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Last night, a former Miss Alabama, the second-cutest girl from The Cosby Show, a rotund stand-up comic and Kareem Abdul Jabbar jumped in a pool. There you go, you’re now caught up on Splash, the new ABC reality-competition show in which C- and D-list celebrities dive into a giant pool of water. It’s about as exciting as it sounds — so exciting that when I got an obvious robo-call on my cell phone, I decided to listen to it for about two minutes rather than have to give my full attention to Greg Louganis waxing poetic about the celebrities’ “athleticism” as they toppled gracelessly into the practice pool.
I’m no big fan of Dancing with the Stars, the obvious progenitor of Splash, but I get why that show works. The athletes, washed-up actors and famous-for-being-famous types that populate DWTS can all put on a big grin and stumble through a foxtrot, and good or bad you can tell that everyone is trying. Celebrities make terrific reality-show contestants because they so very much want to impress audiences. DWTS could easily stack the deck with celebrities who are already talented dancers, but that would ruin the fun of watching the underdogs try to outdo each other with gigantic grins and ridiculous over-the-top gesticulation.
But in Splash, there’s no moment of connection between the audience and the stars. Even if you know nothing about dance, you probably know that a waltz is different than a rumba (if you don’t, you can probably find Dirty Dancing playing somewhere on cable right this minute). Americans only get exposed to diving once every four years during the Summer Olympics. You can dress it up with Vegas-style lights and costumes, but if you aren’t a pro athlete pulling off three revolutions before hitting the water, you’re just a semi-naked person jumping into a pool.
This isn’t the first time reality TV producers have over-estimated Americans’ willingness to watch celebrities do somewhat embarrassing things. And so, I present to you: You Can’t Do that With Celebrities, a star-studded review of the very worst in “celebreality.”
Armed & Famous (2007)
This CBS show featured Latoya Jackson, Erik Estrada and Wee Man training for the police academy in Muncie, Indiana. Why you can’t do that with celebrities: Celebrities with guns. What could possibly go wrong?
Steven Seagal: Lawman (2009)
As idiotic as it may be to let Latoya Jackson loose on the streets of Muncie, at least the contestants on Armed and Famous didn’t actually think they knew what they were doing. Steven Seagal, on the other hand, had worked to train police officers in Jefferson Parish, Louisiana in the 1980s, which led him to this show, on which he worked with Louisiana police to stop crime. Why you can’t do that with celebrities: With Seagal on the squad, things may have gotten a little out of hand. In 2012, a man arrested on the show accused the production company of staging his arrest to boost ratings. Local law enforcement claimed it was regular procedure to break up a cockfighting ring using a tank, a bomb robot and 40 deputies.
Because Tommy Lee missed out on going to college by being a rock star, NBC decided to help him out by sending him to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Why you can’t do that with celebrities: We’d all had just about enough of Lee by 2005, and the show didn’t even give us any shots if him filling out his Pell Grant applications.
The Marriage Ref (2010)
Celebs like Jerry Seinfeld, Larry David, Ricky Gervais and Madonna solve your marriage problems, or at least make a lot of noise about them. Why you can’t do that with celebrities: It turns out that while regular people love judging celebrities’ marriages, we don’t like it as much when they judge ours. Go figure.
Skating with the Stars (2010)
Bethenny Frankel was on this one with … a bunch of other people I don’t remember. Like Dancing with the Stars, this show paired celebrities with pro skaters and ended up with a lot of fractured ankles. Why you can’t do that with celebrities: The bare-minimum requirement for being on Dancing With the Stars is an ability to stand upright and clap rhythmically. Skating is a lot harder. Even at their best, the so-called stars looked pretty miserable on ice. No one went home happy (or unharmed).
Celebrity Duets (2006)
Celebrities with minimal vocal talent get paired with famous singers and croon for the audience’s votes. Why you can’t do that with celebrities: Was it worth it to see Lucy Lawless and Smokey Robinson together singing their hearts out? Probably. But otherwise, there’s just too much GREAT singing talent on TV to waste time on those celebrities who can’t sing at all.
Celebrity Rap Superstar (2007)
MTV takes a bad idea and makes it worse. Kendra Wilkinson, Shar Jackson and Perez Hilton butcher hits by Kanye West and Salt-n-Pepa. Why you can’t do that with celebrities: The celebrities on this show had to make up their own rap lyrics. No one, no one wanted to hear about Kendra’s “Epiphany.”