ABC opted to go with the title “Splash” instead of the more self-explanatory “Celebrity Diving,” perhaps because a close reading of FDA guidelines would prohibit using the term “celebrity” with this field. More like an imitation celebrity product, containing some celebrity and meat filler. On the plus side, the show looked a tad better than Fox’s slapdash, get-there-first effort “Stars in Danger: The High Dive,” and the imported format — which premiered Tuesday, without advance preview — is at least compatible with “Dancing With the Stars.” On the down side, that earlier effort sank so fast in the ratings, it must have been tempting to try to sweeten this one by having at least one dive with no water in the pool.
The one-hour premiere was rather oddly constructed, in part because only half of the 10 participants actually dove, with one voted off before the second half hit the pool next week. Presumably, a two-hour launch would have allowed for a full quorum, but ABC probably didn’t want to risk introducing a concept with such limited wattage without a “Dancing”-adjacent boost.
Beyond that, there was an “Everybody wins” quality to the festivities, which appears to have been cast with a combination of desperation and a fun-house mirror: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar because he’s tall, Louie Anderson because he’s obese, “Chelsea Lately’s” Chuy Bravo because he’s tiny, Miss Alabama Katherine Webb because she looks great in a swimsuit and Brent Musburger leered at her during the BCS championship football game.
The two judges — Olympic champ David Boudia and former diver/coach Steve Foley — sought to be relentlessly positive, but as Fox discovered, if people like watching graceful diving every four years during the Summer Games, it’s hard to make bad diving truly interesting. The show did feature one of the more hilarious commercial breaks in recent memory, building up toward Anderson’s leap as if he was going to empty the pool, then cutting away at the last possible moment.
Seemingly determined to stick around awhile, Anderson said he was doing it “for the troops.” By contrast, former “The Cosby Show” kid Keshia Knight Pulliam gave the impression she was just looking to escape with her dignity intact, and then go fire her agent.
Ultimately, “Splash” is little more than an oddity, a poorly cast diversion to try keeping a percentage of the “Dancing” audience (which is already pretty geriatric, in TV-demo terms) tuned to ABC a little bit longer. Given the lineup of divers and the level of competition, it’s hard to see this spring fling doing much more than helping the network tread water.
Still, there was one moment of perhaps unintended honesty during the telecast, when Foley admiringly told Abdul-Jabbar — the former Lakers and UCLA star, who is now 65 — that at his age, ”You should be home watching ‘Splash’ on TV.”
(Series; ABC, Tue. March 19, 8 p.m.)
Hosts: Joey Lawrence, Charissa Thompson. Judges: David Boudia, Steve Foley. Coach: Greg Louganis. Stars: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Louie Anderson, Drake Bell, Chuy Bravo, Rory Bushfield, Nicole Eggert, Keshia Knight Pulliam, Ndamukong Suh, Katherine Webb, Kendra Wilkinson