The Battle of the Network Stars 2017 Breakdown: Part 2

So, as we return to my “Battle” breakdown, I have some problems involving the teams.

Actually, I can deal with the problem I have with the team size (five just isn’t enough for the “marquee events” – even just one more person on each team would’ve made a huge difference) and I can put aside my issues with the team set-ups and how there’s no way to get invested with a team made up of random TV stars from across four decades, loosely grouped together as “TV Kids” or “TV Sitcoms”; especially after seeing how ABC squandered the potential of making teams based around one or two shows (I mean, they got 4 Pretty Little Liars castmates – they couldn’t have found just one more? And they unearthed both Jeremey Miller and Tracey Gold of 80s Growing Pains fame, yet Tracey was on Team TV Sitcoms in episode 1 and Jeremy was Team TV Kids, episode 6). But here’s my other team-related issue – and this ties into a big problem for the new BOTNS from a competition standpoint: the number of teams per battle and how they’re scored.

The original BOTNS had 3 teams, and each event was worth 100, 75, and 50 points for 1st 2nd and 3rd. The first 7 events were basically done to determine which two teams would advance to final event worth 100 points to the winner only – the Tug of War. This worked with three teams because the standard point system generally ensured that the top two teams would be less than 100 points apart. Only one occasion, though ABC had such a commanding lead that after the winning running relay they were 125 points ahead, so even if the lost the Tug of War, they would still win overall. So in that case, the Tug of War still went on, but it became a battle for 2nd place between NBC and CBS (remember as I mentioned previously, each celeb was playing for prize money and though the payout fluctuated at times, the difference between places at this time was a cool $5,000 per celeb).

Random teams at its finest. Seeing grandpa Jimmie Walker on a “TV Kids” team just seems all kinds of wrong

The new BTONS has a more complicated system in play, and it doesn’t hold up at all. Events range from awarding 1 point to 5 points, but without any consistency. Some events will give 1 point to the overall winner, but then other events will give both teams the opportunity to earn points – making it possible to have both teams earn the same number of points, therefore not changing the standing at all. Case in point: in the original Obstacle Course event, there was one overall winner, based on which team had the fastest combined time of their top male and top female competitors. The new Obstacle Course awards 5 points to a men’s winner and 5 to a women’s winner, meaning the teams can easily end up winning 5 points each and thereby not affect the overall standing of each team at all.

And then from nowhere the Tug of War rears its head with a 10 point pay-off. Now here’s the thing: I don’t think the producers noticed until things were underway just how poorly the score system was thought out – and were so intent on bringing back the classic Tug of War, that they didn’t realize that when you have a Tug of War as the final, all-deciding event in a competition between two teams, you’ve just rendered everything up to that point as meaningless. There’s no qualifying or eliminating done during the previous Battle events, and the Tug’s point total all but ensures that no matter how much a team is lagging throughout the day, if they can win the Tug they’ll win the Battle – unless one team is just so phenomenally better than the other that they will have 10+ lead if they win the Obstacle Course – and if that’s about to happen, you might just have to rig it so the Tug of War remains relevant.

Man, if it wasn’t for that flat, obstruction-free surface, he totally would’ve made it to the finish line first

And I think that may have already happened, because FAR too many celebs from the leading team have forgotten how their legs work in the final stretch of the Obstacle Course and inexplicably stumble, trip, fall and crawl until the other team passes them and wins the event, leaving it up to a Tug-Off to decide the winner.

And this leads into our next problem. In the original, the teams of 8 had to pick a 5-person Tug team who had a combined weight not exceeding 800lbs. This kept it as balanced a match up as it could be.

Now, with only 5 people on each team, everyone is in the Tug regardless of how unbalanced the weight ratio is. So what happens then is you get a team with Bronson Pinchot, Dave Coulier and Tom Arnold, all hovering around 200lbs each, tugging against a team with male lean machines like Joey Lawrence and Corbin Bleu who probably weigh less than their female teammates (in this case, Lisa Whelchel and Kim Fields) and it’s game over. Forget athletic ability, because a team that loses the majority of events can still win the whole Battle if they can just sit on their collective fat asses and wait for the other team to exhaust themselves trying to move them. *SIGH*

Team Tootie never stood a chance tugging against Team Tubby

So to sum up, we’ve got no spectators, random teams, screwed up scoring, pointless events and a very lopsided finale where weight can trump ability. *DOUBLE SIGH*

BUT, disgruntled as I was about all this, something happened during episode 6 that sparked some hope in me. The announcers let two little things drop, almost as asides, as if to acknowledge the shortcomings we have all witnessed: 1) they posted a montage of all the celebs tripping and falling at the end of the Obstacle Course. Calling it out, but not outright saying anything – but definitely done with a wink. And 2) They casually mentioned that if one team didn’t win the Obstacle Course, they would be out of the running IF they didn’t take a handicap in the Tug of War. Aha! It’s not much, but it does give you a little hope that there may be a possibility of a real challenge awaiting if one team is so far behind, and that we won’t see them miraculously win the Obstacle Course, but instead see them drop a member from the Tug of War in exchange for a points bonus if they manage to win.

And again, I do not want to end on a bitter note, so let me just add that it has been really great seeing BOTNS alum come back to compete. And even if no one was there to watch, they still showed that they had it. Like 62-year old Shari Belafonte, paddling her way to a win in the Kayak Relay; former CBS team captain Lorenzo Lamas, guiding his new team to a BOTNS win; or, best of all, 76-year old Donna Mills, former BOTNS athlete AND cohost  (who even brought her original BOTNS trophy – awarded for her 1980 Team CBS win) not only winning, but slaying her event – Tennis – wherein she returned a record-setting 16 out of 20 serves. Way to go Ms. Mills – the spirit of the original BOTNS truly endures.

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The Battle of The Network Stars 2017 Breakdown: Part 1

**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?

Bronson Pinchot is the blue speck on the far left, Kim Fields is the tiny red dot on the far right — and there’s noooo one else, anywhere.

Spectators abound in the orginal BOTNS, with Howard Cosell announcing (top) William R. Moses kayaking (middle) and Geoffrey Scott and Heather Locklear relaying (bottom)

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).

Jodi-Lyn O’Keefe about to get dunked by Todd Bridges in the new and improved (yet still desolate-looking) baseball dunk

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!

 

Prepare for “Battle”

This is just a brief post – more of a PSA in fact – about an event happening TONIGHT. In an already reboot-heavy year, the Most Important Reboot Ever is upon us. No, not Twin Peaks…or Will & Grace (and definitely not The Gong Show). Forget all of those – for tonight, Battle of the Network Stars is Back!

For the unaware, BOTNS was a series of specials aired by ABC twice a year (more or less) from the mid-70s to late-80s wherein teams of current television stars from the Big Three networks (ABC, NBC, CBS) were pitted against one another in fierce, athletic competition, with the victors getting bragging rights and some cold, hard cash ($20,000 to each member of the winning network’s team).

Treated with all the seriousness of a professional sporting event (and by my younger tv-addicted self as the pop culture equivalent of the Olympic Games) and hosted by the sensational, albeit slightly sexist, Howard Cosell,  BOTNS was the only place viewers in a pre-Dancing With The Stars/reality tv/Instagram era could go to for candid and competitive celebrities (Robert Conrad always seemed ready to face-punch anyone, for any reason at all) and surprising displays of athleticism (like Heather Locklear – former Junior Olympian (who knew?) and BOTNS running relay MVP).

I won’t go in to much more detail for now, because I’ve decided to wait until the first few episodes of the reboot to air so I can then do a deeper comparison analysis. So until then, enjoy this classic BOTNS clip featuring two stars who will be appearing in the reboot: from The Facts of Life, Kim Fields and Lisa Welchel.