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Star Power - January 27

This past week on WLTI, I made the suggestion of an Embowelling with the Stars / Bermuda Triangle with the Stars double feature to get rid of the excess celebrities that are clogging our television set. Now we here at GSNN do not advocate the demise of any celebrity (C-Level or otherwise), nor is it the celebrities fault that we are annoyed at them (celebrities do need to eat and find a way to make payments on their 6 cars and their 4 ex-spouses), but a question has come up as of late - how is it that certain celebrities and shows with celebrities are lauded while others are vilified?

Unlike some of the other television trends, the infatuation of celebrities is not a new thing. We’ve been watching celebrities play games on television almost since television was created. Within the past 30 years or so, we’ve seen them play word games (Password, Pyramid, Match Game, You Don’t Say), answer trivia questions (Hollywood Squares, Break the Bank, Celebrity Sweepstakes), show their athletic side (Bowling Night, Celebrity Fit Club), and show off their hidden talent – sometimes for the better (Dancing with the Stars) and sometimes for the worse…MUCH worse (But Can They Sing?).

Anyone who thought that celebrity gaming was a fad that was only good 20 years ago got a reality check when the first edition of Celebrity Millionaire went on the air. The record number of eyeballs that tuned in to see Rosie O’Donnell make it to $500,000 (and then Drew Carey repeating that feat in a later episode) hit record numbers, as the audience liked what they saw. That opened the doors to celebrify everything – once again, some for the better (Poker Royale and Fear Factor) and some for the worse (I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here!)

The question still remains – what makes a celebrity show special and what makes it craptacular?

The obvious answer is to make sure that the celebrities are well adapted for the show that they are going to be on. Billy Crystal amazed people when he went up the Pyramid in less than 30 seconds, while lesser known stars (Henry Polic II, Florence Henderson, Markie Post) made money hand over fist for their contestants – both Polic and Post lead people to the $100,000 grand prize, while Henderson set a record by winning over $100,000 in 1 week of Pyramid. Richard Dawson made a completely new career (and millions of dollars) for himself by being far and away the best celebrity to ever play Match Game. The celebrity genre, however, is a dual edged sword – morons who needed help getting up the second tier of celebrity Millionaire also led to it’s demise, while the lack of competent celebrities was one of the reasons why the new Pyramid didn’t last very long. Estelle Getty or Paul Rodriguez, anyone?

It’s not only limited to games of wit. Stacy Kiebler and Drew Lachey are the powerhouses of Dancing with the Stars this season – and yes, they can indeed dance. The fact that they have enough charisma to float Cleopatra’s barge doesn’t hurt either. Sure, they have Master P along, but even as an anti-dancer role, the P-Meister is holding his own as well. Most of them do have the talent to pull it off – unlike But Can They Sing, which none of them could and which promptly left stage right after numerous train wrecks.

What about Skating with Celebrities? Unfortunately, skating is a sport that you can’t mask a lot of – you either can do it or you can’t. Whereas DWTS does feature ways to hide deficiencies, there is no such thing in skating, and the celebrities were exposed in a painful way this past Monday. As much as it would have been fun to get people with no talent to compete, the fact is that you need people with experience in skating to be in that level of a show, or it looks awful.

Conversely, on King of Vegas, the ‘celebrities’ like Mike Matusow. David Williams and Evelyn Ng, have two things going for them – not only are they well read in almost every poker game, but their personalities are very polarizing and make them fun to root for (or in Matusow’s case, root against). On the Poker trail, you have people like James Woods and Lance Bass who clearly know how to play, which makes it fun. And with wins by Joe Reitman and Jennifer Tilly in the pro poker circuit, it’s getting evident that the line between being a celebrity poker player and playing good poker is getting blurrier and blurrier.

You also need people who WANT to be there. There’s not much talent on Fear Factor, but the people who do compete all want to be there – not only is there $50,000 at stake, but if you turn chicken, you’ll be leaving very quickly and you get a mouthful from Joe Rogan as you walk down the path of shame. That alone makes good television, regardless of which celebrity is getting yelled at.

In Celebrity Fit Club, all of the celebrities know what’s going to happen to them as they walk in the door. The fun is what happens when they get there. The people with the best success stories (Judge Mablean Ephriam, Phil Margera, Gary Busey, Jackee Harry) have been the ones who are the most at ease, open with the camera and the audience, and are clearly there to lose weight and work, while the biggest disasters (Daniel Baldwin, Willie Aames, Jeff Conaway) have been the ones who have tried to avoid the camera or interaction, and have just looked like they wanted to collect the paycheck and get out of there. I don’t think that it’s a coincidence. You will only get 100% satisfaction if you put 100% of yourself into it – and that also makes or breaks a show.

You need people who not only are a good fit on the show, but you need them to want to be there in the first place. It’s sort of an equilibrium-like dynamic – the show needs the talent of the star to work, while the star needs to work the show as well. With that sort of criteria, there will be enough success so that we do not need an Embowelling with the Stars special, though if we do want to see the celebrities get filleted, there's always hope that they can be cast in a remake of Battle Royale...

Gordon Pepper is a one-man cult of personality. E-mail him at

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