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Fox's 'Skating': Olympians and Triple Klutzes

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By Jose Antonio Vargas
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Oh, the blood on the ice!

Not on tonight's premiere of Fox's "Skating With Celebrities" -- and a more appropriate title would be "Skating With C-List Celebrities" -- but boy oh boy, you can almost see it coming in subsequent episodes. Someone is going to get hurt. Figure skating, after all, has a move called a death spiral, and former "Diff'rent Strokes" star Todd Bridges, realizing the trouble he's in, wears knee pads, elbow pads and wrist guards to practice.

Forget triple axels. Put a few ER doctors on call.

In this brand of you-can-do-it-too! programming, so in vogue thanks to "American Idol" and "Dancing With the Stars," Fox's offering is a novel idea, at least on paper. Take six world-class figure skaters -- two-time Olympic medalist Nancy Kerrigan and four-time world champion Kurt Browning among them -- and team them with the likes of singer-songwriter-actress Deborah Gibson, of "Foolish Beat" fame, and actor-comedian Dave Coulier, the goofy uncle on the old "Full House." No skating experience? No problem.

The result is rarely funny, often humdrum, surprisingly predictable fare. Of course the skaters, all former Olympians, are trying to pull out all the stops. The would-be celebrities, all but one of them skating neophytes, surely cannot tell a lutz from a salchow, much less execute one.

"Skating With Celebrities" is "Skating for Dummies" for the small screen, similar to watching the upcoming Winter Games in Turin, Italy, in slow motion -- minus the big jumps, the dizzying spins, the fancy footwork. It's like a one-hour skating show without the glorious skating. You don't hold your breath in admiration. You hold your breath in sheer fear.

As legendary skating coach Sir John Nicks, playing the role of a mini-Simon Cowell in the three-person judging panel, says to Bridges after he survives his first skate: "It was a very exciting performance, but it was exciting because any minute I thought you were gonna fall down and break your neck."

It's a simple concept. Tonight, the six pairs will skate their respective programs, with the celebrity skaters required to complete a technical feat: a spin with at least three revolutions. Next week, besides spins, they'll be required to do synchronized steps covering at least half the rink. With each subsequent week, the skate programs will get tougher. And starting next week, the pair with the lowest score (technical and artistic marks are combined) will be eliminated, with one pair left standing in the seventh and final episode -- barring any judging controversies, of course.

"To put on the most entertaining program possible is the object of the game," says the show's host, Olympic gold medalist Scott Hamilton, one of the sport's elder statesmen, who for the life of him can't seem to find more to say than "Wow!" or "Unbelievable!" after each pair's perfunctory performance.

Skating has always been shrouded in some mystery. The scoring! The jumps! The sequins! Yet every four years, it proves to be the most watched of all Olympic sports, bringing us the likes of Torvill and Dean, Oksana Baiul, Gordeeva and Grinkov, Johnny Weir and Michelle Kwan.

It's a sport, it's an art, it's a sport-slash-art where a coach tells his skater, minutes before the skater steps onto the ice: "Never let the audience see you sweat." What would Brian Boitano do? you ask. Whatever it is -- a triple lutz, a spread-eagle, a forward scratch spin, you name it -- you'll never see Boitano look as if he's trying too hard.

So it's a little disorienting to see the skaters -- the professional skaters and the celebrity skaters -- so visibly tired, not only in practices but in performances. And all the work doesn't look all that fun, or entertaining.

There are times when Bruce Jenner, the 1976 Olympic decathlon champ, looks downright scared while skating with U.S. pairs champion Tai Babilonia. When actress Kristy Swanson ("Dude, Where's My Car") asks, "What have I gotten myself into?" you wonder the same thing. Swanson is left-handed. Her teammate, Lloyd Eisler, a world champion pairs skater, is right-handed -- meaning Swanson spins one way, Eisler the other. And that just about sums up their time on the ice. Seeing Browning, listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the first skater to land a quadruple jump in competition, skate with Gibson to the tune of "How Do You Like Your Eggs" is like watching a Lamborghini being driven by a reckless 15-year-old.

The only celebrity skater who looks moderately at ease on the ice is TV personality Jillian Barberie ("Fox NFL Sunday"), and that's because she skated as a youngster -- and, with her flowing arabesques and pointed toes, it shows. Her skate with John Zimmerman, a U.S. pairs champion, adds up to a gold medal, since everyone else's performance falls way below the medal podium. Even Nancy Kerrigan's.

Somewhere behind the cameras, out of the hot lights of embarrassment, Kerrigan is crying, "Why me?"

Not because Tonya Harding is in the rink, but because Kerrigan's teammate is Coulier, a hockey nut who seems far more interested in holding a hockey stick than holding Kerrigan. He shows up to practice on hockey skates. A skater on hockey skates trying to figure-skate? The perfect recipe for a bloodied disaster. Run, Nancy, run.

Skating With Celebrities (60 minutes) debuts tonight at 9 on Channel 5; it then will air Mondays at 8 p.m.

Join Jose Antonio Vargas to discuss "Skating With Celebrities" tomorrow at 11 a.m. on

© 2006 The Washington Post Company

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