I Want My MTV: Looking Back At Celebrity Deathmatch - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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I Want My MTV: Looking Back At Celebrity Deathmatch

Chris Morley gets it on!
Having contributed to the mid-1980s spike in popularity of WWF professional wrestling, MTV turned to parody the 'sports entertainment' format a decade later with Celebrity Deathmatch. First hitting screens in 1998, the claymated brainchild of Eric Fogel, Celebrity Deathmatch was known for its large amount of gory violence, including combatants employing different abilities and weapons to deliver particularly brutal attacks, resulting in exaggerated physical injuries.

“It suddenly clicked; the idea of celebrities and wrestling collided in my brain."
The first such contest in clay saw Marilyn Manson taking on namesake Charles as part of MTV's Cartoon Sushi segment before Celebrity Deathmatch made the leap to a full series, just in time to be part of the half-time special aired during the 1998 Super Bowl game between the Green Bay Packers & Denver Broncos. Speaking to Animation Magazine, Fogel would remember the genesis of a cult classic...
“I knew I wanted to do a series using stop-motion animation involving celebrities. Then I thought, what better way to skewer celebrities than by having them battle it out in a ring? [Celebrity Deathmatch] was a very simple pitch and MTV got it immediately.

Of course, actually making the show proved to be more challenging. There was no infrastructure at MTV animation for doing stop-motion, so we had to build a studio from scratch. Then we had to go out and find animators to fill the studio and, in many cases, train people who’d had very little stop-motion experience.

It was very funny to walk the halls of MTV animation. The building itself was very corporate and then you’d find little cubicles filled with our puppets. Some of the animation stages were set up in utility closets! It was amazing, the work we were able to do in there.

The most rewarding aspect of Deathmatch was working with really talented people on a show where we were given a tremendous amount of creative freedom. When those two elements click together, you can’t ask for a better working experience.”

On commentary was the pairing of Johnny Gomez & Nick Diamond, whose likenesses were drawn from Mike Adamle & Larry Csonka, both former NFL players and American Gladiators commentators. The referee was former boxing official Mills Lane, famed for his “let's get it on!” catchphrase as well as officiating on the night Mike Tyson bit off part of Evander Holyfield's ear during a bout.

Inevitably an actual wrestler had to be involved somehow, so Steve Austin from the WWF ranks was brought aboard at least for the first series as a guest commentator, medic, and weapons expert, as well as getting the chance to fight his employer, Vince McMahon, in an actual match- up!

The première episode of Series 1 would air during Seinfeld's series finale on May 14th 1998, and fittingly enough Jerry would take on Tim Allen in the evening's final fight following on from Hillary Clinton against Monica Lewinsky and Mariah Carey taking on Jim Carrey!

Having set a precedent for conflicts both topical and just for fun, the Gallagher brothers take their sibling rivalry to a new level in the very next episode, prior to Arnold Schwarzenegger & Sylvester Stallone duking it out in the finale.

The first ever Celebrity Deathmatch tag team event found Tom Cruise & Nicole Kidman up against Bruce Willis & Demi Moore, as things once more align with the WWF making such contests a key part of its own programmes. A sort of incidental crossover with WCW occurs when Dennis Rodman takes on Michael Jordan in a Battle of the Bulls, the Chicago team-mates then in the final seasons of their Bulls careers. In the same Deathmatch episode, there's something of a Prince-off as the purple and considerably more musically talented one takes on our own Prince of Wales!

Throughout its 93 episode run - 4 initial seasons and a revival between 2005-7 - Celebrity Deathmatch pitted Michael Jackson against Madonna, the Spice Girls v Hanson, Kid Rock v Eminem, Martin Scorsese v Oliver Stone, and all four Beatles against each other! No celebrity was safe from the satire.

In 2007, Fogel stepped away from Celebrity Deathmatch, and indeed MTV, and began work on the similarly animated project, Starveillance for E! Entertainment Television, a series which re-creates 'seismic' Tinseltown moments in clay animation, like Vince Vaughn and Jennifer Aniston having lunch after filming The Break-Up, and The Olsen Twins shopping for an apartment....

But, there may be another revival of Celebrity Deathmatch on the cards, and one which would see a former contestant turn presenter. Ice-T, who took part in a memorable bout during the second season which saw Vanilla Ice turn the ring into an ice rink for the "Better Ice" bout between Ice Cube and Ice-T, has been linked as the star and producer of the planned reboot, with Fogel acting as an executive producer. No further news has leaked for the last couple of years, but maybe a new crop of 21st Century celebrities will be getting it on all over again.

Good fight. Good Night.

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