Battle of the Network Stars Review: Reviving Nostalgia Is No Field Day

It was some fun, and of course games, as ABC revived the Battle of the Network Stars competition on Thursday night.

The inaugural edition of the reboot pitted a “TV Sitcoms” team (populated by Fuller House‘s Dave Coulier, Roseanne‘s Tom Arnold,  The Goldbergs‘ AJ Michalka, Growing Pains‘ Tracy Gold and Perfect Strangers‘ Bronson Pinchot) against a brood of “TV Kids” (Facts of Life‘s Lisa Whelchel and Kim Fields, Blossom‘s Joey Lawrence, High School Musical‘s Corbin Bleu, Modern Family‘s Nolan Gould). And the reactions are bound to vary depending on if you, as I did, grew up with watching the original series of specials… umpty-ump years ago.

All told, the new Battle feels more like a skirmish. For one, it’s a head-to-head competition between just two diplomatically themed teams of five, whereas the original series famously fielded bigger teams branded ABC!, CBS! and NBC! The new Battle is too small and too quiet, with, for example, no cheering crowds surrounding the swimming pool. It feels as if it’s the 10 celebs, the two coaches (MMA champ Ronda Rousey and NFL vet DeMarcus Ware), a pair of vanilla hosts and the camera crew… and absolutely no one else observing the proceedings.

On top of that, of course, is the “star wattage” factor. It was a thing, back in the day, to watch dozens of actual stars of current shows reveal their truer selves away from the soundstages. Here, due to the teams’ “hybrid” makeup, the experience is more miss-and-hit, relying heavily on your interest in re-watching Lisa Whelchel and Kim Fields brave the monkey bars and tug-of-war as they did decades before. It’s almost a mere “bonus” that you get Modern Family and Goldbergs cast members thrown into the mix.

That said, the participants’ spirits were as high as could be, egged on as they were not by cheering fans but by stock sideline reporters. Fields in particular came off as funny in a “live wire” kind of way, Whelchel was winning and lovely, and the sometimes over-the-top Dave Coulier kept himself modulated. Tracy Gold and Joey Lawrence maintained comparatively low profiles throughout, with the latter’s biggest moment coming as the target of some shade from Rousey. Corbin Bleu will probably book a role off of his charming showing here.

All of which is to say that any given installment of the 10-episode revival may live or die based on the cast at hand. I’m already questioning this opening pair-up (ABC seems to have been milking the nostalgia factor), and will be curious to see how the forthcoming face-offs fare.

Before you cast your own vote for the modern Battle, some parting ponderings:

* Did the hosts’ Wide World of Sports blazers look cheap and ill-fitting, or was it just me?

* Anyone else find it “interesting” that Marvel sibling ABC blurred out Fields’ t-shirt on-air?

* Did Tom Arnold realize his eyeglasses’ stems weren’t resting on his ears? #Rhetorical

* Is that really how Joey Lawrence throws a ball? Had AJ Michalka handled a tennis racquet before?

* Did Pepperdine University get any advanced notice that it’d be hosting the show? Some of those playing fields looked rough.


Comments are monitored, so don’t go off topic, don’t frakkin’ curse and don’t bore us with how much your coworker’s sister-in-law makes per hour. Talk smart about TV!

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  1. padraicjacob says:

    I thought it was fun. Although honestly, Joey Lawrence is just not athletic, is he?

    The fact that there was no audience did seem weird and kind of kept the atmosphere quiet.

    • Lou says:

      Yep I expected him to be way more athletic.

      • mtanyasmail says:

        I did too! He looks good, seems fit. But that’s another reason why I am CONVINCED the whole thing is fixed. They already know who is going to win etc. Look how they put younger celebs against old ones, come on. The races aren’t equally set up. Most of them anyway. Then the tug of war–please. The one with LaMonica (with a name like that for a dude growing up it’s a good thing he’s so buff!! Lol) as the anchor against who was it–Corbin Bernson? I mean come on!! There was NO way! Fixed I say.

        • Matt Webb Mitovich says:

          Really? You think something so utterly meaningless as this new BONS is “fixed”…? LOL

          • mtanyasmail says:

            Um–yeah, why not? Have you even watched it? Common sense tells you they already know the outcome or at least slant it with the teams they make. Meaningless or not, they took the time to make the thing why not the time to fix it? Youre asking stupid question.

    • Lou says:

      Yep I expected him to be way more athletic.

    • Stanz says:

      I enjoyed it. It was fun to watch….it wasn’t like the old days, with a crowd and the like, but still it was fun. Why didnt Tracey Gold ever get interviewed? Tom Arnold seemed to be on drugs.

  2. Rachel says:

    I was very disappointed. Maybe my expectations were too high. Don’t feel the need to watch again

  3. bob says:

    i found the show off putting and cringe worthy. i never saw the original so i cant compare that.

    • TV Gord says:

      There are some good clips of the original on YouTube, from entire shows to five-minute clips. I just watched one with David Letterman, William Shatner, Robert Urich and others. Pretty fun to watch after all this time.

      • mtanyasmail says:

        Ooh that sounds good I will have to look it up. I was a kid when the first one was on and I loved it. This one has disappointed me because it seems to be so obviously fixed. And the teams are so uneven! Plus the people they put against each other in some of the ‘races’ is just unfair. But it’s cool to see some stars we haven’t seen for awhile.

  4. :-) says:

    It was fun and funny. I agree on the yellow jackets and host. I think they can do better on both. RR was one of the highlights especially when Tom Arnold tried to put her in the pool. Kim and Lisa did try to make it interesting. They need to encourage people to smack talk and play around. I also agree that it needs a crowd. The crowd would also help with the parts they move through quickly like the basketball game and tennis match. The show will succeed or fail based on who is in each episode. I don’t recognize anyone in next weeks episode so i probably won’t watch but I’ll keep an eye out for future guest.

  5. Shaun says:

    Who chose which events the members participated in?Kim Fields in the final course?wtf!Also that twig boy from Modern Family was sad.

  6. Avery says:

    I liked it overall. However…

    1. When Tom Arnold is really late and they make that a storyline instead of editing it out? There’s problems. :)

    2. They spent wayyyyyyy too much time on Tom Arnold and I don’t think Tracy Gold said a word the whole show, which was bizarre.

    3. I know they need even teams but I spent a lot of the show going, “Why isn’t Tracy Gold on the “Sitcom Kids” team?

    My genuinely favorite moment…

    Sideline Reporter: What happened out there?

    Kim Fields: What? I did my thing. (The question didn’t make sense to me, either.) :)

  7. diane says:

    Liked it, but it did need a crowd. The hosts need to get a little more oomph. Tom Arnold was a mess, until the end. Kim Fields was intense.

  8. Philip says:

    I’m wondering if this show does well and gets renewed for another season, it would be interesting to see who they can get next time. Maybe they would get a more even balance of current and nostalgic Stars, if the show proves to be popular. I mean, they would have to find 100 Stars.

    Then again, I would guess that not all of ABC’s summer competition shows would succeed.

  9. JennyfromGeorgia says:

    Uppity-Up years ago, I remember watching it and thinking they got stars of current shows and athletes. This whole show was odd and we turned it about 20 minutes in to something else. There is something missing — maybe it is the crowds.

  10. RomanticAtHeart says:

    I have always loved the concept and thought it would work again, but I was a bit disappointed in how it was executed. Just wish more current popular TV actors competed. There were too many mismatches and not enough compelling competition.

  11. JR says:

    Can’t really knock the yellow jackets too much, Howard Cosell running around in his as the host is one of the iconic images from the original series, but I agree they didn’t seem to fit well. I think part of the problem is in the 1980, there were only 3 networks, so it was easy to have ABC vs CBS vs NBC, now its harder to break it down like that. In spite of the silliness at times, they always treated it like a real sporting event, including Cosell who was the most well knows sports anchor at the time and real fans in the stadium, I think that aspect is missing here.

    I do agree they were going too much for the nostalgia factor casting, if you look back at the teams from the original series they were all people will current, or recent, shows. One of the hosts for several years was Bruce Jenner, if they wanted nostalgia, they should have had Caitlyn out there hosting.

    • mtanyasmail says:

      I think it would be a slap in the face to have “Caitlyn” hosting. BRUCE–yes, but not her. It’s like she would rather have erased the existence of Bruce so to host a show that would honor the great athlete that HE was would be just wrong. That’s just my opinion.
      I wish they would have made it more like the original because I used to be glued to the tv when it was on…

  12. John Franks says:

    For someone who has never seen the original I thoroughly enjoyed this show. It’s exactly what summer television should be. Much more family friendly than most shows and it made me laugh. It never took itself too seriously like ninja warrior does. Looking forward to next week.

  13. Sydthekid says:

    I only plan on watching the episode with Rachelle LeFevre because she’s totally hot. Other than that – zero interest.

  14. mphs95 says:

    What made it work was the direct competition between network with current shows. Next should be min the Big 4 networks. Possibly CW.

  15. KGB66 says:

    I was distracted the whole show wondering what Tom Arnold had in his system. He obviously was not sober or had some drugs in him.

  16. danoregon says:

    Really surprised the broadcast networks don’t use this show as a vehicle to promote new shows – stock the rosters with actors in shows premiering in the fall. Figure you have some well-knowns, and not so well knowns. Amazing that even those actors with decent physiques seemed so unathletic.

    • Tom Hupf says:

      That was exactly what the old Battle did to an extent. Everyone know Magnum PI before the show came on because Tom Selleck was so good in BONS. Cossell called him Magnum all the time. For he legs in the swimming leg it was HERE COMES MAGNUM PI for CBS. You knew actors in the pilots from this show

      I guess now that is the problem, other Network don’t want to give their stars to ABC so ABC gets ratings

    • Fran Meador 216 says:

      I am going to admit right up front here that I have spent WAY too much time thinking about this! What can I say? I was a HUGE fan of the original and I’ve had 40 years to think about it. I think you’re right that the networks would be extremely wise to use this competition as a promotional tool. They should invest some of their advertising dollars into signing their stars up for Battle of the Network Stars and pay them some of what they’d pay out for a TV ad. And so what if there are lots more networks now? How many major league baseball teams are there? They play each other all year and then have a big play-off at the end. Why couldn’t they do the same thing here? They could have 8 weeks of competition, three networks each week, in the summer before fall shooting starts. The winners would be in the “playoffs” the last two weeks. Obviously, they would have to schedule that however they needed to based on the number of networks participating. But, pitched correctly, I think this could still be a winning idea. I also know I’m kidding myself. They had their chance and clearly blew it. And I’m not likely to live another 40 years for them to try again.

  17. spdavid says:

    This felt cramped for time.The original version,if I’m remembering correctly,was 2 or 3 hours long.Also they kind of scraped the bottom of the barrel a bit for people.And Lisa looks amazing I must say.

  18. danoregon says:

    And I’m guessing the no audience thing was a way to prevent things leaking out on social media. Still, you would have thought the performers would have brought family and friends along.

    • Matt Webb Mitovich says:

      If American Ninja Warrior can keep a decent lid on how the actual star of a major superhero series did in its celebrity edition, I am sure few would blab(/care enough about) the results of… this.

  19. Tomm Huntre says:

    Thus wasn’t even good TV. You’re right about the ill fitting blazers. And the lack of a crowd was just weird. I, too, remember the original. Too bad we can’t get that flavor back. ABC vs CBS vs NBC vs CW would be sooo fun!!

  20. Steve 2 says:

    For one thing the show is named incorrectly. There are few “stars” taking part in this. This is more like a reunion show from the 80’s-90’s.

  21. It literally was one of the worst shows on television like other shows DWTS and Wipeout. I’ve never gonna get my time back from watching this, so I’m not going to tune in again.

  22. Gerald says:

    It needed truly athletic people. I know it wouldn’t be American Ninja Warrior, and not all the star would be like Stephen Amell, but old sitcom star trying to be athletic was kinda sad. Good for them for trying, but did not make for great television. Cheering crowds for sure would have been helpful.

  23. meg says:

    ABC’s fear of letting social media know the results of a contest between mostly has-been actors overrides their good sense in providing crowds which would have pumped up the contestants and been much more enjoyable to watch. It makes them so much more competitive. Watching a handful of actors at a “dunk tank” standing there staring without any enthusiasm just doesn’t work. The only funny thing was watching them constantly berate Tom Arnold because he showed up late and hung over.

  24. BeeBop says:

    I watched the original and was hoping for some of the same magic but not having an audience is just plain weird. I thought Tom Arnold was a bit drunk at the beginning of the show but sobered up as it went along. The two guys in the gold jackets are awful, the ladies a bit better. Unless they get some more energy into this I won’t be watching much longer.

  25. Jayne L. says:

    Just bring back Wipeout and make a celebrity edition! That was a physical show that worked without crowds.

  26. ncmacasl says:

    I loved it – it was funny & fun with a side of nostalgia.

  27. ncmacasl says:

    RE: Pepperdine, My college girlfriend used to live nearby. She said they used to SPRAY PAINT the grass so it would look good on camera!! Obviously with HDTV this tactic would be more noticeable!!

  28. Leesa says:

    I enjoyed watching it. Some parts were funny and there were people I was hoping would win. Maybe I’m wrong but it seemed as though Tom Arnold was drunk and a bit slurry, however it was still fun to see him. I enjoy watching shows where celebrities compete against each other , so I will watch the show as long as it’s on the air.

  29. KLS says:

    This is one of the first TVLine polls I’ve seen that “C, F, and D” got the most votes. Who knows how many people voted, but still…

  30. DG says:

    I really enjoyed the show. I watched the original one and this one isn’t as good but I liked it. I did miss the crowd. Having a crowd gives an energy and excited that this show definitely lavks.

  31. Meg says:

    We had no choice but to watch this when it originally aired. Now we have a choice and we choose not to. All they are doing is rehashing old tv and game shows and they all suck.

  32. Syl says:

    Most of the “stars” aren’t stars and never were. Most are second or third stringers

    • Matt Webb Mitovich says:

      That’s what you’re going with? Cast was announced weeks ago. All the jokes have been made.

  33. adf says:

    You do realize that Wonder Woman is DC Comics, not Marvel. Of course they are going to blur it out.

  34. Marie Zuron says:

    I am a fan of the old Battle of the Network Stars. I did watch the new and found it lacking. They need to go back to the old format. It just seemed more exciting back in the day. More Stars on a team and the ABC,NBC,CBS rivarlries were definatly missing.

  35. Fran Meador 216 says:

    The word for this reboot is – small. It was all just too small. Back in the day the event was HUGE. They had huge stars of huge shows. The crowd was huge. The excitement was palpable. Competitiveness was off the chart. And Howard. He was always larger than life. None of this could be said of the reboot. The teams were too small. The events were dull because there were too few competitors and no audience to cheer. Watching this felt like when my brother and I used to race the neighbor kids in the yard. It could be fixed, of course. After the disappointment of this installment, however, I doubt if anyone will be motivated to try. That is such a shame, for this was a fabulous idea. I am so sad that ABC didn’t make more of the opportunity to bring back a show that brought so much joy to so many for so long.

  36. DANIEL R ROHNKE says:

    Unwatchable, Espn hosts trying to branch out?…killing your careers…just sad, bad tv

  37. mtanyasmail says:

    I have to say as I have commented already that while I enjoy watching it there is NO way it isn’t fixed. Case in point the Tug-of-war. The losing team ALWAYS wins at the end because of that. And to prove my point-the anchors one week were LaMonica someone and Corbin Bernsen. The teams were so unbelievably uneven in terms of physicality, age, etc. There is no way in hell the team with Corbin was going to win that Tug-of-war. None. In the dunk tank there have been times when you KNOW the guys throwing missed on purpose. And the kayaking? Ugh Then what about that Joana Krupa in the swimming race? She did some kind of breaststroke and TOOK HER TIME! It was like she didn’t want to get her hair wet or something. We were yelling at the tv! Why would they even put her in the race if she wasn’t even going to try at ALL? Fixed, that’s why. It was the most frustrating thing I have seen on tv in a long time, lol, watching Krupa “race”. Ugh But we still keep watching :)

  38. toneloke says:

    The new show was ok since most of stars actually have charisma in of themselves. I enjoy
    competitions where you feel you know the people, even if only thru a tv series. The show
    made a production choice to leave out cheering crowds, or cheerleaders that were always a
    critical part of BOTNS prior shows. Subsequently, the energy is lacking. This was a bad choice to leave out those important elements.

    • Al Petersen says:

      Totally agree about lack of energy. The crowds in the original series added a lot. There was always a cheesy factor, and it’s definitely still there. I think showing more old highlights would be great.