If you were stoned or sloshed during the Carter or Reagan Administrations, ABC's Battle of the Network Stars may have seemed as funny as anything on TV. In 19 episodes from 1976 to '88, this Olympics of Inanity pitted celebrities from the three networks against one another in epic tugs-of-war, relay races and other picnic sports. Gabe Kaplan, McLean Stevenson and Charlene Tilton were among the enthusiastic, if not always agile, stars who splashed, stumbled and—not incidentally—pitched their programs. Howard Cosell was usually on hand to call the shots, such as they were. Among the show's allures was the chance to marvel at Pepperdine's pristine Malibu campus, where the event was held, as well as gape at pneumatic prime-time babes (Farrah Fawcett-Majors, right, Lynda Carter) emerging from the water after swimming races. Network TV didn't get any better than that.
What signaled the end of the Battle was a parody on the Second City Television comedy show called Battle of the PBS Stars. In the withering boxing sketch, Mr. Rogers (played by Martin Short) knocks out Julia Child ( John Candy) by sucker-punching her with his King Friday hand puppet. "Oh, the papers will say that Fred Rogers won," intoned a disgusted Cosell (Eugene Levy), "but in my opinion, it's a dark day in Mr. Rogers' neighborhood." Afterward, watching Adrienne Barbeau fall into the obstacle course water pit was never the same.