As a television fan in the ‘70s and ‘80s, the best time of year was the airing of Battle of the Network Stars, when actors of your favorite shows came together to compete in a massive field day event, revealing secret talents and paving the way for future reality TV shows like Dancing With the Stars. ABC’s summer reboot, coached by Rhonda Rousey and DeMarcus Ware, doesn’t feature Olympic quality athleticism, but there’s enough nostalgia and hijinks to fill a family reunion.
1. Tender Reunions
The Facts of Life co-stars Kim Fields & Lisa Whelchel seem to be better friends in real life than you could ever imagine characters Tootie and Blair being, while Larry Wilcox and Erik Estrada brought the same goofy fun energy of CHiPs to their team. In a conversation with fellow child star Jenna von Oy (Six on Blossom), Todd Bridges gives a sweet shout-out to the cast family of Diff’rent Strokes who have all passed on since the show aired, saying he’s competing to honor their memory too.
2. Unexpected Athletes
Dave Foley of NewsRadio and Kids In the Hall may joke faster than he runs, but he did manage to show off his outdoorsy Canadian side in the kayak and even won at basketball, using nontraditional soccer-style overhead throws. Donna Mills, now in her 70s, returned to BNN to nail the tennis event better than any other competitor. Michael Fishman of Roseanne crosses the rope swing on the obstacle course more naturally than a young Indiana Jones.
3. Awkward Flops
The winner for most hard-to-watch moment goes to Mischa Barton whose dunk tank loss defied physics. Jason Hervey, the bullying older brother from The Wonder Years, grazed the bull’s eye target on his third throw and sent Barton on a 15-foot drop into the water. During the fall, she managed to contort her body into a near belly flop. This made hosts Mike Greenberg and Joe Tessitore of ESPN laugh so hard they knocked their heads together.
4. Where-Are-They-Now? Fun Facts
Gabrielle Carteris who played Andrea Zuckerman on the original Beverly Hills 90210 is now president of the actors’ union, SAG-AFTRA. Hunky soap opera star Lorenzo Lamas now has a career flying helicopter tours over Manhattan. Willie Garson of Sex and the City brought his adorable teenage son to the event and talked lovingly about how their relationship came to be…right before also falling into the dunk tank.
5. Ronda Rousey
The UFC fighter’s role as the red team coach each episode is more cheerleader than captain, but when Jason Hervey initially refuses to swap his Calvin Klein black t-shirt for team colors — even arguing with producers on camera about it — Rousey pulls Hervey aside and gives a hard stare that convinces him to finally shape up and be a team player.
6. The Excitement of the Obstacle Course…
The Shondaland showdown between Matt McGrory and Joshua Malina was a nail-biter, but Jack Osborne’s dramatic close finish against Pretty Little Liars’ Keegan Allen will have you standing up with excitement.
7. …and the Agony of the Tug-Of-War
The final event of the games is worth 10 points and ends up defining the winning team. A grueling endurance test at the end of day has the stars digging deep into the sand, often with unexpected results: Tom Arnold may show up late, but when he says he’s holding it down as tug-of-war anchor, trust him.
There are five more episodes airing Thursdays at 9 p.m. ET/PT, so turn on Battle of the Network Stars if you need a break from the current iteration of American Ninja Warrior to watch a show that’s more fitting to your own actual athletic talents.
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