What: "Toughman World Championship Series"
Where: FX, Fridays, 10 p.m.
Every town has its tough guys, and that's what this is all about. Amateur fighters don 16-ounce gloves and headgear and go at it for three one-minute rounds with 45-second breaks.
Toughman has been around since 1979, but FX, Fox's entertainment and sports cable network that reaches 40 million homes, is giving it big-time attention--and big-time treatment--in a 21-week series that began Friday with taped competition from Bay St. Louis, Miss.
The first show drew a 1.5 cable rating, phenomenal for FX. In the demographic group of men 18-49, the rating was a 1.8, highest on basic cable for that time slot.
This is not Ultimate Fighting Challenge, a no-holds barred competition of questionable taste. Boxing rules apply here. Nor is it the World Wrestling Federation. It's legitimate competition. And FX does a nice job of telling the stories behind the competitors. In the first show, one of the bouts had a bartender beating up a cop.
The production value is top quality, with FX sparing no expense. It brought in top people in the Fox family to produce the shows, such as Gary Garcia, head of production for Fox Sports West; Arthur Smith, head of production for Fox Sports Net; Bill Borson of Fox Sports Net, and award-winning network producer John Faratzis, whose credits include Super Bowls.
The lead announcer is Matt Vasgerian, a 31-year-old USC graduate who, with Bob Uecker, does play-by-play on Milwaukee Brewer broadcasts. The commentator is former pro football player Lawrence Taylor, a questionable choice, but Garcia and Smith said he did the best of the half-dozen or so "tough guys" that auditioned. He actually wasn't bad on the first show. The shows are taped and edited, and that probably helps Taylor. The reporters are Sean O'Grady, one of the best boxing commentators in the business, and former kick boxer Fairlie Arrow, a native of Melbourne, Australia. One suggestion: If FX wants to make Toughman legitimate, it might try dressing Arrow--that can't be her real name--in something other than a halter top and hot pants.