Finally, the queen of pop and the king of pop are going to get it on.
In clay. In stop motion.
We watch from ringside.
Madonna, the "Material Mother From Michigan," threatens the "show-stealing, moon-walking, plastic washed-up" Michael Jackson.
Madonna climbs on top of Jackson, punches him and tells him: "You have taken your last Jackson Family Tour." She jumps up and announces she is going to fight Michael simply by "voguing," the freeze-frame, runway-model dance that was so popular back when she was so popular.
Jackson does a fancy dance move himself, lets out a Michael Jackson scream and moon-walks his way out of trouble--until he is flipped into a moat of bubbling green acid. The question arises: Is "the acid strong enough to eat through all those plastic surgeries?"
Just when we thought it was over, Jackson emerges with his old and beautiful face, the face that many girls in America fell in love with before it was destroyed "circa 1971." But Madonna beats him up anyway, raises her arms in victory and announces: "Now, who is bad?"
This is "Celebrity Deathmatch," a bad show that oddly enough has become one of MTV's top-rated programs at a time when fascination for celebrities seems to be at a high. Almost obsessively, the public appears to hold both admiration and contempt for celebrities, riding the roller coaster of fame with them, hugging them as their stars rise and jealously applauding as they fall.
"Celebrity Deathmatch" is a fantasy--claymation fights that pit the best and worst of Hollywood, the NBA and the NFL against each other in the theatrics of professional wrestling. The audience for the show, which is in its third season, is up to about 1.3 million. It airs at 10 p.m. on Thursdays.
The show is ugly, the fights are ugly and maybe the people watching are ugly.
In clay, the world is malleable.
The bad thoughts that lie in the recesses and dark corners of minds can be unleashed with fury and vengeance. In clay, everything kindergarten teachers told us not to do doesn't matter. If you so desire to split the head of the celebrity you most hate, then do it. Laugh as the body shudders, as blood oozes, as Cindy Crawford's wart-mole is sliced off her beautiful face, as overstuffed Marlon Brando is sucked inside a giant robot, as Donny and Marie Osmond blind each other with those big teeth, as Aretha Franklin, the undisputed queen of soul, takes out Barbra Streisand with rat-steeped water, infecting her with bubonic plague.
May the best celebrity die.
The show and its popularity make sense to some people who watch Hollywood.
Pat Aufderheide, professor in the School of Communication at American University, says television shows these days don't have to be profound to attract viewers. They just have to be shocking enough to get people to stop flicking the remotes.
People trying to figure out why the show is popular can skip the question of "What is it about our society that makes us like this?" Aufderheide says.
"There is a terrific push in the industry to develop cheap programming that is high concept," Aufderheide says. "They need our eyeballs, and we keep looking somewhere else, so they go for the lowest-common-denominator stuff: 'Shock TV.' "
And shows will only get worse, Aufderheide says, as viewers get more options.
A show in which dolls are decapitated and torn apart certainly has the power to stop the remotes. Where else might you see a battle of the bods: Jennifer Lopez's butt vs. Dolly Parton's chest. Lopez punches Parton, sending her flying into outer space, where Parton explodes like an inflatable doll. The announcer raises Jennifer Lopez's arm and proclaims: "The winner is Jennifer Lopez's [rear]!"
These clay dolls say what decent, raised-up-right people don't say and won't say. They speak their minds, tell it like it is. They are alter egos.
The show is the creation of a warped mind.
"The things we do on the show are basically things you would never see in real life. We are acting out our fantasies in terms of what we would want to see happen in the Deathmatch ring," says Eric Fogel, the 30-year-old creator who grew up drawing cartoons.
"Last season, we had Roseanne Barr fight Kelsey Grammer, and she swallowed him whole. We got to see what it would look like inside Roseanne's stomach. It's not something you would see on prime-time television."
Fogel grew up in Long Beach, N.Y., and graduated from NYU's film school in 1991. His first job out of college was at a studio creating stop-motion animation. "When I had enough of a reel together of my own work," he sent it to MTV.
The reel landed on the desk of Abby Terkuhle, president of MTV animation. Terkuhle liked what he saw and asked Fogel to develop something for MTV. His first series was a strange sci-fi program title "The Head" that ran for two seasons.
Then one day in 1997, during a car ride, Fogel got an idea. "It suddenly clicked--the idea of celebrities and wrestling collided in my brain."
"When Eric came in, he had a two-word pitch," Terkuhle says. " 'He said, 'Celebrity Deathmatch.' I said, 'Why don't we do that.' "
Fogel and Terkuhle knew they were on to something.
"There are celebrities out there who take themselves too seriously and forget they are in the business of entertainment," Fogel says. "When it boils down to it, they are not curing cancer or saving the rain forest. They are entertaining us."
The first "Celebrity Deathmatch" ran in 1997, featuring Marilyn Manson against Charles Manson. They were out to prove who was the most evil man in America.
Marilyn Manson won.
"Deathmatch," which targets young adults 18 to 24, first came to the attention of a huge audience in January 1998 during the Super Bowl, when MTV aired an alternative halftime show called "Death Bowl," in which claymation Spice Girls fought with Hanson for the title of "The Most Annoying Band in the World."
MTV says most celebrities who have been spoofed love the show.
Earlier this month Fogel got a dozen roses and a note from Whoopi Goldberg. She had seen the fight she had with Robin Williams and Billy Crystal to raise money to repair wounded claymation celebrities.
"I love your work," Whoopi wrote. "I love you guys, and I really love that I won. Thanks for thinking of me! Love, Whoopi."
Among the twenty-something crowd, the show is hot.
Melissa Raddatz, 22, thinks the show is sick but watches anyway because it's funny.
Raddatz, who works for a public relations firm in Washington, loved it when Jewel beat up on Alanis Morissette earlier this month. "As much as you buy their stuff and try to emulate them," Raddatz says, "I think people like to see celebrities fail.
"People see celebrities have so much stuff they would like to have. They have the money to buy whatever they want. To see them come down, people take sick pleasure out of it. It's like, 'Well, you couldn't get it all. Yeah, you are a real person, too.'
The fight is on.
This is the show everybody has been waiting for. Oprah Winfrey and Rosie O'Donnell are going at it. Then Jerry Springer, always looking for a good fight, challenges them to a three-way battle. Springer is about to be torn apart by Rosie and Oprah when he makes a suggestion to use their talk shows for good rather than evil. Springer promises--then says he is joking and tells Oprah that Rosie has a crush on her boyfriend. Rosie and Oprah smash each other's heads in. But then they come to their senses and pull Springer apart--literally, leaving his limbs wiggling on the canvas.
Oprah and Rosie make up, but the ref says only one gets out of the ring alive.
Oprah pushes Rosie through the cage and Rosie comes apart. She's through.
CAPTION: On "Celebrity Deathmatch," a clay Robert De Niro, right, looks to turn Al Pacino to putty.
CAPTION: Eric Fogel, creator of MTV's "Celebrity Deathmatch," with his clay figures.