up and down journey in recent years.

“I would love to see a Hulk Hogan documentary, but I’m sure what Rory’s thinking is, it would have to be one-hundred-percent truth on Hogan. If it was just Hogan and Vince in there, that’s all I would put in it (laughs). The two of them (laughs). But, yeah, it’s been a wild ride I’m sure with his career and everything. I think Dwayne Johnson has eclipsed wrestling in a lot of ways. Some people don’t even know he was a wrestler. That’s how big he is. But I still think that Hulk Hogan is still the name that is most associated with wrestling out of anyone else, and I think that there is a story to tell with him. I think Rory would be great to do it because usually, we don’t really dive into bio stories. Our episodes aren’t really telling people’s full A to Z stories. We kind of focus on little fragments or one story.

I think Rory would do a great job of just immersing himself in there, but just from what I know, it would be some hard waters to navigate on what is separating fact from fiction in that story for sure.”

I think sometimes Hulk maybe has a tendency to blur the lines if you will.

“Well, not just that, but I think with every other facet of it too. With everybody else and everything. But yeah, I think the real story of Hulk Hogan would be very, very compelling.”

Is there anything that you maybe haven’t covered that you’d like to look into in the future?

“Yes, definitely. There is a lot of episodes that we’ve had on the wish list. We’ve considered some, some we’ve tried to do, and we haven’t been able to get people to sign on to. A lot of those stories, we’re kind of keeping to ourselves, not just because they’re ours! But if somehow, we could be convinced to do a season 3, which I have no idea if we can or we will. If that ever becomes a thing, we always tend to like to give the people involved in those stories the first knowledge that we want to do it. We feel like that’s the respectful thing to do.

However, my stock answer that I have, because I get asked this a lot, my stock answer is an episode that we looked at for season 2 as a fallback option, which is wanting to tell the story of the WCW event in North Korea. It’s the biggest attendance of any wrestling match ever in history, and not only was there bizarre things that happened on the ground during that whole event but also, it’s kind of a vehicle for us to talk about Inoki. Inoki is one of the biggest, if not the biggest figure in the history of Japanese wrestling, and obviously, he has political connections between Japan, North Korea, and he has become this transcendent figure of wrestling over there. So I think it would be an interesting way to kind of get into a whole other side of this industry that we haven’t even begun to touch. A real true international story. So I think that would be really cool to do.”

Yeah. Well, I’m definitely rooting for you guys getting a season three, and I’m very much looking forward to the rest of this season.

“Thank you.”

 

If you’re a fan of this series, feel free to express your desire for a season three as well!

Dark Side of the Ring’s remaining episodes for season two are as followed:

Dr. D David Schultz on April 28th

Herb Abrams & The UWF – May 5th

The Road Warriors – May 12th

Owen Hart – May 19th

Dark Side of the Ring is available on VICE TV via all major satellite and cable providers; VICETV.com; and the VICE TV app via iOS, Android, Apple TV and Chromecast.

You can follow Evan Husney on Twitter, as well as the official Dark Side of the Ring Twitter page.

By Humza Hussain

Humza Hussain is SteelChair Magazine's Interviews editor. He has been a lifelong professional wrestling fan and has conducted interviews with names such as DDP, Aleister Black, and Bayley. He also writes film news, reviews, and interviews!

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