Vice TV’s “Chyna” documentary debuts tonight, somewhat curiously not as a “Dark Side of the Ring” episode. The pro wrestling docu-dramas definitely share the “same DNA,” though, Vice TV executive vice president and general manager Morgan Hertzan told TheWrap. And that’s not all they share.
“Vice Versa: Chyna,” the first-ever documentary about Joanie Laurer’s professional wrestling character, came from the same cycle of development as “Dark Side of the Ring” Season 3. Considering by that point “Dark Side of the Ring” was already Vice’s best-ever rated series — and was in the process of spawning spinoffs “Dark Side of Football” and “Dark Side of the 90s” — the triumphs and tragedy of Chyna seemed like a perfect season premiere or finale episode for the franchise starter.
“What we decided was that the Chyna story was so extraordinary that it really needed to live on its own. It really kind of deserved its own platform. Given how she made history, how she broke the glass ceiling, how she was this incredible, larger-than-life personality,” Hertzan said. “We really wanted it to be its own thing and its own story, its own doc, its own standalone moment. We kind of felt like she deserves her own moment, her own accolades. And it was really worthy of an independent documentary. So that’s why we decided not to kind of wrap it in with the rest of ‘Dark Side.'”
But even with “Chyna” under the “Vice Versa” brand, Hertzan’s got a whole lot of “Dark Side” coming at you. We asked the exec how he plans to squeeze every ounce of lemonade out of that fruit without leaving a bitter taste in viewers’ mouths.
“The answer is, you have to be true to the brand,” Hertzan said. “The place you run into trouble is if you try to kind of shoehorn it in and say, ‘Oh, let’s do The Dark Side of Spaghetti or something,’ and there is no real dark side of spaghetti.”
Clearly, Hertzan hasn’t been to Olive Garden in a while. Also, we would totally watch “The Dark Side of Spaghetti.”
“And when we actually — I’m not going to tell you, because it’s our trade secret, but we actually have a ‘Dark Side’ filter that we put up,” he continued. “So there’s four things that make something a ‘Dark Side,’ OK? Every time we get a pitch, we actually put it up in the virtual room, we screenshare it, and we say, does this answer all four of our ‘Dark Side’ format questions? Is it this? Is it this? And if it’s not, then we say, nope, that may be a great series [but] not a ‘Dark Side.’ It’s for investigation night, it’s a standalone documentary, it’s something else, whatever.”
It’s “Vice Versa: Chyna,” in this case.
“If you just kind of say, oh, let’s call everything on the network ‘The Dark Side of Whatever,’ it doesn’t matter, that will never work,” Hertzan added. “And the audience totally falls apart.”
Hertzan did eventually offer us one of the four quadrants in his secret “Dark Side” formula: “something that the audience loves and has an incredible nostalgic passion for.”
So it must have been one of the other three that “Chyna” did not nail.
Laurer died in 2016 at age 46 following a fatal overdose. The authorized doc, directed by Marah Strauch, “shares an in-depth look at what it is to be famous in America, weaving a narrative of betrayal and addiction untreated while revealing an intimate portrait of a complicated woman,” according to Vice TV’s description.
Billed as “The Ninth Wonder of the World,” WWF (now WWE) Superstar Chyna was a seemingly unstoppable force, an Amazonian warrior who went where women were not supposed to go, smashing through the glass ceiling and slaying her opponents, the logline continues. But after her abrupt dismissal from the WWE and losing the rights to her name, Chyna’s world slowly began to crumble.
Attempting to navigate the loss of her career as well as cope with unhealed childhood trauma, drugs entered the star’s life. Chyna pivoted to participating in reality shows such as “The Surreal Life” and “Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew,” released adult movies, taught English in Japan and joined the Mormon church.
“Vice Versa: Chyna” airs Thursday June 17 at 9 pm ET/PT on Vice TV.