Saved by TV

Slung on the couch, watching the mistletoe wither, a thought occurs to me: Life isn't what it used to be. Duh. So, all channel-flipped out, I ball myself into a fetal position on the couch and pray for the end of the holidays, the end of life, the end of something.

But then the narcotic hiss of televised nonesuch knocks me back to life. Just when the mind was racing to conclusions that maybe I need to join a gym, quit drinking and date women, the Trio network (pop, culture, TV, whatever) decides to change everything by running a marathon of the absolute best television show ever! Vintage Letterman, you say? Nay, you fool. It's "Battle of the Network Stars." You could act a little more excited.

Clearly conceived in the Quaalude/cocaine spin of a suicidally desperate '70s network boardroom meeting, the "Battle of the Network Stars" ran intermittently for an inexplicable 13 years, allowing sundry feather-hairs of various network sitcom affiliations the opportunity to wear short shorts and make complete asses of themselves. Sometimes said asses would combine with the short shorts in a manner of gross public display, creating cheeky ratings gold. That means you, Catherine Bach.

For me, it was the Saturday-morning appeal of navigating an obstacle course without ever actually having to leave the house that tickled my fancy, at least back then. Today's excursion, however, comes with a touch more cynical, rubbernecked involvement. I can't stop watching.

Especially when, reaching for the bottle, I catch a glimpse of Mackenzie Phillips tripping her way through the tire-walking portion of the obstacle course. Obviously hampered by her powdered monkey, Phillips turns a shade of Hollywood blue known only to those with eternally stuffy noses. I think I love her.

Oh, and there were others. Countless others. Even Tina Yothers. And I got to see Larry Wilcox's toolbox, which was justification enough for upgrading to pay cable. My life, my friends, is complete. Or is that over?

It doesn't get any more B-list than this.

Curious to find others of my tragic ilk, I immediately hop over to the computer station (where, admittedly, I ought to be writing something of significantly more worth than this drivel) and Google up the masses. I find my perfect home on, which makes sense because if my life were a television show, I would have been through six Cousin Olivers by now, killed three video-store employees, and, alas, inhaled all of Colombia. I'm that good. Fond memories pepper the Battle page, and I thought I'd share some with you, rather than having to create any of my own.

"Howard Cosell, intellect, wit, foil to the greatest sports figure of the 20th century (Muhammad Ali), reduced to commenting on slow-mo replay of Toni Tennille's fingers wiggling as she waited to catch a pass in touch football," writes one loser better than me. "How did Howie live with himself till he died? He had become such a joke."

Who hasn't?

"This show jumped when that wig-wearing hump Cosell berated that major piece of ass Morgan Fairchild for mocking Mr. T's prayer ritual," impresses another, adding, "How did Mr. T get on this show anyway? He was as big of a network star as Ted McGinley."

One decidedly wistful nostalgia fiend found the need to restore the honor of Kristy McNichol. How kind.

"Why oh why did they stop making this show? It was pure Nielsens gold, baby! There has never been a sexier show on TV, even when Cosell called Richard Hatch 'Dick Hatch.' The episode that sticks out in my mind: George Brett was the celebrity referee and he disqualified Kristy McNichol for cheating on the monkey bar portion of the obstacle course. They went to the replay and he was right! Poor Kristy!"

Poor us.

"I remember when Cathy Lee Crosby was chosen as the first woman to be named team captain' for ABC," scowls one feminista. "Ooooohh, what a benchmark in the women's lib movement that was. Other than that I always loved the show, and remember how surprised I was at how unathletic Mr. T was, Gavin MacLeod winning in Ping-Pong, Erik Estrada losing in roller-skating to one of the girls in "Eight is Enough," Ann Jillian crying from exhaustion in the tug-o-war, Scott Baio with an interception in the football game, and Ricky Schroeder picking Heather Thomas for the dunk tank."

Bueller? Bueller? Bueller?

"TREMENDOUS show," writes my favorite of the underachieving types. "I'm on my couch, smoking a joint when I come across the Trio marathon of the show's '76-'80 episodes. You can't beat seeing hot, obscure '70s chicks like Pat Klous and the chick from 'Buck Rogers.'"

"I love how they got all the hot chicks to be on it, including Farrah Fawcett and Daisy Duke. However, nothing is more disturbing than Ed Asner in a Speedo."

"Does it get any better than the guy from "BJ and the Bear" baseball-dunking Willie Aames?" he writes, clearly still high. "Also funny are the little pieces they do on the competitors. Joanna Cassidy was talking about how she is a 'serious actress' and was obviously shaken by her casting-couch experiences and thought she was above being on "Battle" and TV at all for that matter. But she does have great cans."

About this time, I hear Joyce DeWitt speaking in glazy soft tones over my shoulder about how people can probably tell that she "really cares, and I think people can see that." And I'm going crazy.

One observation wraps up the Shark page, standing prescient, and indeed useful in the ending of this column:

"Also wondering, particularly in the late '70s and early '80s episodes, how pot-and-coke fueled these events were. I am expecting to see an episode where Lauren Tewes has a heart attack after doing 10 lines and trying to win a kayak race. I'm sure Scott Baio and Kristy McNichol fired up a joint prior to the obstacle course."

Life isn't what it used to be.

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