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Battle of the Network Stars Was the Sexiest TV Show of 1976

1976 was a truly historic year. It was the year that Jimmy Carter defeated incumbent president Gerald in the United States presidential election, Apple Computer and Microsoft incorporated, and the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that Karen Ann Quinlan could be disconnected from her ventilator.

Aside from landmark political and business milestones, 1976 was also the year that polyester, bell bottoms, leisure suits, flower-patterned dresses, and sideburns reigned supreme in the fashion world. And for all of you tech junkies out there, 1976 was also the year that saw the invention of the 5 1/4 inch floppy disk.

On the radio, Wing’s Silly Love Songs, Elton John and Kiki Dee’s Don’t Go Breaking My Heart, and Johnnie Taylor’s Disco Lady were playing on repeat. If pop music really wasn’t your thing, if you were alive back in ’76, you might have been rocking out to bands like AC/DC, Blondie, Boston, or Aerosmith.

On TV, shows like The Six Million Dollar Man, The Sonny and Cher Show, and Rhoda were making waves. But there was one particularly special show that premiered in 1976 that we believe deserves it’s very own video.

Battle of the Network Stars, which aired on ABC, was a series of competitions that made it’s debut on November 13, 1976. The show offered an athletic competition between various well-known stars of prime-time television shows from all three major networks at the time, ABC, CBS, and NBC.

At first, the idea of actors turning into athletes and competing against each other was seen as being so absurd that it could only be introduced to the audience with a tongue-in-cheek intro that didn’t seem to take itself very seriously.

The show’s introductory monologue spoke of lines being drawn where soldiers arriving ‘not on foot nor horseback but by jet and limousine’ would ‘hurl themselves against each other in mortal combat…lusting for victory at any cost’.

While the concept was presented to the viewers with a bit of a wink and smirk, it didn’t take long for the participants to start taking the competition very seriously. The viewers also took to the concept fairly quickly, leading Battle of the Network Stars to become one of the biggest surprise hits of the year.

The very first installment of the Battle of the Network Stars in 1976 was fairly revolutionary for it’s time. A total of 19 competitions were held between 1976 and 1988, and there have been several attempts to revive the series since then. Most recently, ABC rebooted the competition as a summer series that ran from June to September 2017.

There’s no doubt about it. Looking back at the inaugural Battle of the Network Stars competition in 1976, it was clearly the sexiest TV show on the air at the time. Join Facts Verse as we review the various teams and stars that took part in that trailblazing internetwork event almost fifty years ago.

A Star-Studded Affair

On ABC’s team, you had Welcome Back Kotter’s Gabe Kaplan, who served as captain, and his co-star Robert Hagyes. Representing The Streets of San Francisco, you had the lovely Darleen Carr and her co-star Richard Hatch. Wonder Woman’s Lynda Carter, Charlie’s Angels Farrah Fawcett, and Happy Day’s Ron Howard also joined in for the fun, as did Hal Linden of Barney Miller, Penny Marshall of Laverne, and Shirley and John Schuck of Holmes & YoYo.

Team CBS was comprised of Kojak’s Telly Savalas, who served as team captain alongside his co-star Kevin Dobson. From Maude, Adrienne Barbeau and Bill Macy joined in on the action, and M*A*S*H stars Gary Burghoff and Loretta Swit also showed up in stride. One Day at a Time had a duo of celeb participants that competed, Pat Harrington Jr. and Mackenzie Phillips. To round out the team, you had Lee Meriwether from Barnaby Jones and Jimmie Walker of Good Times.

On the NBC Team, which was captained by Baa Baa Black Sheep’s Robert Conrad, you had two folks from Little House on the Prairie, Karen Grassie and Melissa Sue Anderson. Tim Matheson from The Quest and Gemini Man’s Ben Murphy stepped up to the plate as well. Barbara Parkins, making a brief appearance during her hiatus represented Captains and the Kings – as did her co-star Joanna Pettet. Emergency fans were excited to see Bobby Troup and Kevin Tighe while Sanford & Son viewers were tickled to see Demond Wilson.

Before we tell you about the events and winners of the 1976 Battle of the Network Stars competition, take a moment to show us a little support by giving this video a like and subscribing to the Facts Verse channel.

The Events

All but one of the Batlle of the Network Stars competitions from 1976 onward were held at the sports facilities of Pepperdine University in Malibu, California.

A few of the events were modeled after the ones featured on The Superstars – a previous Trans World-ABC-produced show that featured athletes from different sports competing against each other for glory.

The events on Battle of the Network Stars included kayaking, golf, swimming, volleyball, bowling, tennis, 3 on 3 football, cycling, running, the baseball dunk, and the obstacle course. Another regularly featured event was a classic game of Simon Says.

During the events, each network team would receive points based on how well the team members performed. After the regular events were finished the team that scored the lowest was eliminated from further competition and the remaining two networks would determine the day’s winner with a game of tug-of-war.

Team NBC won the Swimming Relay while ABC took the win for the running relay. NBC initially won the event, but team CBS protested seeing how NBC’s final handoff happened outside the zone. The judges ended up penalizing NBC two seconds which resulted in ABC winning by just a hair.

For the tennis event, CBS, with Harrington and Swit participating, beat out Murphy and Grassie.

CBS won the golf event as well. The network’s final win of the competition was the Baseball Dunk. ABC threw at CBS. NBC at ABC, and CBS at NBC.

Only a small clip of the bike relay event was aired. No participants were shown in that clip except for Murphy of team NBC.

NBC ended up winning the event, with ABC and CBS coming respectively in second and third place.

Marshal, Hatch, and Hagyes with Team ABC won the obstacle course, and the volleyball event was a tie between all three teams. For the Tug-of-War, ABC beat out CBS to clinch victory.

The 2017 Reboot

In 2017, a Battle of the Network Stars reboot premiered. The new incarnation of the beloved competition made quite a few changes to the original while retaining essentially the same premise. The reboot launched on ABC on June 29, 2017.

While the original competition was hosted by Howard Cosell, who was well-known for his tongue-in-cheek semi-serious presenting style, the new Battle of the Network Stars was hosted by Mike Greenberg. Previously Greenberg has worked as a professional sports presenter and commentator. While he could be serious at times, he also brought an element of humor to the show.

The format is the main thing that changed with the new Battle of the Network stars. Originally, the teams were composed of eight or nine actors and actresses from a network, with one of them being named team captain. In the 2017 show, the structure of the teams changed in three ways.

First, the teams were made up of six players. Second, the teams weren’t strictly divided by network. Instead, the participants were grouped according to character types. For example you had TV moms and dads vs. TV kids and Cops vs. Sci-Fi fantasy stars. Lastly, the team captain was the only permanent team member. The other five members of the teams fluctuated from one week to another.

The reboot was met with mixed reviews. Younger viewers who had never seen the original generally found the program to be entertaining while those that had very fond memories of the original were less impressed. Nostalgia has a funny way of making things from the past feel a lot better than they actually were.

Older viewers complained that the games were lacking in the fun department. They also tended to agree that the original series had a superior overall atmosphere as there was a live crowd of fans to cheer for the teams. Without the crowd, something felt lacking.

Other Spin-Offs

Battle of the Network Reality Stars premiered on Bravo on August 17, 2005. The competition borrowed most of the major elements of the original 1970s and 80s competition. Some of the best-known contestants to participate in the competition included Adam Mesh of Average Joe, Survivor winner Richard Hatch, Nikki Mckibbin and Ryan Star from American Idol, and Evan Marriott of Joe Millionaire fame.

Also in 2005, ESPN premiered a relatively short-lived sports-themed Battle of the Network Stars spin-off called Battle of the Gridiron Stars. In that show, twenty AFC and twenty NFC players competed in a variety of games and tasks that had nothing to do with the sport of football.

While there are currently no talks of bringing back Battle of the Network Stars, it’s probably a pretty safe bet to say that we haven’t seen the last of the iconic competition. Just give it a bit of time and you will more than likely see either a new reboot series or spin-off in the years to come.

Now that you’ve heard from us, we’d love to hear what you have to say. Were you a fan of Battle of the Network Stars? If so, which year’s competition do you think was the best? Let us know in the comments.

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As always, thanks for watching! We’ll see you soon with more videos covering some of your favorite classic television shows, films, and stars.

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