There’s no Howard Cosell, sadly, and no uber-competitive Robert Conrad getting all up in rival Gabe Kaplan’s Kool-Aid — one of the most memorable moments in the series’ history — but ABC’s new reboot of Battle of the Network Stars does have the dunk tank, the kayak races, the gorgeous Malibu setting, and, most importantly, the titular stars.
Some of the famous faces competing in the reboot, in fact, are the same ones who competed nearly 40 years ago. To see what’s the same, what’s different, and hear about some of their favorite memories from the original celeb-reality competition series, Yahoo TV talked to Larry Wilcox, Charlene Tilton, Jimmie Walker, and Donna Mills about returning to do Battle once again.
Larry Wilcox, CHiPs
Competed on the original series: Four times, including once when his NBC teammate was reboot competitor Todd Bridges.
2017 Team: Wilcox and CHiPs co-star Erik Estrada are part of the “Cops” team, along with Kelly Hu, Jodi Lyn O’Keefe, and Lorenzo Lamas. They compete against a “TV Sitcoms” team that includes Bridges, Leigh-Allyn Baker, Dave Foley, Willie Garson, and Jenna von Oy. The episode is scheduled to air on Aug. 17.
Why he returned for the reboot: “Oh, I had lots of concern… dubious is an understatement,” Wilcox says about his first reaction to being invited to participate on the Battle reboot. “[But] I didn’t realize ABC’s producers were doing it. So I said, ‘Well, maybe I’m interested… but, I have some concerns… if you’re really doing it as a comedy to make fun of us, then I don’t know if I want to do that. I’m humble, and I’m not impressed with myself, but I don’t really want to make fun of myself. And there’s no way I can go and be the great athletic performer, it just isn’t going to happen.’ They said, ‘Oh, no. It’ll be easy. There will probably be some table tennis and maybe some basketball. It won’t be that hard. You can choose your events.’ So they call multiple times. Then they tell me that there’ll be some athletes and some actors. Well, that made me definitely not want to do it, because, I don’t want to be going against DeMarcus Ware, who’s this six-foot-five giant male specimen, you know? How am I going to compete against him? ‘No, no, he’s going to be your coach… and Ronda Rousey is going to be a coach.’ We finally go, [one-time world-class heptathlete and wife] Marlene and I, show up… go inside, and first event, I see Erik Estrada! I go and hug him and say hello to Ponch — I call him Ponch, ‘Hey buddy, how you doing Ponch?’ He says he doesn’t feel too good, he has a cold. And I said, ‘Oh, yeah, that’s what we all say when we have to do something like this.’ I tease him a little bit.”
2017 Battle: “The first event [was] track and field, I think, ‘Well, that’s probably not me.’ Sure enough, they call my name,” Wilcox says. “And I go, ‘I told you I don’t run, I don’t want to run. I’m old and tubby, not in shape.’ [Someone’s] putting the microphone on me and saying, ‘Here, you’ve got to pull up your shirt. We’ll run this up your six pack.’ My wife says, ‘You mean his keg?’ The lady puts the microphone on me, and they start the race and Erik’s running the first leg of the relay race, and I look over at my wife and I go, ‘Oh, my God. Is Ponch that old? He’s straggling like two feet.’ I started laughing and [Marlene] started laughing and says, ‘You’re next buddy, shut up.’ So I did my leg, I ran it, and I don’t know, we had fun.”
Wilcox and Estrada also competed in the dunk tank, and Wilcox took a spin in the basketball competition, which he thought would be a breeze. “It’s my pretty good sport, I’m pretty cocky about my basketball,” he says. “I played against a kid that didn’t even know how to shoot the basketball [Dave Foley]… nice guy, by the way. Threw the old-style, two-handed, over the top of his head. And he beat me.”
Old Battle vs. New Battle: How does the reboot compare to the original Battle of the Network Stars? “Well, a combination of things,” Wilcox says. “As I recall, the [original series]… that’s when you’re the flavor of the month. You have a tendency to think you’re kind of a hunk, right? You’re doing all this publicity, and it’s the ‘Me, me, me’ syndrome, right? You approach the circus as if you’re one of the key circus stars. I think that perspective versus just humbly coming and having fun was an enormously different side. That was number one. In all the personalities that I was exposed to there, it was really fun, because they were just good people and humble and gracious. Another difference was your perspective of all the people there. Like, when you’re 18 to 30 years old, you’re walking around strutting your stuff, if you will. Both sexes, male and female. I remember the females were to die for. As a male, you’re wondering which one of those you were going to luck out and get a date with, or whatever. Or at least I was. I’m sure [others] were thinking similar things about different people. I remember Richard Hatch and some other really handsome guys that were there in those days. Farrah Fawcett… lots of fit, pretty young ladies and fit, handsome young men… the humility versus the ego was another difference. Usually what people don’t realize is, because actors made a lot of money in one year, doesn’t mean they’re still wealthy. The traumatic stories that are behind the scenes, no one really knows, but I sense a lot of stuff, and [those situations] make for a deep and wiser, more sensitive human being, also.”
Competition-wise, certain events proved to be a bit more challenging than they were 30 or 40 years ago, unsurprisingly. “We did the tug-of-war. We were losing the stupid thing, and of course, whoever wins the tug-of-war usually wins [the competition] because you get the most points for the tug-of-war. So, since I’m pretty heavy, pretty tubby is a nice word, I’m the anchor,” Wilcox says. “They tied the rope around me… as soon as they say go, I turn around 180 degrees, and I start running the opposite way. Well, paddling, if you will, through the sand, because, it’s hard to get footing. It was just so hard. I mean, we only did it two and a half minutes, but that was, by far, the hardest event. I’m literally crawling, trying to get an inch and an inch, my knees are getting burned going in that hot sand… my back is so sore, and I thought I created a hernia in my lower abdomen. My hamstrings are just, today still, my hamstring’s in a knot from that. But, the point is that that thing is just killer, killer hard. I talked to Erik yesterday… I asked him how he was, and he said he went to the [doctor] and had all this therapy. He’s good. Parker Stevenson called me, ‘Oh, my God, Larry. Give me a call. I’m dying.’”
A CHiPs reboot?: With 2017 and beyond promising lots more TV reboots, does Wilcox think he and Estrada could team up again for an updated TV series take on CHiPs? “The cheesy, corniness of the ’70s wouldn’t translate today, obviously, but there’s a company [that’s] very interested in possibly buying [the rights to CHiPs] and re-doing it in an edgy, modern show… maybe Ponch or Jon, would be smaller cameo [roles],” says Wilcox, who would be a producer on the reboot. “Not distractors, but compliments to probably [younger] actors. Creatively bring those two characters in. When we were doing Battle of the Network Stars, the other actors said, ‘Man, you two, it would’ve been so fun to work on your show.’ That’s another confirmation of one of the things that I continue to state, that people sometimes don’t get: Erik Estrada and Larry Wilcox were not the stars of CHiPs, and yes, the motorcycles were originally, but the star of CHiPs, the real thing that made it happen, was the charisma between Larry and Erik. When we [filmed] Battle of the Network Stars, our hugging and laughing and teasing each other… it was just so obvious to me that good chemistry is what made it work. If we could weave that into the just subtly, with a little humility here and there, to poke fun at the two old guys and have fun, and introduce new characters with good writing, I think it would work. So, yeah, there’s an interest. I’ll probably know more about it in a week or two, whether we do that or not.”
Charlene Tilton, Dallas
Competed on the original series: Eight times. “I did not realize I’ve done more Battle of the Network Stars than anybody else,” Tilton says. “I hold the record they told me, so there you go.”
2017 Team: Tilton and the rest of her “Famous TV Families” teammates — Danny Bonaduce, Barry Williams, Beverley Mitchell, and Willie Aames — take on the “TV Doctors” team of Thomas Calabro, Taye Diggs, Rachelle Lefevre, Deidre Hall, and Benjamin Hollingsworth. “Outside of Beverly, we’re all pushing 60 or past it,” the actress says. “When [producers] told me who was on our team, I was like, ‘You’re kidding, right? Do you realize how old we all are?’ Then they told me the opposing team, and I went, ‘Oh, OK, nevermind.’ Our team, even though we were a little bit older, we really gave it a good college try. We did fairly well.” The episode is scheduled to air on July 27.
Why she returned for the reboot: “To be very honest, I always had great memories of it. And I love to challenge myself, but I was very honest with them. When they called me, I said, ‘Well, I’m 35 years older and 30 pounds heavier. I don’t know how great I’m going to do… are you sure you want me?’” Tilton says. “They said yes because they know me. They know I’ll try anything. Look, I wasn’t a great athlete in the original back in the day either, to tell you the truth. I’ve got the athletic prowess of a doorknob. I can’t do much of anything, but I love trying.”
Old school event: “The one thing I found I could do back in the original was the kayak,” Tilton recalls. “I would just get in the kayak, and because I’m really limber, I would fold myself in half, and I would just be, like, one with the kayak, and I would just go, go, go. I don’t have upper body strength, but for some reason I could get that kayak going… then, I found I had pretty good hand-eye coordination, so when it came to the dunk tank, I did OK, too.”
2017 Battle: No one is more surprised than the 5’2” star that she ended up in the basketball competition, trying to sink more free throws than her rival. “The words ‘basketball’ and ‘Charlene Tilton’ have never been used in a sentence together and never will be again,” Tilton says. “I competed against Taye Diggs, which was very unfair because I was blinded and distracted by his handsomeness.” But, spoiler alert, she got back at Diggs when she had to try to knock him off his seat in the dunk tank competition.
Old Battle vs. New Battle: “The camaraderie is the same. You get up there and everybody knows it’s fun. You have a great time,” Tilton says. “Some people [took it seriously], and some people didn’t. I just did the best I can. Back in the day, there were people that, like Robert Conrad, who really took it seriously. He would have his team out there, like a week beforehand, running, trying the obstacle course, practicing, getting in shape.” The actress says the series was also different in the original because the celebs were competing for networks, not in themed teams. “You kind of wanted to win for your network,” she says. “I mean, I have a picture from back in the day with David Letterman, LeVar Burton, Lou Ferrigno, McLean Stevenson, Valerie Bertinelli, and myself. That was our CBS team.”
A Dallas reboot?: Does Tilton think she might find herself playing Lucy Ewing once again? “No, I don’t see it,” she says. “I think it ran its course. [The 2012 reboot] did three seasons. I wished I could’ve done more. I was off in London doing a show at one point when they wanted to bring [Lucy] back. They were focusing on the new characters.” But she’s definitely on board for more celeb vs. celeb good times, as a viewer and a competitor. “We need some fun and lightness… [Battle of the Network Stars] is just fun, light, family entertainment. It just is, which isn’t such a bad thing at this point.”
Jimmie Walker, Good Times
Competed on the original series: Three times, including one as captain of the CBS team.
2017 Team: Walker and his “TV Kids” cohorts — Mackenzie Phillips, Jonathan Lipnicki, Krista Marie Yu, and Jeremy Miller — take on the “TV Moms & Dads” team of Chad Lowe, Greg Evigan, Ted McGinley, Lesley Fera, and Jackee Harry. The episode is scheduled to air on Aug. 31.
Why he returned for the reboot: He was invited. “Well, they asked me to do it,” says the comedian, who just turned 70 and is still touring as a stand up 300 days a year. “Anybody asks me to do anything, I’ll do most whatever. No problems, just ask.”
2017 Battle: “I did basketball, and I did the dunk tank, and I kind of collapsed a little bit on the tug-o-war,” Walker says. “I hadn’t really been in a tug-o-war before, so I had a balance problem. I got a little crazy there, so it kind of cost the team, but other than that it was a fun experience.” And the dunk tank… was he the dunker or the dunkee? “I did actually [get dunked],” he says. “I was amazed because Rob Lowe’s brother [Chad Lowe] did the tossing, and he hadn’t been too accurate on anything, but he just happened to get lucky on that one, so he got me.”
Old Battle vs. New Battle: The reboot, Walker says, “was a little easier than the original, because the original was very serious. This was a friendlier thing… I just think there was a lot of male testosterone and stuff going on in the original. You know, we had Kevin Dobson, and we had Bob Conrad and Gabe Kaplan, and all those kind of people. They were much more competitive and really, really wanted to kill somebody. [In the reboot], everybody was just kind of… it was like a light form of exercising, like being on the treadmill, rather than having to run in the streets of New York down Park Avenue or 42nd Street.”
A Good Times reboot?: “I get asked that incessantly,” Walker says of making a new version of the classic sitcom, in which he launched one of the most memorable TV catchphrases ever with J.J. Evans’s “Dy-no-mite!” He not only thinks there should, and will be, a reboot of the CBS comedy, but he has a great idea for how it should unfold: via animation.
Donna Mills, Knots Landing
Competed on the original series: Four times, and even hosted an episode with iconic ABC sportscaster Howard Cosell.
2017 Team: Mills and her “Primetime Soaps” teammates — Ian Ziering, Josh Henderson, Gabrielle Carteris, and Mischa Barton — compete against an “ABC Stars” team comprised of Olivia d’Abo, Shari Belafonte, Michael Fishman, Jason Hervey, and Anson Williams. The episode is scheduled to air on July 20.
Why she returned for the reboot: “I had very good memories of [the show] and I have a trophy, from when I won in 1980,” Mills says. “So I thought, ‘Oh, God! Wouldn’t that be fun to do again?’ And it was. I’m looking at the trophy right now, as a matter of fact. I kept it outside for a long time, by my tennis court, so it’s a little worse for wear, but it’s still there, and you can still see the plaque. I think the time I won, Tom Selleck was on my team… you know, really athletic kind of guys.”
Old school event: “I know I did the relay race. And I think I did the obstacle course,” she says. “Yeah, because I don’t swim, so I know it wasn’t that. And not being a swimmer, I thought the kayak wasn’t a very good idea, in case I fell out. And at that time, they didn’t have tennis like they did this time, which was good because that’s my sport.”
2017 Battle: No hints about how she did, but Mills did get to compete in her signature sport this time around. “I just kept asking, ‘Who am I playing against? Am I playing singles, am I playing doubles? What am I doing?’ And it ended up I was against the ball machine!” Mills says with a laugh. “It would shoot balls, and you had to hit the most out of 20 balls.”
Old Battle vs. New Battle: “Well, what was the same was it was in the same place, Pepperdine. You know, I remember the venue, being there, the pool’s the same, the track is the same, so that was all very familiar,” she says. “What was way different is that when we did it in 1980, they had maybe, I don’t know, five cameras altogether? This time, there must have been 100 cameras. They put them on drones, they put them on selfie sticks… so that was totally different because before, you knew when you were on camera. This time, you couldn’t possibly keep track of them all.”
A Knots Landing reboot?: “I have no idea,” she says. “You know, they never released anything but the first two seasons on DVD, and I have no idea why. I mean, the fans are clamoring for more of them. And a reboot, they would just go crazy. I know that Warner Brothers owns the show, and that’s basically all I know. I even saw [Knots Landing creator] David Jacobs not too long ago, because we did a reunion photograph for the French press — the French still love the show so much. And he didn’t know, he didn’t know why they don’t reboot it. [But] if they wanted to do it, I would love it, based on the script, of course. It would seem to me that they could come up with where the characters are now, which would really be fun.” Mills, who won a Daytime Emmy in 2015 for her role on a daytime soap, General Hospital, says she’d relish the chance to reprise her role as one of TV’s first antiheroines, the plotting, but complicated Abby Cunningham. “She was the vixen, she was the bad girl, she was all those things. But she also had a dimension to her. She wasn’t just all bad. The audience got to see her vulnerabilities now and then. She never showed her vulnerabilities in front of anyone else, but when she was alone, sometimes you would see them. And that was, I think, very clever because the audience felt they knew her better than the other characters knew her. So, it was very clever writing,” Mills says. “She’s my favorite character that I’ve ever played.”
Battle of the Network Stars premieres Thursday at 9 p.m. on ABC.
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