FOX Sports Exclusive
From the couch: NFL stars get real on TV
Poor Jimmy Johnson. FOX Sports must not be paying the former coach and current football analyst much better than they do me. Why else would a 67-year-old guy be willing to eat bugs and rough it in the Nicaraguan wilderness, trying to win a million bucks on the upcoming season of “Survivor?”
Terrell Owens stars in "The T.O. Show," in its second season on VH1. vh1.com
Do a little channel-surfing, though, and Johnson is hardly the only major sports name moonlighting in the wilds of reality TV.
Yes, there’s a new season of HBO’s “Hard Knocks: Training Camp With the New York Jets.” Based on the premiere, the show qualifies as must-see TV if only for Coach Rex Ryan, who possesses a wicked sense of humor and an ability to creatively drop F-bombs that former Dodger manager Tommy Lasorda might envy.
But at least that’s specifically about football — featuring such sequences as the sobering sight of rookies being informed they’re being cut from the team.
The real head-scratcher is the outbreak of reality TV shows featuring athletes that often have little or nothing to do with sports.
In the old days, big-name athletes turned up in TV commercials. Now, with so many channels, anybody remotely famous is viewed as potential fodder for their own weekly programs.
Recommended viewing: “Friday Night Lights” is in its fifth and final season, with episodes currently airing exclusively on DirecTV. If you’re not watching the show, you’re missing one of the best sports-related dramas ever done. The series finale will air on Feb. 9.
Sunday, for example, brought the latest chapter of “Ochocinco: The Ultimate Catch,” a VH1 version of “The Bachelor” allowing receiver Chad Ochocinco to choose from a bevy of eager women. The latest episode found him weighing whether to dump Tiphani or Courtney, who he credited with “bringing that physical side to the connection,” which almost makes her sound like a linebacker.
The peculiar reality-sports epidemic is such that when not discussing pass patterns, Ochocinco and the Cincinnati Bengals’ other flamboyant wideout, Terrell Owens, can compare notes about working for VH1. That’s because Owens stars in “The T.O. Show,” hanging out with two beautiful “publicists” laboring to improve his image, according to the show, “on his road to discovery, playing an essential role in Terrell’s quest for success and personal growth.”
Paging Dr. Phil — although in practical terms, that often means simply trying to prevent him from getting laid.
Johnson, meanwhile, is only the latest Dallas Cowboys alumnus to join the club. Aside from Emmitt Smith winning “Dancing With the Stars,” the list includes “Keyshawn Johnson: Tackling Design” on A&E and Michael Irvin in Spike’s “4th and Long.” Still, the strangest entry in this full-employment act for glamour players was “Deion & Pilar: Prime Time Love,” which aired on Oxygen, a channel devoted to women. The show featured two-sport star turned football analyst Deion Sanders with his ex-model wife and five kids, two of whom are named — and they should have canceled the show for this alone — Deion Jr. and Deiondra.
Basketball players have gotten into the act too, with another season of “Shaq Vs.” airing on ABC. This follows “Shaq’s Big Challenge,” in which well-traveled and well-fed NBA center Shaquille O’Neal sought to inspire overweight kids to shed pounds.
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Actually, they could have killed two birds with one stone by pitting Shaq against those teenagers in free-throw contests.
The puzzling question is what networks gain from such exercises. Yes, athletes are recognizable personalities, but most football fans are men, while these series predominantly cater to women. Frankly, most men wouldn’t be caught dead watching Oxygen or a reality dating show unless the bachelorettes wind up naked in a hot tub, otherwise known as Cinemax.
Admittedly, “Survivor” and “Dancing” are exceptions — casting a wide net to broaden their appeal. By that measure, incorporating FOX’s Johnson is an obvious ploy to elicit interest from at least a few sports fans.
Ultimately, even the misguided efforts reflect the hunger to stand out, in any way possible, when the average home receives more than 100 channels. Because as Johnson and these other reality “stars” can attest, even in TV, it’s a jungle out there.