Put These Stars on Ice

It can’t speak well of a reality show when its network promotes the injuries suffered by contestants over the content of the show. Such is the case with Skating with Celebrities. Fox is actually right in focusing on the potential for death or disfigurement, as that’s the only compelling thing about the series.

This “Train Wreck on Ice” (seriously, that’s the network tagline) features six celebrities with minimal ice skating experience. Each celeb is teamed with a professional skater with whom they perform a pairs skating routine each episode. Ice skating is difficult enough when you’re doing it by yourself. Skating with a partner might not be as helpful as it seems, considering the pair must synchronize their moves and occasionally throw each other.

Ringmasters for this circus are Olympians Scott Hamilton and Summer Sanders. Hamilton is an obvious choice: he’s a skating legend, a cancer survivor, and an inspiration to many. Sanders is a swimmer turned broadcaster who’s worked most recently on NBA Inside Stuff with Phylicia Rashad’s ex-husband, Ahmad.

The problem with Sanders isn’t her professional abilities; it’s that she dwarfs her co-host. Hamilton is 5’6″, which isn’t terribly short, but Sanders is 5’9″. Put her in heels, and she’s almost six inches taller than him. They look silly together and it distracts from their hosting efforts. Maybe Sanders should have stuck with Ahmad Rashad, and Hamilton could have paired with Phylicia, who’s only 5’4″.

As is to be expected in the celeb-reality genre, there are no A-listers on the show. Except for Nancy “Why? WHY?” Kerrigan, even the skaters aren’t household names — or haven’t been for 30 years. Here are the minimally famous people so desperate for cash and media attention, they’re willing to risk physical injury:

  • Deborah “Debbie” Gibson (’80s pop icon) and Kurt Browning (Scott Hamilton impersonator)
  • Dave Coulier (guy Alanis Morrisette was so pissed about) and Nancy Kerrigan (whacked in knee by a tire iron)
  • Todd Bridges (Willis) and Jenni Meno (some skater)
  • Kristy Swanson (the original “Buffy”) and Lloyd Eisler (some skater)
  • Jillian Barberie (NFL on Fox weathergirl) and John Zimmerman (some skater)
  • Bruce Jenner (decathelete with bad nose job) and Tai Babilonia (some old skater)

Each week, the couples’ routines must include a specific trick. Week one: the spin. Everyone had to be able to execute a spin with three rotations. Like the big wheel on The Price Is Right, you’ve got to make it all the way around or else it doesn’t count. The rest of the routine is designed by each team’s choreographer. Except for Jillian Barberie (the show’s ringer), all of week one’s performances were equally bad.

In their first performances, female celebs struggled to hold positions, and when lifted in the air by their partners, the women held on with death grips and looked ridiculous. The male celebs didn’t fare much better when the roles were reversed, and they had to lift their partners. I’d be surprised if any of the female pro skaters got more than six inches off the ice.

Routines were scored by three judges, the only recognizable one being Dorothy Hamill. Points were awarded in two categories, technical difficulty and artistic merit, on a scale of 1-10. Instead of sticking with whole numbers, the judges actually used decimal points! So out of 60 possible points, Debbie Gibson’s performance was only 0.3 points better than Todd Bridges’? This isn’t exactly the Olympics, or Math With Celebrities (which I would totally watch); I think we can dispense with the decimal points.

The judging process is not only silly, but it also lasts way too long. The majority of the program was judges commentary and scores. That, on top of routines that felt long, left very little time for training footage. After all of the hype Fox put on the injury footage from training sessions, we only saw brief snippets of each couple practicing. As teams are eliminated, the amount of training video may increase, but it was a disappointing premiere episode from that standpoint.

Anytime Fox tries to clone a hit reality show from another network, the results look shabby and low-rent. Skating with Celebrities is no different, and it pales in comparison to ABC’s Dancing with the Stars. Although the series premiere did well in the ratings last Wednesday, tonight the show starts in its new, permanent Monday night slot. Many viewers may be lost due to the schedule shift. Many others may have already seen all they needed to see and won’t come back.