Thursday, August 11, 2005

Battle of the Network Has-Beens and Never-Weres

My pal Damon alerted me to this bit of folderol from those incorrigible pranksters over at The Onion:
Entertainment-History Buffs Re-Enact Battle Of The Network Stars

SAN BERNADINO, CA—Entertainment historians from across the country gathered Sunday on a field near Hollywood to recreate the original 1976 Battle of the Network Stars. "We dedicate our re-enactment to the brave souls who fought it," said Network TV Historical Society co-founder and insurance-claims adjuster Drew Kamen, who played the part of CBS team wiseacre Jimmie Walker in this weekend's event. "Let us never forget the pivotal foot race between CBS's Robert Conrad and ABC's Gabe Kaplan." Kamen, like the other re-enactors, wore exact replicas of the striped tube socks and nylon running shorts used in the original battle.
Why does this satiric tidbit make me chuckle? Because I — yes, I — was an eyewitness to four — count 'em, four — Battles of the Network Stars back in my college days. I was a little late for the inaugural Battle in '76, but I was on hand for Battles VII through X.

And since I can tell you're absolutely dying to hear the story of how these brushes with celebrity came to be, here's the scoop.

From the fall of 1979 through the spring of 1981, I was a young lad busily matriculating at Pepperdine University in beautiful Malibu, California. Thanks to the scenic location of the Pepperdine campus and its proximity to Los Angeles, we were frequently invaded by film and television crews lensing some project or other. One such invasion that occurred on a regular basis was Battle of the Network Stars, which shot two specials per year at Pepperdine, using the university's athletic facilities.

Eager as I was in my callow youth to hobnob with the beautiful and famous, I signed up to work on the student security detail. The TV production crew used us to escort the celebrity participants to and from the various events, and to keep autograph seekers from overwhelming the stars. My duties at the four Battles for which I was present put me up close and personal with such long-forgotten '70s and '80s TV personalities as Diana Canova (one of the stars of Soap, the series that launched Billy Crystal's career), Gil Gerard and Erin Gray (the title character and his love interest on Buck Rogers in the 25th Century), and Randi Oakes (she was the blonde hottie du jour for a couple of seasons on CHiPs, and later married Gregory Harrison of Trapper John, MD). Somewhere amid my memorabilia I have snapshots of me with these folks, all of whom were extremely nice, despite what you often hear about celebrities. In fact, most of the Battle guests went out of their way to be gracious to the students and the audience, and seemed to enjoy the games and the adulation.

That's not to say some of Battle's stars weren't royal pains in the proverbial keister. In particular, I recall that Robert Conrad, Valerie Bertinelli, and the aforementioned Gregory Harrison behaved like self-important jerks. Harrison participated in all four of the Battles for which I was present, and he was always stand-offish with the fans — I believe he thought he was a bigger star than he was. That was a bummer, because I'd enjoyed him as the star of the TV version of Logan's Run. (Truth to tell, I actually tuned in that show every week to ogle Heather Menzies, who played Logan's girlfriend. But Harrison was okay too.)

Valerie Bertinelli was only present for the first Battle I worked, though she'd been involved in a couple of episodes the previous season. She was terribly rude, refusing to sign autographs or take photos one-on-one with fans (both of which all of the other celebs did gladly, as long as people were polite and orderly about it), and even snapped at people (including yours truly) who tried to take her picture as she was walking from one event venue to the next. Maybe she was just having a bad weekend. Of course, she was a kid then — she's almost two years older than I am, so she'd have only been 19 in the fall of '79. Hopefully, she matured. (Of course, she married Eddie Van maybe not.)

I keep hoping that one day some enterprising producer will release the old Battle of the Network Stars programs on DVD, for no other reason than so I can hunt for myself in the crowd shots.

A shout-out to my buddy Damon for triggering this post, and also for not minding terribly that I cannibalized a fair bit of it from e-mail conversations he and I had about my Battle experiences. A good writer never throws anything away.

1 insisted on sticking two cents in:

Blogger Janet offered these pearls of wisdom...

Oh that idea is classic! Then again, so is anything related to The Onion.

Speaking of, Bravo's Battle of the Newtork Reality Stars premires this week. They are calling it this generation's Battle of the Network Stars.

7:12 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home