Battle of the Network Stars is coming back, but it won’t be your grandma’s Battle. The star-studded competition show, which featured TV stars from ABC, CBS, and NBC competing in sports challenges, originally aired in 19 installments between 1976 and 1988. Now it’s coming back as a weekly series, according to Vulture.
While legendary sports announcer Howard Cosell was the original “voice” for Battle of the Network Stars, ESPN veterans Mike Greenberg and Joe Tessitore will host the upcoming Battle of the Network Stars reboot and the show’s permanent team captains will be UFC champ Ronda Rousey and retired Dallas Cowboy DeMarcus Ware. Executive producer Andrew Glassman said the network wants to “treat this like the great groundbreaking sports competition it was in its day,” and that includes some campy throwbacks to the original series.
“If you’re expecting to see the yellow jackets and the [old school ABC Sports] mic flags, you’ll be delighted,” Glassman told Vulture.
In addition, some of the most popular Battle of the Network Stars events like the obstacle course, dunk tank, and tug-of-war will also return, but Glassman says the overall format will be updated for 2017.
“In other remakes, like Match Game or Pyramid, people remember the structure and format of the shows. With Battle, people remembered the spirit and energy of the show,” Glassman said.
“[The new] format will be a little faster, more up-tempo and a little simpler in many ways.”
While the show will now air as a weekly, 10-week series instead of a bi-annual event, one of the biggest changes for Battle of the Network Stars is the fact that three networks don’t dominate the TV landscape anymore. The team rosters will be drawn from a pool of 100 TV stars representing more than a dozen networks.
“The network versus network format didn’t make as much sense as fielding teams based on the characters people love from over the years to the current day: cops vs. TV sitcoms, White House vs. lawyers, TV moms and dads vs. TV kids,” Glassman said.
“It’s like summer camp on steroids with your favorite TV stars.”
The original Battle of the Network Stars famously featured captains like Gabe Kaplan (Welcome Back Kotter), William Shatner (Star Trek), and Robert Conrad (Baa Baa Black Sheep). TV stars Farrah Fawcett (Charlie’s Angels), Lynda Carter (Wonder Woman), and Ron Howard (Happy Days) helped populate the very first battle for ABC in 1976, with Telly Savalas (Kojak), Loretta Swit (M*A*S*H) and Jimmie Walker (Good Times) representing CBS, and Melissa Sue Anderson (Little House on the Prairie) and Demond Wilson (Sanford and Son) showing up for NBC. O.J. Simpson and Bruce Jenner (now Caitlyn) even made cameos. Glassman hopes to get at least some TV blasts from the past on board for the reboot.
“I’m going to get to work with people from L.A. Law, The West Wing, Melrose Place, Happy Days, CHiPs, JAG, Facts of Life, and The Office,” he told Vulture.
The original Battle of the Network Stars featured Heather Locklear (Dynasty, Melrose Place ), Lisa Whelchel and Kim Fields of Facts of Life, and Ron Howard and Scott Baio of Happy Days. With any luck, maybe Robert Conrad and Gabe Kaplan have some free time these days.
One of the most memorable Battle of the Network Stars scenes came in 1979, when then teen heartthrob Leif Garrett taunted “old man” Robert Conrad during the dunk tank competition. Conrad hurled a fastball so hard it landed the teen star in cold water fast. You can see the exchange at the 38-minute mark below.
In an interview with the AV Club, frequent Battle of the Network Stars competitor and team captain Scott Baio said the show was serious business.
“You know, that was a serious show,” Baio said.
“We were serious as a heart attack. But it was a lot of fun, and I was really good at it. I think I held the record for the obstacle course. We always got upset that there had to be women on the team because none of them could catch a football, and they were always upset about their makeup. Or most of ’em anyway.”
Battle of the Network Stars was such a popular TV event that it spawned the CBS copycat, Circus of the Stars, in 1977, a show which featured everyone from Bea Arthur and Brooke Shields performing circus acts.
That same year, the kid-friendly Laff-A-Lympics turned up on ABC’s Saturday morning cartoon lineup. The animated series featured popular Hannah-Barbera characters like Scooby Doo, Captain Caveman, Hong Kong Phooey, Huckleberry Hound, Quick Draw McGraw, and Grape Ape competing in athletic events. Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble even turned up as guest announcers.
The new Battle of the Network Stars is set to premiere June 29 on ABC.