**UPDATE – glitches have been banished, and pics have now been added. Yay!**
So, I knew better than to expect that ABC’s reboot of its illustrious celebrity athletic competition series Battle of The Network Stars would come anywhere close to recapturing the magic, infectious energy of the original. Especially since there have been some major changes to the state of network television from the 70s and 80s. Back then ABC, NBC and CBS were the only major players in the network game who were duking it out for tv audience shares every night of the week, so making them battle network against network in athletic competition seemed wholly natural.
But still. ABC seemed to be coming at it from the right angle. They were honouring the original – evident by the vintage clips in the opening credits, they were opening up the players eligibility to current and former network stars, they were bringing back classic events, like the Kayak Relay, Obstacle Course and Baseball Dunk, they got real sportscasters to announce (although nowhere near as iconic as Howard Cosell) and they even secured Pepperdine University, home to almost every previous Battle, for the current Battleground! I will say though, I was a little wary on how the new team concept was going to be executed – making teams based on themes like “TV Kids”, “Sex Symbols” and…”TV Sitcoms” (whoa, don’t get too creative there, guys) – but more on that later.
The first problem however, became apparent right from the start, and it remained there over the course of the next hour, through every event, dragging the spirit of everything down into depths of sadness and despair (I may be slightly exaggerating) and leaving me with one simple question. Where is everyone?
One of the reasons the original BOTNS was such a success is that it was treated as an actual major sporting event, complete with spectators, cheerleaders and teammates on the sidelines cheering on the participants to victory. In the new BTONS, there is no one there. And I mean No.One.There. And let me tell you, it’s very disheartening to see Pepperdine’s massive outdoor track, shrouded in fog and completely empty…save for Lisa Welchel from The Facts of Life struggling in the distance to catch up to Dave Coulier from Full House as they run their leg of the relay race – supported by just a smattering of claps and hoots from their various demi-celebrities/teammates.
Ditto when the action shifts to Pepperdine’s Olympic-sized swimming pool. It’s been blocked off for just two sets of two swimmers, leaving only four teammates apiece clumped along one edge of this massive pool, cheering them on along with their two coaches.
And there’s another problem. The original BOTNS had 3 teams of 8 in each battle, so at any given time, you would have at least 18 celebs not actively participating, but cheering and supporting. The new BOTNS has only 2 teams of 5, which is problematic even outside of the lack of visual representation it causes – because this choice has warranted a restructuring of some of the events – making them much shorter. The swimming and kayak relays have gone from 4-5 participants to 2. And as any BOTNS fan will attest, these events were always the most thrilling to watch because of the unpredictability of the match-ups, where the teams could go from first to third or vice versa with every new leg, tension building up as we all watched to see if each new celeb diving into the water would display some formerly hidden athletic prowess and surge ahead like a torpedo (Billy Moses!) or just sink like an anchor (Pamela Bellwood!). But now, with just 2 participants from 2 teams, the new relays are hardly relays at all, and over before tension can even get built up.
BUT before I get too gloomy about BOTNS redux, there are some things that do get the thumbs up from me:
Improved Baseball Dunk – making the swimming pool double as the dunk tank AND placing the dunk platform 15 ft above it? Genius.
New Mini Events – the inclusion of smaller events (Soccer, Tennis, Basketball, Golf and Archery) and presenting them all “re-cap style” provides a nice tempo shift in the show and is very welcome addition.
Announcers – Joe Tessitori and Mike Greenberg do an admirable job of treating the BOTNS tradition with dignity, but are not above having a good laugh at the expense of the participants, whether it be at Olivia D’Abo managing to belly flop her way into the dunk pool or when regarding her Wonder Years costar Jason Hervey’s diva drama after he refuses to wear a red shirt (which is a part of his required uniform since he is on the red team) (he eventually switched to red).
Coming Up in Part 2 – a closer look at the team structure and a deep dive into the BIG problem, competiton-wise, that’s plaguing the new BOTNS!