Reboots, remakes and revivals are all the rage right now, sometimes with intriguing results—Twin Peaks, anyone?—and other times, not so much (we’re looking at you, ABC’s Dirty Dancing).
But one reboot that should fit right in with typical summer TV fare is ABC’s revival of Battle of the Network Stars. For those of you young enough that your reaction is, “What?” Paste is here to help with a handy guide to this star-studded game show that’s a bit like American Gladiators meets summer camp Olympics.
Originally debuting in 1976, BOTNS ran for more than a decade on ABC, with two iterations airing during May and November sweeps from 1977 to 1984. Legendary sportscaster Howard Cosell provided the commentary—joined, at times, by Olympic decathlon gold medalist Caitlyn Jenner, famous NFL player and sportscaster Frank Gifford and more—as stars from the “Big Three” networks (ABC, CBS and NBC) competed in a variety of athletic challenges.
It wasn’t the network’s third-tier stars, either. Competitors included Wonder Woman’s Lynda Carter, Kojak’s Telly Savalas, Charlie’s Angels’ Farrah Fawcett, Jaclyn Smith and Cheryl Ladd, Dallas’ Patrick Duffy, Magnum, P.I.’s Tom Selleck and even award-winning actress Lynn Redgrave, who starred on the short-lived NBC sitcom Teachers Only in 1982.
The events were also legitimate tests of athletic ability. They included swimming, volleyball, cycling, running, tennis and an obstacle course. The networks were awarded points based on how the stars did in each event, and after all the events were over, the third place network was eliminated. The final two networks would then compete in a tug of war to determine that episode’s winner.
What made the original so much fun to watch is that it took these larger-than-life, inaccessible TV stars—remember, this was long before social media let fans interact with the stars of their favorite shows on a regular basis—and made them seem like fun-loving, regular people, the kind of person you might invite over for a beer and some BBQ. The network camaraderie and faux rivalries among the networks made for a sporty atmosphere, bolstered by the way ABC treated the show like an actual Wide World of Sports broadcast. BOTNS perfectly balanced the jocular interactions among the stars and the game-faced seriousness of the competitions—nobody took it too seriously, but everybody wanted to win.
The 2017 revival will follow the same format, featuring current stars like Nolan Gould, Keegan Allen, Joshua Malina, Catherine Bell and Marisol Nichols, plus more than a dozen stars who competed on the original series, like Larry Wilcox, Lorenzo Lamas, Deidre Hall, Kim Fields, Adrian Zmed and Lou Ferrigno.
Based on a few preview clips, the dynamic that made the original so engaging seems to be present in the revival. The celebrities aren’t out for blood in an ultra-competitive way, but they are ready to talk some smack and try their best to bring home a trophy.
There are, however, a couple changes, which we hope don’t take away from the fun.
The first drawback is that the stars aren’t competing for their networks. Instead, the celebrities will be teamed up in themed groups, including TV Sitcoms, TV Kids and TV Sex Symbols. That means there are a lot of nostalgia competitors, i.e. people who are neither current TV stars nor competitors from the original Battle of the Network Stars, like Jeremy Miller (Growing Pains), Corbin Bernsen (L.A. Law), Joey Lawrence (Blossom) and Bronson Pinchot (Perfect Strangers).
And that’s fine—those people are great. But it would give the show a better sense of “teams” if they were competing as a network or even as singular casts, like pitting the stars of Scandal against the stars of Superstore and NCIS, for example. The competitors would presumably have these fun preexisting relationships with each other, rather than being teamed up with stars they may have never even met before.
Secondly, there’s no audience on hand for the competitions. That was a huge part of the fun of the original, a raucous crowd cheering for their favorite stars. The lack of a live audience may make this new one feel a bit lackluster—fingers crossed that’s not the case.
Finally, it’s a damn shame they aren’t making the stars wear ’70s throwback uniforms, because that would be kind of amazing. Who doesn’t want to see Joshua Malina and Catherine Bell in short shorts and knee-high athletic socks?
However, fashion notwithstanding, the new Battle of the Network Stars could be a ton of fun—the blueprint is there for some entertaining summer TV. Hopefully the show can deliver.
Battle of the Network Stars premieres tonight at 9 p.m. on ABC.
TV critic by way of law school, Andrea Reiher enjoys everything from highbrow drama to clever comedy to the best reality TV has to offer. Her TV heroes include CJ Cregg, Spencer Hastings, Diane Lockhart, Juliet O’Hara and Buffy Summers, and her writing can be seen at The A.V. Club, Mashable, Refinery29, Rotten Tomatoes and Variety. TV words to live by: “I’m a slayer, ask me how.” Follow her on Twitter at @andrea_reiher.