Behind The ScenesSportsCenter

Champion cherishes reporting on Battle of the Network Stars, airing tonight on ABC

This summer, Cari Champion added a high-profile reporting assignment to her day job co-hosting SportsCenter Coast-to-Coast. Throughout July and August, Champion can be seen in prime-time reporting for ABC’s Battle of the Network Stars (Thursdays at 9 p.m. on ABC), alongside ESPN colleagues Mike Greenberg and Joe Tessitore (co-hosts), and Cassidy Hubbarth (reporter).

Champion spoke with Front Row about being part of the series, which was filmed earlier this spring at Pepperdine University in Malibu, Calif.

How familiar were you with Battle of the Network Stars before joining the show?
I don’t remember much, but what I do remember is that all these TV stars at that time became huge movie stars later on. So, I felt like it was something really special. There was a rite of passage to it in terms of television history, the Wide World of Sports, and the yellow jackets, which you hear about all the time. That show was a big deal.

What made you want to sign on to do this show?
I felt like this would be a great opportunity for a couple reasons. I love sitcoms and that was the TV I loved when I was a kid, so I wanted to be able to see some of these people that I grew up with up-close in-person.

Also, I thought it would be a great honor, if not ode, to [former show host and legendary ABC broadcaster] Howard Cosell because he put his own spin on it. He made it seem like this was the Olympics of TV. It was great and I enjoyed every moment of it, and I wanted to be part of what is considered a legacy for the Disney and ABC family.

How was working with fellow ESPNers Hubbarth, Greenberg and Tessitore?
That was a good experience and I felt that the time we were able to film, we were our own special group. We had a really good time bonding with one another. I think I was most surprised by Joe’s personality because I didn’t realize how funny he was, so we had this opportunity to see him in a way we don’t normally see him. He’s really clever, he had a good energy, and Cassidy did as well. Greenberg and Joe throughout the filming often referred to themselves as the “jackets”- [referring to the gold sportscoats ABC sportscasters wore in the 1970s and 80s] and it didn’t take long for all of us to develop a role that was fitting for WWS [ABC’s Wide World Of Sports]! Just an amazing experience. It was good for all of us and it was a lot like summer camp, but in a professional way.

Did any of the show’s participants surprise you with their athleticism?
It’s funny you ask that because most of the people that you think aren’t that athletic are super athletic. For instance, Ted Lange of The Love Boat, was the most athletic. I think he’s pushing 70 and he was arguably the most athletic because he kept himself in such great shape.

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