The Incredible Hulk star Lou Ferrigno lifted Soap’s Billy Crystal in 1978. The first Battle included Ron Howard, Farrah Fawcett, Penny Marshall, Gabe Kaplan and Hal Linden, while subsequent specials featured Tony Randall, Ed Asner, William Shatner, Mark Harmon, Heather Locklear, Sherman Hemsley, Lynn Redgrave, Blair Underwood, Scott Baio and Tom Selleck. "Basically if you were a star on television, you were pretty much going to be on Battle of the Network Stars," says Bill Garnet, showrunner/producer on 18 of the 19 specials, which ran from 1976-88.
David Letterman, a regular on Mary Tyler Moore’s variety show Mary, kayaked in 1978. Battle was a spinoff of ABC's Superstars, an idea that was developed by Olympic figure skating champion Dick Button. Trans World International (now part of IMG) produced the specials, reruns of which now air on ESPN Classic.
Penny Marshall and Jaclyn Smith
Laverne & Shirley’s Penny Marshall (left) and Charlie’s Angels’ Jaclyn Smith in 1977. "The competition started out at first as kind of light and frivolous, but as it went on, people really started getting into it," showrunner/producer Bill Garnet says, adding: "The networks were incredibly cooperative. They saw it as a chance to get a little additional exposure to their shows and stars."
Ricky Schroder and Melissa Gilbert
Silver Spoons’ Ricky Schroder, 12, and Little House on the Prairie’s Melissa Gilbert, 18, in 1982. "It was the crème de la crème of network stars -- and I mean stars, not sub-stars or second-fiddle players," says Vin Di Bona, who produced the final special, which aired in 1988. "Not that there's anything wrong with being a second banana, but these were the key players in every major show. I don't think that could happen today because I don't think there's much cordiality between the networks. Not that there was an overabundance in the 1970s and mid-'80s, but certainly today, no network wants its stars promoting another network."
Magnum P.I.’s Tom Selleck sat above a dunk tank in 1981. The stars "all wanted to do it because there was a real rivalry between the shows," producer Vin Di Bona says. "The stars from CBS really wanted to go against the stars from NBC. You had Magnum, P.I. really wanting to battle against Adam-12. They really wanted to outdo themselves."
The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams’ Dan Haggerty in 1977. "I think it was tougher than it appeared to be," says Cheryl Tiegs. "It was not our job to be athletes, but it was a lot of fun."
Charlie’s Angels’ Farrah Fawcett golfed in 1976. "I remember it as a time of great spirit and sweetness," says Cheryl Tiegs. "Today on television, so many of the reality shows are bitter and nasty, and that wasn't what this show was all about. Even though we were in competition with one another, there was no fighting or mean words. It was a competition, but it was done with joy and laughter and good camaraderie."
Parker Stevenson, Cheryl Tiegs, and Toni Tennille
Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries’ Parker Stevenson, model Cheryl Tiegs and singer Toni Tennille in 1978. "It was a great message to send to America that you can be in competition and you can be a good sport, which is often lost today," Tiegs says.
Heather Locklear and Scott Baio
Dynasty’s Heather Locklear and Happy Days’ Scott Baio, who dated in the ’80s, competed in the relay for ABC in 1982. The specials were filmed at Malibu’s Pepperdine University. “One of the highlights for me was the tug-of-war,” recalls Baio. “One lasted 13 minutes, which I think was a record. I don’t think most of the actors knew how competitive it was going to be. Lorenzo Lamas was doing the tandem bicycle race, and when the race ended, he was nowhere to be found. He had fallen down a cliff and into a bush. There were a lot of injuries.”
The A-Team’s Mr. T competed in a tug-of-war in 1983. "For me, it was about the competition," Scott Baio says of why he wanted to be a part of the specials. "And I really wanted to beat Gregory Harrison, and I did a couple of times. He was a really good athlete, and we were always banging heads out there."
Suzanne Somers, Howard Cosell, and Bruce Jenner
Legendary commentator Howard Cosell laughs with Zuma Beach actress Suzanne Somers and track star Bruce Jenner in 1978. How did producers get Cosell to take part? "He wanted to do it. I think it was probably his favorite show to do," producer Bill Garnet says. "He did say in an interview once that Battle of the Network Stars was the only honest sports competition on TV because we knew why we were doing it. Howard used to say that everything in the NFL or MLB was about money, but they don't say that. In Battle, we said it: It was about money."