When MTV's ‘Celebrity Deathmatch’ Ruled the Ring

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“Last season, we had Roseanne Barr combat Kelsey Grammer, and she swallowed him whole,” Eric Fogel explained to The Washington Post in 1999. “We got to spot what it would look similar wrong Roseanne’s stomach. It's not thing you would spot connected prime-time television.”

Except actually, it was. Fogel’s Celebrity Deathmatch, which archetypal aired connected MTV from 1998 to 2002, was a cavalcade of fictitious (and violent) encounters betwixt celebrated people, each of it rendered successful stop-motion animation. Madonna was pitted against Michael Jackson; Gene Siskel assaulted Roger Ebert; Hillary Clinton confronted Monica Lewinsky. It was portion Jerry Springer, portion WWE, and portion Gumby, each rolled into one.

A New York University graduate, Fogel sent his animation reel to MTV successful the aboriginal 1990s. In 1994, helium created The Head, a trippy cartoon astir a antheral who discovers an alien is surviving wrong his brain. Both the bid and Fogel were cleanable for MTV’s irreverent programming attack astatine the time. When they weren’t airing euphony videos, they were taking chances connected borderline avant-garde animated projects similar The Maxx and Aeon Flux.

The Head ran for 2 seasons earlier it was canceled. Then, Fogel had different idea. Professional wrestling was experiencing a resurgence of popularity acknowledgment to the Monday Night Wars, an ongoing contention betwixt 2 then-rival promotions, WWE and WCW. Every truthful often, promoters would entice a mainstream personage similar Mike Tyson oregon Lawrence Taylor betwixt the ropes. What if, Fogel thought, helium could make a stop-motion wrestling league with thing but celebrities?

Fogel pitched the thought to MTV, which took astir a twelvemonth to commit. In the interim, Fogel developed art, storyboards, clay models, and imaginable match-ups. A protagonist of Vogel’s astatine MTV kept pushing for the show. Finally, erstwhile it looked similar the network’s deed Beavis and Butt-Head was adjacent to wrapping up and astir to permission an animation void, they gave it the go-ahead.

With chap animator Greg Pair, Fogel acceptable astir getting the animation finished for the inaugural bouts, including Howard Stern against Kathie Lee Gifford and Charles Manson taking connected Marilyn Manson. According to Fogel, the characters were really foam latex poseable puppets that gave them problems. Their arms, Fogel said, were similar that of a “gorilla” and abnormally long. Still, the brace made it work.

Fogel debuted the archetypal contention betwixt Manson and Manson connected the network’s Cartoon Sushi variety bid successful 1997. The web past ordered a Celebrity Deathmatch halftime amusement for Super Bowl XXXII successful 1998, which featured the lad set Hanson successful mortal combat with the Spice Girls. (In the end, a lighting fixture falls from the rafters and squashes each of them.) Fogel considered it difficult—animating 8 puppets positive supporting characters successful a abbreviated span of clip was grueling—but the effort was worthwhile: It became 1 of the network’s highest-rated specials and convinced MTV to bid a afloat season.

Bouts contested on Celebrity Deathmatch were usually bloody and didn’t precisely travel accepted prizefighting rules. Michael Jackson winds up successful a vat of acid; Donny Osmond’s gleaming achromatic teeth blinds sister Marie Osmond; Oprah Winfrey and Rosie O’Donnell squad up to teardrop Jerry Springer’s limbs cleanable off. Real-life boxing referee Mills Lane appeared successful clay signifier to effort and officiate, though small was against the rules.

Despite the hard process of posing clay molds framework by frame, Celebrity Deathmatch had an expedited accumulation process. Each occurrence usually featured 3 bouts: Fogel could person 2 episodes successful accumulation astatine once. Because the accumulation was housed nether 1 extortion successful MTV’s New York office, writers and animators could collaborate instantly. To find personage impersonators, Fogel would judge audio submissions.

Because the amusement was intelligibly parody, support from contestants wasn’t required. Sometimes, Fogel would perceive astir idiosyncratic being little than pleased: Jennifer Lopez was unhappy with the histrion chosen to dependable her. The lone veto came from Paramount, which astatine the clip was nether the umbrella of MTV’s genitor institution Viacom. The workplace didn’t privation Deathmatch to pit Star Trek captains James T. Kirk and Jean-Luc Picard against 1 another.

And portion not each of them whitethorn person enjoyed being disemboweled, immoderate celebrities had a consciousness of wit astir it. Whoopi Goldberg, who was depicted successful a three-way lucifer with Comic Relief partners Billy Crystal and Robin Williams, wrote Fogel to accidental however overmuch she enjoyed the conception and sent him a twelve roses.

Celebrity Deathmatch initially ran for 4 seasons and was aboriginal resurrected successful 2006 for 2 much connected MTV’s sister web MTV2, though Fogel wasn’t involved. Other attempts astatine rebooting the fashionable bid person been discussed (most recently successful 2018, erstwhile Fogel was acceptable to squad up with Ice Cube), but person yet to cookware out.

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