Battle of the Network Stars first pitted Sweathog against Kojak 40 years ago

Which team were you rooting for?

Top image: The Everett Collection

In 1976, the world's greatest athletes gathered in Montreal and Innsbruck to compete in the Olympic Games. The Steelers edged the Cowboys in the Super Bowl. The Reds swept the Yankees.

Meanwhile, somewhere near Burbank, Telly Savalas took a drag from a cigarette after a relay race. Penny Marshall and Mackenzie Phillips scrapped through an obstacle course. Lynda Carter, Adrienne Barbeau and Karen Grassle kicked and splashed across a swimming pool. 

A stentorian voice announced, over a disco beat, "Their soldiers came not on foot nor horseback, but by jet or limousine, as befitted their station. They came girding for battle to hurl themselves against one another in mortal combat."

This was Battle of the Network Stars. This was pure 1970s entertainment.

The pioneering reality event kicked off in November of the Bicentennial year. The sweeps spectacular became a biannual treat through the mid-'80s. Where else could you see the likes of Gary Burghoff and Farrah Fawcett square off in tug-of-war? The ABC, CBS and NBC teams were captained by heroes like Dick Van Patten, Ed Asner and Robert Conrad, as seen above in the fall '79 group shot.

To celebrate 40 years of Battle, let's look back at some highlights from the first clash. Who were you rooting for?

1. First, the competitors…

Gabe Kaplan led ABC's squad of Darleen Carr, Lynda Carter, Farrah Fawcett, Richard Hatch, Robert Hegyes, Ron Howard, Hal Linden, Penny Marshall and John Schuck. (Yes, even Yoyo of Holmes & Yoyo was there!) Telly Savalas captained CBS's team of Adrienne Barbeau, Gary Burghoff, Kevin Dobson, Pat Harrington, Jr., Bill Macy, Lee Meriwether, Mackenzie Phillips, Loretta Swit and Jimmie Walker. Robert Conrad helmed the NBC crew of Melissa Sue Anderson, Karen Grassle, Tim Matheson, Ben Murphy, Barbara Parkins, Joanna Pettet, Kevin Tighe, Bobby Troup and Demond Wilson.

2. Lynda Carter was the clear star.

Of all those names, "lustrous Lynda Carter" (Howard Cosell's words, not ours) was the obvious focus, as the young Wonder Woman anchored several events for ABC.

3. There was controversy!

Telly, smoking the aforementioned cigarette, lodged a complaint after the relay race. NBC's Ben Murphy, a.k.a. Gemini Man, took the baton severeal yards (or "a hundred feet!" in Salavas' eyes) too soon from a flagging Joanna Pettet. Savalas noted his Greek heritage as evidence of his expertise on such sporting affairs. As a result, an incensed Robert Conrad challenged Gabe Kaplan to a 100-yard run-off. This never happened to Usain Bolt.

4. Let's just take a moment to focus on Telly's cool.

Man, this man was smooth. Here are nine things you never knew about Telly Savalas.

5. Laverne, Barney Miller and Epstein gave their all.

The blue-clad ABC crew won the tug-of-war in a tense battle of sand, sweat and tears. Look at Penny Marshall dig! This was not acting.

6. Team ABC continued its dominance in the swimming relay.

It was a dream team with Wonder Woman and a Sweathog. Carter and Robert "Epstein" Hegyes cruised through the water. They really need to bring this back.

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