Delicious Sports Kitsch

ABC has rebooted the iconic “Battle of the Network Stars” with current ESPN hosts Mike Greenberg and Cari Champion. I applaud this effort. But everybody knows it’ll never recreate the stupid magic of the original series.

The dictionary defines “kitsch” as the following: “Art, objects, or design considered to be in poor taste because of excessive garishness or sentimentality, but sometimes appreciated in an ironic or knowing way.”

Yes, yes indeed. To all of that! Poor taste to have Adrienne Barbeau pulling her arms out of her sockets in the tug-of-war? Yes. Garish? Sentimental. Yes, and yes. But in the eyes of us in our late 40’s and early 50’s… it was ART!

The above Top 10 by the SportsCenter editors is an excellent representative sample of the wonderously silly endeavor. More longform stuff exists on YouTube, of course.

The new show can’t measure up, and will never measure up for several reasons. No Howard Cosell. Networks are no longer dominant TV entities. And there are precious few TV “stars” anymore.

Unless you got Chip and Joanna Gaines to team up against Teresa Giudice.

I mistakenly said on the radio the other day, that I could have swore that Gabe Kaplan (ooh, Mistah Kottah!) beat some African American actor in a 100 yard dash challenge – a major upset (as judging by the celebration!) Yet, upon further review, it was merely a VERY TAN Robert Conrad, who had been running his mouth and challenged Mr. Kotter to the race! Bah!

Most notable to me, was the final clip of Cosell, utterly selling out his call of the Tug of War. Epic, classic, Howard. What a showman. “These are not ath-a-letes… none of ’em… but that’s not what sport is all about!”

Bodybuilder and actor Lou Ferrigno holds actor and comedian Billy Crystal over his head on the set of the television special, ‘Battle of the Network Stars,’ c. 1978. (Photo by Fotos International/Getty Images)

About the Author

Steve Czaban is a 25 year sports radio veteran, who hosts an afternoon drive show in Washington D.C. He also appears on "Bob and Brian" in Milwaukee. "Czabe" also writes and edits his own commentaries for www.czabe.com and other on-line and print publications. He can be reached at czabe@yahoo.com.

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12 Comments

    1. Battle of the Almost Relevant Stars. Who are these people? And bringing back actors from the 80s and 90s? Horrible.
      I could almost watch it though if it weren’t for the insufferable Mike Greenberg. That guy is an absolute show killer.

  1. The new version makes the original look like the Super Bowl. TERRIBLE! The original was packed with dozens of stars you actually recognized from current shows, spanning all three networks. Plus they were actually busting their asses in the events. This one has two teams of five unknowns or desperate has-beens. When your biggest names are Bronson Pinchot and Kim Fields, it’s just celebrity boxing.

  2. In the 70’s & 80’s you tuned in to this because you never saw much of TV celebrities outside of their actual shows, unless you happened to catch them on Dinah Shore or The Muppets. Today these attention starved narcissists are so utterly over-exposed already, and this ridiculous reboot is just another iteration of bad reality TV for C-list celebrity has-beens trying to stay relevant. No thanks!

  3. Czabe: B&B listener here in suburban Milwaukee; we’re same age(ish); I could never forget the Kaplan/Conrad showdown, and particularly how it ended, but I don’t blame you for subbing in a black athlete in the Conrad role: Michael Warren, from Hill Street Blues, who had been a Scholarship/Team Captain/All America for The Wizard of Westwood on a team with Kareem, was no joke on BNS…the only player that could give Scott Baio a run for his $ in anything. When teamed with Ed Marinaro, who damn near won the Heisman playing for CORNELL (with the Nard-dog in the stands) those NBC teams were LIGHTS OUT.

  4. “Superstars” on ABC was better. The 1977 Cowboys vs 1977 Yankees was riveting. Too Tall Jones vs Bucky Dent in a bike race was something to behold.

  5. SCTV once did “Battle of the PBS Network Stars.”

    Mister Rogers v. Julia Child in boxing. William F. Buckley was caught sneaking Harold Carmichael onto his football team. Good times.

    As for the real show: it was the 70s. Bouncy bouncy.

  6. I preferred The Superstars individual competitions, not the team competition. Athletes from obscure sports taking on football players. Kyle Rote Jr kicked everyone’s ass and won overall title 3x in the 70s.

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