Like most people these days, I’ve occasionally been struggling to find things with which to occupy my time during isolation. We subscribe to Roku, so there’s a whole slew of interesting stuff to watch there. There’s a great deal of boring, silly, and just plain awful stuff there, too, but that’s no different from any other TV service.
One of the wacky things I’ve discovered on Roku is a TV series from the early 1970s called Celebrity Bowling, and I have to admit, I was intrigued. I used to bowl regularly myself years ago – it’s probably a midwestern thing, though a bunch of my Seattle friends used to bowl regularly too. Coincidentally, many of them are transplants from Wisconsin or Minnesota.
The cast is a veritable Who’s Who of 1970s television stars from the United States: besides notables like William Shatner, Adam West, and Michael Douglas, actors the likes of Billy Barty, Roy Rogers, Loretta Switt, Angie Dickinson, and even Jeopardy-meister Alex Trebek appeared in episodes.
It’s clear that most of the participants weren’t selected because of any particular skill at bowling. What is remarkable is noting who is actually a decent bowler: Roy Rogers was fairly good; Michael Ansara, who, we are told by the host during one of this episodes, actually owned a chain of bowling alleys at one time, was unremarkable as a bowler.
This show was produced during the era of celebrity competitions: Battle of the Network Stars was also a popular show at that time, pitting representatives of the (at that time) three major TV networks against each other in vaguely olympic-style contests such as tug-o-war, obstacle courses, and relay races. Narrating the whole affair was Howard Cosell, master of hyperbole and extremely experienced sport commentator. Cosell’s lively and witty commentary made the show far more entertaining that it actually was, which is the difference between Battle of the Network Stars and Celebrity Bowling. For all that he tried, CB host Jed Allan is dull as a commentator, and it amazes me that he lasted as long as he did as that show’s host. Another difference between the two types of shows is that members of the studio audience were selected to prosper if their team of bowlers did well; an escalating value of prize would be awarded to the lucky audience member based on the score of their celebrity team, from Hagar sport coats up to a new automobile.
Comedian Chris Hardwick attempted to revive the Celebrity Bowling concept, having grown up with a father who was a pro bowler. The show, Chris Hardwick’s All-Star Celebrity Bowling, was initially green-lighted by the AMC network around 2012, but the order for episodes was cancelled before completion as AMC moved toward a line-up of scripted programs. Episodes can still be seen (in part, at least) on the YouTube Nerdist channel online. Here’s a link to excerpts from the Doctor Who cast vs. Nerdist cast episode: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hO-nPXx_5Fw
Watching other people bowl isn’t most people’s cup of grape soda, but it can still be entertaining, at least in the short term. I’ve found myself searching through those old Celebrity Bowling episodes looking for interesting cast match-ups; now that you know this exists, I’ll bet you just might do the same.