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Thrills & spills add a real edge to "Celebrity Circus"

Thrills & spills add a real edge to "Celebrity Circus"

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Am I the only one who thinks that there are far too many reality shows on television this summer?

I mean, just look at ABC. The Alphabet Network is Reality Central these days. What with "The Bachelorette," "Dance Machine," "High School Musical: Get in the Picture," "Hopkins," "I Survived a Japanese Game Show," "The Mole," "Supernanny," "Wanna Bet?," "Wifeswap" and "Wipeout," ABC is just hour after hour of kids screaming, people scheming, mud and blood. Unpleasant people performing ridiculous stunts. Who'd wanna stay inside and watch something like that?

It's at times like this that you just want to unplug your television and then run off & join the circus.

Sadly, the Ringling Brothers aren't recruiting these days. Which is why -- rather than run off and join a real circus -- last week, I did the next best thing. Which was attend a dress rehearsal of NBC's "Celebrity Circus."

Okay. I know. "Celebrity Circus" is a reality show too. But  a reality show with a difference. At least on this program, you get to watch actual performers performing. Risking life & limb each week as they attempt to master some classic circus acts.

Rachel Hunter (center) and her partners form a
Pyramid on the highwire. Photo by Trae Patton.
Copyright 2008 NBC Universal. All Rights Reserved

Take -- for example -- Rachel Hunter. The afternoon that I was on the set, this supermodel was practicing the Pyramid. The very same highwire act that killed several members of the Flying Wallendas troupe back in 1962 in one of the most horrifying tragedies in circus history.

Mind you, Rachel was wearing a harness and a single line as she practiced. But if she fell, Ms. Hunter would almost certainly be hurt. After all, she was working without a net ... Funicello (Sorry about that. But this is JHM after all. And Jim insists that every single story contain some sort of tie-back to the Walt Disney Company ... No matter how ham-handed and/or lame it may be ... Anyway ...)

Getting back to "Celebrity Circus" now ... You may think that -- just for the sake of publicity -- that NBC Universal is playing up all of the risks that these performers potentially face while taking part in this reality show. But that really isn't the case. Just ask Stacey Dash, who fractured three ribs while practicing for the premiere. Or -- better yet -- Christopher Knight. Who -- to date -- has broken a wrist as well as burning his arm while rehearsing for this series.

The day that I got to chat with this "Brady Bunch" vet, Knight had ice Saran Wrapped around his waist for some mysterious back injury. Which lead to some teasing from "Celebrity Circus" 's host, Joey Fantone. Pointing to Christopher's clear plastic bandage, the former *NSYNC star cracked, "What's that around your waist? A colostomy bag?"

The cast of "Celebrity Circus."  (L to R) Antonio Sabato Jr., Rachel
Hunter, Wee Man, Joey Fatone, Stacey Dash, Blu Cantrell,
Christopher Knight & Janet Evans.
Photo by Trae Patton.
Copyright 2008 NBC Universal. All Rights Reserved

"I don't know how it happened," Knight said in reference to his latest injury. But in spite of the intense pain that this actor obviously felt, the bungee act that Christopher rehearsed for that week's show was extremely graceful.

Time and time again, as I talked with the performers who'd agreed to take part in this program, the intensity of the training for "Celebrity Circus" kept coming up. As Antonio Sabato, Jr. said:

"People don't understand how hard (this) really is. We trained six days a week, eight hours a day for weeks before the first filming ... I was in shape. But this was the hardest (thing that) I've ever had to do."

And even then -- no matter how hard that you've trained, no matter how many injuries you've suffered along the way -- your fate is still in the hands of the judges & the folks at home.

The day that I attended "Celebrity Circus" 's dress rehearsal, Jason "Wee Man" Acuna admitted that he had been lucky to hang on past last week's episode. The week previous, the judges -- Aurelia Cats, Mitch Gaylord and Louie Spence -- had all hated Acuna's act. But lucky for Wee Man, those who called in to vote for these performers had elected to save him. For one more week, anyway.

(L to R) Aurelia Cats, Mitch Gaylord and Louie
Spence behind the judge's table. Photo by Trae Patton
Copyright 2008 NBC Universal. All Rights Reserved

Knowing how close he had come to being voted off the show, Jason admitted that " ... I didn't behave seriously the last few weeks." But he vowed to do better on future episodes of "Celebrity Circus." "Now I'm very focused, very serious," Acuna continued.

After seeing how hard these performers are working to stay on this NBC-Universal reality series, I'm beginning to rethink my earlier plan. Maybe running away to join the circus this summer isn't such a hot idea after all. Maybe the smarter thing to do would be to just sack out on the couch in front of the air conditioner and then watch the stars sweat & strain on "Celebrity Circus" instead.

"Celebrity Circus" airs tonight on NBC at 10 p.m. EST. Consult your local listings for exact times and channels. For further information on this program, go to NBC.com.

For more of Shelly Smith's stories, be sure & check out FabRocks.com.

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  • 1. Scripted, planned, and pre-rehearsed is not "reality" and calling any of these faux-reality shows "Reality" shows is a bad joke and a fraud.

    2. This show isn't even original--doesn't anyone remember "Circus of the Stars" specials going back to...when? The 1970's at least?

    3. Working with a safety line is not being a Wallenda, and being hurt by one potentially is not DYING like one.

    4. It is also nothing new to know that audiences watch to see accidents, not excellence. Ask any programmer who ever put a car race, a boxing match, or any other potentially-dangerous/violent "sport" on the air.

    5. Celebrity used to be about being famous for doing something. Then it came to be about being famou for being famous. NOW? Even being vaguely recognizeable in the cookie-cutter way of modern "celebrity" qualifies, it seems.

    6. Just as truly great actors, musicians, and media performers spend years and years practicing and perfecting their craft wayyyy out of the limelight, truly great acrobats, athletes, and circus performers are people who've dedicated an entire lifetime to what they do and thus are deserving of respect for their amazing, time-honed skills. No amount of pseudo-reality rehearsal and coaching to achieve a few brief stunts can even come close to that, and the Circus brings with it its own tradition of excellence, honor, and style that gimmicks like this can never even begin to approach.

    But hey, other than all that, wow, what a show! I'll be a little busy with some REAL "reality" or at least some real storytelling and entertainment, but you all let me know how it goes, ok?

  • OH BY THE WAY.....no, in fact Ringling Bros and other circuses ARE recruiting nowadays and always have been. Not only for acrobats, most of which these days have come out of the state-sponsored circus schools of Eastern Europe and China and the circuses of other parts of the world, but especially for Clowns. They have their own "Clown College" auditions as part of every tour. So if you REALLY want to "run away and join the circus" and are ready to dedicate your life to it, the welcome mat is open...and more "real" than this "reality" nonsense, too.

  • Hi JohnWayne.  Thanks for your constructive comments - you might want to read the un-edited version - Jim cleaned it up for a more family-friendly audience, as I tend to be a little, um, bluish sometimes, and JimHillMedia is a family site.  I'll have it up at FabRocks.com in a day or so, or you can email me at [email protected] for it.

    I'm not a big fan of reality shows, but I had a lot of fun there - and, honestly, other than practicing their acts, the celeb's lines were pulled right out of their... minds... the only one scripted was Joey Fatone.

    A friend of mine was accepted to RB's clown college in Florida, but ran off and married the family's gardener.  They did end up owning a Geo Metro, which Jim will tell you is the closest thing normal people can have to a clown car.  I am a huge fan of Ringling Bros. and plan to see them later this month, if possible.  I think that's part of the reason I dislike CDS so much, it's not like a "real" circus.  

    The performers and trainers that workwith the celebs are Circus and Cirque de Soleil alumni.    I did not interview them for this article, and regret the error.  For their names and credits, go to nbc.com.

  • Funny, Shel...you don't LOOK blueish! (Smile)

    I've had a lot of personal contact/connection to folks at Ringling Bros. over the years and much, much more I could share.... but that'd be yet another of my long follow-ups and hey, unless we sneak Toby Tyler in somewhere, we're veering a LONG way from The Mouse already, right?

    I actually did go look at NBC's site for this show after reading and responding to your article, and one of the things that really struck home with me is that one of the competitors at least had a CD/Album go Platinum a few years ago...I wonder if that whole concept of retail music sales on physical disc will survive much longer in any way at all, let alone "albums" vs. single downloads.

  • Good article, Shelly!  As far as my take on celebrity/reality television, a line from an old Steve Martin standup routine keeps coming to mind:

    "...and I believe the Battle of the Network Stars should be fought with guns."

    Now THAT I'd tune in for! ;)  

  • Gads! pschnebs! I'd completely forgotten about "Battle of the Network Stars!" ROTFL! Of course, when it comes to the networks, the term "shameless promotion" is an oxymoron/double-negative/whatever.

    I remember on some shows I was involved with when the network would decide to do a "theme night"--and I don't mean just the annual Xmas shows or even what became a tradition on one of my shows the "Halloween Episode"....we even did an all-3-D night with the other 3 shows in our "block" once.

    By the way--these are the "strokes of genius" that happen in Network offices and NEVER in STUDIO offices because the studios know that, for syndication, these themed shows are DEATH because nobody at Channel 13 wants to run a Christmas show in May etc etc. and when they're stripping the shows 5 nights a week or more, these special shows just keep showing up in the rotation at all the wrong times of the year.

    Of course, in those bygone days, the 'stars' and "celebrities" were often signed to personal contracts with a particular network so their identity with that net was something that these shows could ammortize more effectively. Indeed, some shows happen in the first place because of such committments. For example, the reason why "Everybody Loves Raymond" was a co-production of David Letterman's "World Wide Pants" and HBO was this---Letterman had a series slot committment from CBS as part of HIS deal for HIS show (likewise his production of Bonnie Hunt's shows came from such arrangements) but HBO had a contract with Ray Romano because of HIS longterm deal with them for standup specials. Sooooooooooooooooo.... a marriage made in Hollywood happened.

  • PPS query for our British participants. Can you enlighten me about something? Reading the site for this show once again, I came across this in one of the judge's bio's and I'm fascinated/befuddled/terrified as to the story BEHIND the story. It says about judge Louie Spence's credentials that they include judging on...:

    "the UK show "Bump and Grind," the hugely successful teenage reality show on Sky’s Trouble channel."

    So tell us, please, oh Brit friends---whyfor is a "teenage" show called "Bump And Grind" and please I HOPE its not because they feature teenagers STRIPPING? That would be a "trouble" channel indeed.

  • Shelly --  great to see you writing for JHM again!  No need to go "blue" - your content can carry the day.

    Come back again soon!!!

    Sue in Texas

  • I question the extent to which most "reality" shows are scripted.  It seems as if the lid would have been blown off long ago if they were as pre-planned as, say, professional wrestling.

  • I don't understand when people blast reality shows. They are a legitimate genre just like everything else. There are good reality shows and there are bad ones. Just like there are good and bad sitcoms, dramas, game shows, etc.

    The thing I appreciate (and the networks benefit from) about some of the reality shows like America's Got Talent, American Idol, Nashville Star, American Gladiators, etc, is they are family friendly. My whole family can sit around the TV and watch them together.

    With American Idol (especially early on), I could talk about the show with people at my church who were teenagers and with people who were in their 70s and 80s and everyone in between. I was amazed at the age demo that the show drew.

  • The timing of this article is now amazing considering that yesterday a Wallenda grandchild broke the record set by his grandfather for farthest walk on a tightrope.

  • LtPowers....the lid has blown off (as you put it) long ago. Here's how you know--the deals struck by the Director's Guild, Writer's Guild, and other creative types to have jurisdiction over these allegedly spontaneous, unscripted, and undirected programs.

    Ooopsy. (Smile)

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