(Editor’s Note: We hope you enjoy this repost of a classic Retroland article)
Remember back when there were only three major networks on TV? It seems so long ago. There were ABC, NBC and CBS and each network fought vigorously for their slice of the pie. And while viewers might not have been privy to the cutthroat nature of the business behind the scenes, they were at least able to get a glimpse of their favorite stars try to best each other on Battle of the Network Stars.
In what was likely one of the first reality shows, Battle of the Network Stars gave viewers a look at celebrities out of their element – their clothes dirty, their perfect hair out of place. All of the biggest stars of the day appeared in their color-coded sweat suits and competed in obstacle courses, tug-of-wars, kayaking, “Simon says” and a number of other events – all playfully taunting each other while iconic sportscaster Howard Cosell called the play-by-play action. Gabe Kaplan, Robert Conrad and Telly Savalas were all team captains for multiple years, coaching a cavalcade of stars that included (at one time or another) Farrah Fawcett, Ron Howard, Robin Williams, Valerie Bertinelli, Linda Evens and even David Letterman.
Filmed at Pepperdine University,The Battle of the Network Stars appeared on ABC bi-annually from 1976-1985. An attempt was made by NBC to revive the series in 2003, sans Howard Cosell and featuring stars who only appeared on the host network, but the original charm of the show couldn’t be recaptured.
Sure it was corny, sure it was somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but for almost a decade this was must-watch television – a chance to see the glamorous let their hair down, fall into the water, trip in the mud and, for a change, appear … almost human.
If you have fond memories of regularly tuning into Battle of the Network Stars, tell us all about it in our comments section, as we tip our hats to this well-remembered televised competition.