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Kromm

Battle Of The Network Stars

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Ancient show from the 1970s and 80s (1976-1988), where many of the biggest TV stars of the day, split into teams by TV network, participated in silly field games, obstacle courses, etc.  Howard Cossell hosted and commentated.  As far as I know the show has never been repeated anywhere, so this really IS a show that only the ancient liver-spotted oldies among us will know.  The one modern mention some may have seen  is that it was mentioned in TV Guide's list of "60 greatest game shows of all time" last year.  YouTube DOES have all kinds of clips of the show though (guess people had them saved on old VHS tapes or something).

EDIT - correction.  Apparently these have been played on ESPN Classic within the last few years, and it was also apparently on TRIO (predecessor to Bravo) at some point.

Here's a typical clip, featuring a Kayak race in 1978 with some people you might know even if you aren't old.  Including... Okay, are you ready for this?  DAVID LETTERMAN. And WILLIAM SHATNER. I am not joking. (also Levar Burton, Gabe Kaplan, Robert Urich and many others)

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The show originally ran on ABC, but I read somewhere that NBC talked about a remake in the early 2000s.  But they were going to do it only for NBC (battles between their own stars and nobody else's).

There was also a long-running spiritual competitor/contemporary to this show with Superstars. That one basically being "famous athletes performing outside of their own sport" (and in a 2009 remake, which I actually remember pretty well, one pro athlete, out of their sport with a run of the mill celebrity as a partner/teammate).

Edited by Kromm

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Jeff Drake did a good write up of Battle Of The Network stars for Patriot Week.

I was very young, but my mind was somewhat formed by Lynda Carter's participation on that show.  

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It also occurs to me that since today's version of "Stars" are often reality stars, probably we should count "Battle of the Network Reality Stars"--which actually WAS a conscious remake of the original show (playing on Bravo as I recall, around 7 or 8 years ago).

Even so there IS a difference in scope. The people appearing on the original weren't grade B people.  For someone from Kojak, you GET the guy who played Kojak. For someone from Wonder Woman you'd GET the woman who played Wonder Woman. Etc.  It was big memorable stuff, whereas I didn't even remember that Battle of the Network Reality Stars even existed (although I did see it at the time) until a minute ago.

Edited by Kromm

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I remember Tom Selleck  on it a lot.  And Heather Locklear was as well, but that may be my selective memory

And the one and only Howard Cosell usually hosted it.  I never dreamed as a kid that I would miss him.

They should totally do a new version, if only to see Ryan Seacrest try to outrun Carson Daly.  I kid, but that would be fun.  

Edited by vb68

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"Letterman bringing up the rear.  He's use to that."   I'm dying.    I can't even believe now that Letterman did this show.

That clip is awesome!  Thanks for posting it.

I have no  memory of Debby Boone being on a TV show.  Even as a youngster, I must've had the sense to avoid it. 

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"Letterman bringing up the rear.  He's use to that."   I'm dying.    I can't even believe now that Letterman did this show.

That clip is awesome!  Thanks for posting it.

I have no  memory of Debby Boone being on a TV show.  Even as a youngster, I must've had the sense to avoid it. 

Remember that Letterman moved to L.A. out of college to be a comedy writer and appeared on a bunch of silly sitcoms and variety shows, until he came to Johnny Carson's attention.  

No clue what Debbie Boone was on.  Not even a hint, and I refuse to search for it.

I puzzled over what Shatner was on in November 1978 (the date of that clip). and unlike Debbie Boone DID think it merited looking up.  That didn't help though.  T.J. Hooker was still a few years away.

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Yeah, I know Letterman was on a variety-type show that Mary Tyler Moore did after her sitcom.  Micheal Keaton was on it too.  Letterman has always been pretty gracious and deferential to her that it really jump started  his career.

Interesting about Shatner.  Yeah, TJ Hooker was on during the same time as Dynasty because I remember that Heather Locklear did both of them simultaneously.  Heh.  There's so much useless knowledge in my head. 

ETA: Looking at IMDB, Shatner was in a mini-series of How The West Was Won sometime in 1978.  I have a feeling that was it, though it's not very clear from the listing how much he worked on it.

Edited by vb68
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My favorite was when Gabe Kaplan and Robert Conrad were having an ongoing verbal "war." At one point, Gabe was in the dunk tank, and Robert said, "Remember Gabe, you can run but you can't hide." His first shot missed badly, and Gabe retorted, "And you can't throw!" The next shot hit the target, and when Gabe got out of the water, he said "Jacques Cousteau is doing a special down there." :)

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My favorite was when Gabe Kaplan and Robert Conrad were having an ongoing verbal "war." At one point, Gabe was in the dunk tank, and Robert said, "Remember Gabe, you can run but you can't hide." His first shot missed badly, and Gabe retorted, "And you can't throw!" The next shot hit the target, and when Gabe got out of the water, he said "Jacques Cousteau is doing a special down there." :)

Gabe was the King of this show.  He was the ABC team captain every show (2 per year) that Kotter and Battle were both on the air, and I seem to recall ABC won a lot.  He took it pretty seriously.  The money wasn't bad either apparently--supposedly the winning team got decent cash, although often they were such big stars (unlike today's "celebrity" reality shows) that you wonder why it mattered.

This is a LONG clip, so patience is urged, but here's a bit on how weird things got between Conrad and Kaplan (with Telly Savalas, Robert Blake and many others in the middle of this one as well):

 

The disco music replays might keep you amused during all of this.

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Vintage articles (if online), looks back/retrospectives from years later, blogs, TV pieces (if any exist), etc.  It appears there are a few of these out there, so point us to them.

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One of the retrospectives I read about the show made a good point (which I'd already gotten into a few posts ago with talking about the scope of the show and that these weren't grade B celebs).  Hollywood Reporter said:  

 

Unlike contemporary shows — whose casting can leave viewers asking, “Who?” — producers got the hottest TV stars of the time from such series as Dynasty, Dallas and Charlie’s Angels. “It was the creme de la creme of network stars, not sub-stars,” says veteran reality producer Vin Di Bona, who produced the last of the 19 specials.

Perhaps, in a sense, this is the real barrier to a remake.  The expectations are high.  Would you really be assured of getting THE headlining star on hit shows if this was redone?  Or at best would you wind up with the last people in the credits, as well as most of the shows pulled from being the also-rans instead of the smash hits (not that "smash hit" even means the same thing these days as it did in the late 70s and the 80s).

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Agreed this would be tough to make today. I stumbled across it on ESPN Classic a few months ago and was sucked in to watching a few weeks. I vividly remember watching it as a kid. Verizon changed the packages not long ago and moved it into a sports bundle that I have no interest in so can't watch it anymore.

The stars truly were the stars of the then-current shows and they appeared to have trained for the competition. Several were injured and still continued on. Today there are so many networks and shows that the pool of stars is diluted. And like Sonoma says above it's hard to imagine so many of them willing to be filmed less than perfectly camera ready.

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I don't think it's that the stars trained for this show, most tv stars even back then worked out and kept in good shape.

A couple of problems with a possible remake.

1)Too many networks. Do you include the cable networks or just the Big 4 plus the CW?

2)Too much chance for an injury which could put a star out of action for a couple of months. And the injury would be replayed the star who was injured would be ridiculed right out of the industry.

3) It wouldn't be taken remotely seriously. Not that the original was, but it would get ripped to shreds on a site like, well like the one I'm writing this on.

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I don't think it's that the stars trained for this show, most tv stars even back then worked out and kept in good shape.

A couple of problems with a possible remake.

1)Too many networks. Do you include the cable networks or just the Big 4 plus the CW?

2)Too much chance for an injury which could put a star out of action for a couple of months. And the injury would be replayed the star who was injured would be ridiculed right out of the industry.

3) It wouldn't be taken remotely seriously. Not that the original was, but it would get ripped to shreds on a site like, well like the one I'm writing this on.

I can answer some of those.

1.) Don't make teams based on networks anymore.  Simply grab TV stars from all channels and arrange them onto 3 or 4 equally numbered teams.

2.) The "sports" they did were rarely the kind that could seriously injure anyone though.  I mean ANYTHING can, but it was stuff like swimming in a pool, riding in a kayak, throwing a ball at a dunk tank, maybe at worst a game of pickup basketball

3.) Nobody HAS to take it seriously, of course.  The "excuse" for it this time around would be charity.  The original show actually wasn't done for charity.  This time it likely would be, and that would change the perception of being being involved.

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This all eluded my very innocent six year old awareness at the time, but watching them now on ESPN Classic, it is so very apparent how coked up many of the contestants (prime examples: Heather Thomas, Greg Harrison) really were while filming this.

I considered chalking up Debbie Allen's behavior to this as well, but I suspect *that's* just the way she is.

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Wow, I feel so... innocent. And I was old and experienced enough at the time that I should have caught more. My memorable moments were more related to what the lighting did for the men's speedos as they were standing around waiting (and those sequences are exactly what's being eliminated in the current abridgements).

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I feel the same way, Sonoma. Everybody is so image-managed and protected now, I can't imagine anybody on TV just getting in there and having a good time competing -- not worrying if their hair wasn't just right or their speedo was too revealing.

 

A favorite moment, in retrospect, was when Michael Warren of Hill Street Blues won the obstacle course, and his first words as Howard Cosell came up to congratulate him were "Is my hair on straight, Howard?" This was about a decade before he went public that he'd been wearing a hairpiece throughout the run of the show and afterward, and had been pretty much bald at 35. (In fact, at the time i mentioned the oddity of this to my father, who was sure it was just a dig at Cosell's own bad toupee. Maybe that's what most viewers assumed.) I guess this is another example of what I said in my first paragraph, with no manager swooping in to insist this be edited out.

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A couple of problems with a possible remake.

1)Too many networks. Do you include the cable networks or just the Big 4 plus the CW?

1.) Don't make teams based on networks anymore.  Simply grab TV stars from all channels and arrange them onto 3 or 4 equally numbered teams.

Actually, I don't think you'd need to do either.  Go for the somewhat easier middle ground.

 

Most cable networks are in corporate families along side broadcast networks.  The Fox channels are the easiest to identify as related; ABC and ESPN are owned by Disney; NBC, SyFy, USA are Universal properties, and CBS owns CW and Showtime. 

 

So 4 teams*, named after the Big 4, but consisting of stars from members of families of networks.  Which would actually make things a little easier overall.  4 teams leads to a consistent bracketing system; A vs B, C vs D, winner vs winner.

 

The only restrictions I would add would be:

  • The team captain has to be from the Big 4 network.  He or she may be the only person from the network on the team, but there has to be at least that one.
  • only 1 male and 1 female ex-pro-athlete from ESPN for the ABC team
  • only 1 male and 1 female pro-wrestler from the WWE for the NBC team (corporate partnership)
  • And only reality show hosts for any team; using contestants could be a way of getting ringers in.

 

*There is even the possibility of 6 teams.  Add the HBO/Turner network family as #5 and a catch-all team from any unaffiliated networks and PBS for #6.

Edited by SVNBob
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I have an even easier way to do this.

 

First what SVNBob said but minus a few things

a:  no reality stars

b: If you have to have a reality star, make it one of the hosts ie: Tom Bergeron, Carson Daly or Ryan Seacrest 

c: no sports stars, unless they are now actors in a show ie: Mark Harmon in the old versions wasn't allowed to play quarterback

D: NO KARDASHIANS

---------------------------------------------------------

 

I think another reason this isn't done anymore is during the tug of war, all the weights were given out, even the ladies.

Edited by jennifer6973

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Howard Cossell hosted and commentated. 

 

I caught a rerun from 1985 on ESPN Classic last night and Dick Van Dyke (!) and Joan Van Ark were hosting.  I looked it up on Wikipedia this morning and it looks like that particular one was the only one that Howard Cosell didn't host.

The money wasn't bad either apparently--supposedly the winning team got decent cash, although often they were such big stars (unlike today's "celebrity" reality shows) that you wonder why it mattered.

They actually showed at the beginning of the '85 episode how much they won.  Members of the 1st place team each won $20,000; members on the 2nd place team won $12,500 (I think....I can't remember exactly); and members of the last team won $8,000.  Someone mentioned in passing something about "the past two days," which makes me think they got anywhere from $8,000-$20,000 for basically two days of playing games.  In this case, in Mexico (instead of Pepperdine).  The team captains were Tony Danza, Lorenzo Lamas and Bubba Smith.  It's one of the few I've seen that didn't have Melissa Gilbert, although I suppose she was no longer on a network series by '85.

 

I found this review on IMDB, which pretty much sums it up: 

Possibly the worst of the "Battle Of The Network Stars" specials. Many of the sports that were part of the prior installments are missing or totally changed. The absence of Howard Cosell is probably the most glaring problem. Gone is his distinct voice and hosting skills. In this episode, we have Dick Van Dyke and Joan Van Ark. Another glaring problem was moving the venue from Pepperdine University to some place in Mexico. The obstacle course is shortened to a jaunt on a beach. The kayak race was replaced by some race dealing with a lifeboat race on the ocean. Also, for some reason, there is also a boat race, that resembles a rowing competition with a coxswain, on the same ocean. The running relay, instead of taking place on a race track, looks as if it were held in someone's back yard. During the swimming relay, the CBS team had the misfortune of having Mary Frann on the team. I have never seen anyone swim the way this woman did. It seems like she did not want to get her face wet. Pitiful, just pitiful.

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This all eluded my very innocent six year old awareness at the time, but watching them now on ESPN Classic, it is so very apparent how coked up many of the contestants (prime examples: Heather Thomas, Greg Harrison) really were while filming this.

 

 

Yeah, all of that went right over my school aged head.   Never even thought about it.

 

Oh my,  Penny Marshall and Ron Howard look so adorable, and YOUNG, together in that clip above right around  3:36 minutes.  It's been awhile since I thought of Penny as young and athletic.  And it's always nice to see Ron with hair.

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Mark Evanier's blog has an entry recalling Battle of the Network Stars. It's somehow comforting to read that Robert Conrad was just as much of a spoiling-for-a-fight blowhard as he seemed.

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Mark Evanier's blog has an entry recalling Battle of the Network Stars. It's somehow comforting to read that Robert Conrad was just as much of a spoiling-for-a-fight blowhard as he seemed.

That's good reading. 

 

I think BOTNS is a very interesting piece of cultural history overall.

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I remember one year, Robert Conrad, who had been a lynchpin of the NBC teams when Black Sheep Squadron and A Man Called Sloane were on, showed up to cheer on the Peacocks even though his shows had been cancelled.  He and Dan Haggarty (Grizzly Adams) tended to be beasts for NBC.

 

I happened to catch a rerun a year or so ago, and was lucky enough to see Charlene Tilton in the infamous dunk tank.

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I don't imagine, given the competitve nature of television, that the networks would be willing to loan their talent to benefit a rival.

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From a practical standpoint, I think it would be easier if the teams were comprised of cast members of single shows, rather than from across the network. I could see one episode being The Goldbergs vs. Brooklyn Nine Nine vs. NCIS LA vs. The Mysteries of Laura. I can already envision Wendi McClendon-Covey vs. Debra Messing in the obstacle course.

 

And I think it would be much simpler to get the networks involvement if they each were allowed to host the show once during the season. The original show only aired a few times a season (presumably during sweeps, but don't quote me on that). The same could be done in a modern version. Say a premiere on one network in September, and then the others rotate hosting during the sweeps months of November, February and May. If you want to include CW, they can host in the summer.

Edited by reggiejax

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From a practical standpoint, I think it would be easier if the teams were comprised of cast members of single shows, rather than from across the network. I could see one episode being The Goldbergs vs. Brooklyn Nine Nine vs. NCIS LA vs. The Mysteries of Laura. 

That was how a similar show from the mid-1980s, Star Games, did it. Teams of 6 competed in a tournament over 13 episodes (there were two such "seasons," syndicated). In some cases, two series combined forces to make up a single team (runner-up the second year was the Charlie and Company / Love Boat team). And these were not usually the top actors from the series: several (like, I remember, St. Elsewhere) had to pull in one-time guest stars to get their six.

Edited by Rinaldo

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Reading an article linked in the Big Brother thread, apparently Julie Chen has pitched reviving Battle of the Network Stars to her husband on multiple occasions.

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"I never really understood the point of Battle Of The Network Stars."

Don't you remember, Sarah? Back in the day, we didn't have 24/7 online access to our favorite celebrities. If we wanted to see a star in a bathing suit or short shorts, we had to watch schlock like this. It was hell on Earth...and we loved it!

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BOTNS is ALWAYS awesome. It doesn't have to have a point other than how unlikely it was to see all those people together doing what they were doing. It's like will never come again sadly--there's no way that level of celebrity could be gathered in that way these days for anything more active then sitting at an awards show. Today, they'd worry about not looking their best/not having control over the situation. Social media, for all that it's intrusive, is at least to them is under their own control (not really, but they fool themselves into thinking it is).

Edited by Kromm

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The Howard Cosell commentary is definitely the best part of this.

Edited by Kromm
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I feel the same as you, ChicGirl. I looked forward to the chance to see all the male stars in speedos in the swimming and "kayaking" competitions. That was the age of regular appearances by Tom Selleck, Gregory Harrison, Michael Warren, Marc Singer, and on and on.

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Keep in mind: I was not allowed to watch TV except Saturday-morning cartoons and PBS until I was like 15. I only knew shows that aired on Friday nights, that I might see at a friend's house or while babysitting. I thought Airwolf was made up until, like, two years ago. So this was pretty much a meaningless exercise to me at the time.

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Do you guys remember (or even knew about) the very pathetic attempt to recreate this late 70's/early 80's piece of nostalgia just a few years ago with..........

REALITY TV STARS?????

They even filmed the whole shabang in the very same university where the action stars from 35-40 years ago competed in?

Like I really wanted to watch the guy from Joe Millionaire, the guy from Joe Schmo, and the guy from Average Joe compete in a game of Simon Sez??

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I guess this was the Carpool Karaoke/Jimmy Fallon Viral Whatever of it's day. Actors doing weird stuff we normally wouldn't see them doing!

Remember the Circus of the Stars? Or whatever it was called?

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5 hours ago, AndySmith said:

I guess this was the Carpool Karaoke/Jimmy Fallon Viral Whatever of it's day. Actors doing weird stuff we normally wouldn't see them doing!

Nah, It was better. It pandered a lot less because there was no audience there.

Quote

Remember the Circus of the Stars? Or whatever it was called?

The worst of the bunch. There was no real interactivity. BOTNS was great because you saw the stars interacting with each other. Often in unexpected ways.

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