“Has a celebrity ever come after you for making fun of them?”
Over the years this has been one of the most frequently asked questions put to me, regarding Celebrity Deathmatch. I am happy to report that there has never been a lawsuit filed by a celebrity against me or MTV Networks -- at least none that I’m aware of. That’s not to say that a few celebs weren’t a little pissed off from time to time.
Jennifer Lopez comes to mind as a pop culture icon who was less than pleased with our portrayal of her against Dolly Parton in a battle of “T vs. A” -- but not for the reasons you might think. It wasn’t the fact that we gave Jennifer a set of massive, super enhanced bionic buttocks. Or the fact she was nearly smothered to death by Dolly’s equally egregious bionically enhanced boobs. No, turns out it was the voice actress we cast. Apparently the singer/songwriter/former American Idol judge thought the actress sounded nothing like her. Who knew J-Lo was such a stickler for realism?
Then there was the first ever battle to feature the Celebrity Deathmatch time machine – a device that allowed us to pull historical figures from any point in time, into the ring (expanding our deathmatch universe exponentially). For this throw down we pitted peace–loving Mahatma Gandhi against brutal Mongolian Warrior Genghis Kahn. Oddly, it was The Network that freaked out this time, fearful that our portrayal of Gandhi would upset the entire one billion plus population of India. Indeed from the opening bell the fight was a total mismatch. In the skewed reality of our show, Gandhi was a TOTAL ANIMAL in the ring, biting off Genghis Kahn’s nose, shattering his spine and eventually lifting THE RING itself and slamming it down on his opponent. I’m pretty sure no one India saw that coming. In the end, MTV decided to throw caution to the wind and air the episode. It received a big rating and not a single complaint.
Perhaps the most disappointing rejection of a Deathmatch came not from a celebrity but from a major Hollywood Studio. The match was to be featured in our Sci-Fi Spectacular and I’m pretty sure that the brains of Trekkies all over the world would have exploded for it: Captain Kirk vs. Captain Piccard. This main event match-up was quite far along in our pipeline as I recall. All of the voices had been recorded, the storyboards had been approved and we were about to go into animation. William Shatner himself, a personal friend of Deathmatch writer Chris Kreski, blessed the episode. And that’s when Paramount pulled the plug. A sister company of Viacom (who owns MTV Networks) Paramount was unhappy with us “f*****g with their billion dollar franchise,” as they put it. Pretty incredible, considering that everyone and their mother had done a Star Trek parody at that point. Sadly, this complete lack of synergy hurt noone but the fans, denying them of a fantasy battle they could only ever witness on our show.
On the plus side, the pressure to fill the void left by the cancelled Star trek battle forced us to come up with one of our most unusual matchups ever. It pitted fictional commentator Nick Diamond against an unruly one-eyed alien that looked like the bastard cousin of Pixar’s “Mike Wazowski.” The deathmatch, beautifully animated by Pete List, allowed us to push the limits of cartoony violence and mayhem beyond the breaking point and also taught me a valuable lesson about turning a setback into a win.