Review: Celebrity Bowling DVD

Celebrity Bowling DVD boxSTUDIO: S’More Entertainment | PRODUCER: Don Bucola | CAST: Jimmy Walker, Leslie Nielsen, Billy Barty, Ed Asner, Elena Verdugo, Michael Douglas
6/14/11 | PRICE: DVD $24.98
NR | 375 min. | Classic TV | 1.33:1 fullscreen | stereo

RATINGS (out of 5): Movie | Audio | Video | Overall

Celebrity Bowling scene

Dick Martin (l.) squares off against Bob Newhart in Celebrity Bowling.

If you want to see TV shows that started trends in fashion, behavior and language, watch the hit series from any given era. If, however, you’re curious about pop culture that reflected the trends of an era, watch the lower-budgeted shows that stayed on the air for long periods of time and got respectable ratings, but never became blockbusters.

Celebrity Bowling is such a show, a television series that was on from 1971 to 1978 and positively radiates 1970s polyester, sideburns and mustaches and an entirely alien notion of what constitutes “sports entertainment.” The series was shot in a Los Angeles studio outfitted with two bowling lanes and aired in syndication, usually around the dinner hour.

The guest list for the 18 shows included in this three-disc box is wonderfully eclectic and appropriately 1970s bizarre. For example, three of the flashier match-ups are: Roy Rogers and Don Adams vs. Bob Newhart and George Foreman; Tige Andrews and Elizabeth Ashley vs. Brenda Vaccaro and Michael Douglas; and Leslie Nielsen and Susan Saint James vs. Angie Dickinson and Lloyd Bridges

The performers were indeed all about the game here — there were no interviews and certainly no “role-playing,” as with the later Battle of the Network Stars and, even later, The Celebrity Apprentice. Some of the celebrities excelled at bowling (Roy Rogers, Bob Newhart), while others were wonderfully dreadful. At one point, the “Mutt and Jeff” team of Charles Nelson Reilly and Robert Clary are told by host Jed Allan that they’ve broken the low-scoring record of the Lennon Sisters (66).

It is indeed weird not to see the celebrities commenting on the matches or pitching their latest movies. Celebrity Bowling might’ve been the only show from the 1970s that didn’t impose on Nipsey Russell to offer a poem or two; to see Don Adams get a gutterball and not say “missed it by that much!” also seems like a missed opportunity.

The collection may hold little interest for viewers under 40, but for those who were around back in the 1970s and who wish to be schooled in the finer points of wearing Technicolor pants, or who will duly amused that, yes, people used to be excited to win the “new telephone answering machine” as a prize, Celebrity Bowling is true time-trip.

The discs have no special features, but we don’t need any.


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About Ed

Ed Grant has written about film for a wide range of periodicals, books and websites. He edited the reference book The Motion Picture Guide Annual and, since 1993, has produced and hosted the weekly cable program Media Funhouse, which Time magazine called “the most eclectic and useful movie show on TV.”