Robert Schnakenberg

Celebrity Boxing for the C-SPAN Crowd

OK, let's fess up: All of us watched last week's televised fisticuffs festival featuring celebrity oddities Tonya Harding, Paula Jones, Todd Bridges and Vanilla Ice. Fox's Celebrity Boxing scored a knockout in the ratings ring, undoubtedly ensuring a long string of rematches, grudge matches and return bouts. So intoxicating was the buzz generated by the telecast, in fact, that the Foxies are rerunning the show (March 21, 8 p.m.) in prime-time TV's equivalent of the holiest of holies, the Friends time slot.

Rerunning a sporting event -- even one as loosely defined as celebrity boxing -- is almost unheard of in network television. Nevertheless, it seems likely that Fox will score another Nielsen coup, adding those who somehow missed out on the hype the first time around to a sizable repeat audience.

However, it would be fair to say that some Americans watched Celebrity Boxing a little more avidly than others. On line at the Wal-Mart, over the communal clothesline at the trailer park, membership in the "CB" viewing fraternity was no doubt considered a badge of honor, like owning a Shoney's coupon. But where I live, in blue-state America, admitting to having watched a wrathful Danny Bonaduce pound the living bejesus out of a bewigged Barry Williams is a bit, well, problematic. Sure, we like trash as much as anyone else, but you don't want to be rhapsodizing Paula Jones' demolition over the water cooler with Henri from marketing. You want to be discussing the latest insouciant New Yorker cartoon or bemoaning the dumbing down of NPR.

Fox seems to realize the cultural divide at play here. Recent reports indicate the network is exploring ways to shed its exploitative brand identity and attract a more upscale demographic. Normally that would mean throwing geek show proprietors like Celebrity Boxing producer Mike Darnell over the side of the boat, but we all know that will never happen. Perhaps there's a way the suits at One Murdoch Plaza could keep pugilism in their programming and expand their audience to include us out here in PBS Nation.

Herewith a few suggestions:

Battle of the Plagiarists: A main event pitting historians Stephen Ambrose and Doris Kearns Goodwin against each other would finally settle the question: Which of these blowhards can take the most blows? Mike Barnicle, Alex Haley and Joseph Ellis comprise the three-judge panel. And on the undercard, disgraced New Republic staffers Stephen Glass and Ruth Shalit could duke it out to see which former flavor of the month melts faster under pressure. Martin Peretz is the guest referee.

Rumble on the Right: In this corner, former Wall Street Journal columnist John Fund. In the other corner, Morgan Pillsbury, the conservative gadfly's one-time live-in lover, whom he reportedly badgered into having an abortion after learning she was pregnant with his child. And in yet another corner, socialite Melinda Pillsbury-Foster, Morgan Pillsbury's mother, with whom Fund had an intimate affair in the 1980s. The fourth corner has been reserved for Jerry Springer's bouncer. Former Clinton adviser Sidney Blumenthal, whom Fund once falsely accused of beating his wife, serves as cut man for the Pillsbury-Fosters.

When Apostates Attack!: Or, "When Good Conservatives Go Bad." David Brock, one-time American Spectator enfant terrible turned liberal truth-teller, trades low blows with Arianna Huffington, former rightist trophy wife turned Bush-bashing blog proprietrix. An audience of Republican National Committee members will ritually stone whoever is left standing at the end of the bout. Senator Jim Jeffords provides color commentary from inside a fortified bunker outside of the MCI Center in Washington, D.C.

WWF Blogwar World Wrestling Federation CEO Vince McMahon has a problem: Ratings for his televised blood feuds are down precipitously over the past year. The Internet has a solution: Scores of logorrheic pundits itching to scrap with one another. This steel cage free-for-all places Andrew Sullivan, Mickey Kaus, Virginia Postrel and Joshua Micah Marshall in a barbed wire-enclosed ring with only their laptops and their idiosyncratic points of view to defend themselves. Watch the epithets fly as a pumped-up Sullivan accuses Marshall of undermining the war effort in Afghanistan. See InstaPundit Glenn Reynolds bum rush the cage to rescue a prostrate and bleeding Kaus from a savage pummeling by Postrel, who's enraged over a Kausfiles item on the steel tariff decision and packing brass knuckles in her trunks. Guest referee Matt Drudge calls out the topics from a set of index cards.

It's the stuff of fantasy, of course, but matches like these would send a powerful message that celebrity infamy isn't confined to trailer park floozies and has-been TV stars. It's just as rightfully the province of corrupt fourth-estaters and chowderbrained talking heads. And hey, isn't bringing us all together what celebrity boxing is supposed to be about anyway?

Robert E. Schnakenberg is a writer living in Brooklyn. He is the author of The Encyclopedia Shatnerica and a major contributor to The St. James Encyclopedia of Popular Culture.