You Won’t See This Again #1: Battle of the Network Stars

This is going to be the first in a series of articles regarding pop culture moments that you won’t see again and why.

I always refer that the 1970’s is the decade where good taste went to die. That’s not a knock on cinema in the 70’s because it’s the decade that gave us The Godfather I & II, The French Connection, Star Wars, Jaws, and The Deer Hunter. It’s not a knock on TV in the 70’s as it gave us All in The Family, M*A*S*H, The Rockford Files, and Dallas. Music in the 1970’s is a mix bag because it’s the decade that gave us disco. My knock in the 1970’s is dealing with the fashion (leisure suits and ruffled tuxedo shirts never came back in style) and the décoretwr (too much love for brown and yellow)/ There are just many pop culture moments that are germane to the 1970’s and can’t be effectively replicated again and one of those moments is Battle of The Network Stars.

For those born after 1980, Battle of the Network Stars was an athletic competition where television stars from ABC, CBS, and NBC would compete for network “supremacy”. It was a ratings bonanza for 13 years with semi-annual competitions and it was kind of odd for ABC to advertise the televisions stars of competing networks.

It was such a slice of the 1970’s because they would have slow motion video of some buxom actresses like Cheryl Ladd and Adrienne Barbeau, which was memorialized in the Saturday Night Live spoof ad for “Network Battle of the T’s & A’s”. By the way, have you ever been to a sporting competition that included Simon Says and a dunk tank as athletic events?

Why won’t you see this again? Several reasons. The television climate was different in the 1970’s when there were only 3 networks and less than 20% of homes had cable television. Now you have 5 networks and several cable channels like AMC and HBO that have television stars that are sometimes bigger than what’s on the network. How could you have a Battle of the Network Stars with that many teams? Let’s also not forget that streaming services like Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hulu are cutting into the TV channel business.

Why would a channel use a sporting event to advertise the stars of competing channels? I just never understood that. Maybe since ABC was the top network when the competition started and NBC was always in last place? I don’t know, but I just don’t think anyone today wants to advertise the competition. NBC did try to resurrect the show over a decade ago as part of an intra-network competition (between NBC and NBC cable channels) and it failed miserably. They also tried a Battle of the Reality TV stars and that failed too.

Thanks to so many sports cable channels, there is enough sporting competitions on TV to whet a sports fan appetite that they don’t need to see athletic competitions by actors. Also today’s tastes would shy away from the gratuitous shots of female competitors.

If they ever would bring back the competition, who could ever replace Howard Cosell? No sportscaster could give the same effort for a 100 yard dash between Gabe Kaplan and Robert Conrad as they would for a Muhammad Ali fight or a Monday Nigh Football game? Howard made it seem like these competitions were fights to the death.

They won’t bring back leisure suits and they won’t bring back Battle of the Network Stars.

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