Celebrities Take It on the Chin in Stop-Motion : Television: MTV’s hit series ‘Deathmatch’ pits entertainers and athletes against one another in Claymation battles.


Finally, the queen of pop and the king of pop are going to get it on.

In clay. In stop-motion.

We watch from ringside.

Madonna, the “Material Mother From Michigan,” threatens the “show-stealing, moon-walking, plastic, washed-up” Michael Jackson.

Madonna punches Jackson and tells him, “You have taken your last Jackson Family Tour.” She announces she’s going to fight Michael simply by “voguing,” the runway model dance that was so popular back when she was so popular.

Jackson does a fancy dance move, lets out a Michael Jackson scream and moon-walks his way out of trouble--until he’s flipped into a moat of bubbling green acid. The question arises: Is “the acid strong enough to eat through all those plastic surgeries?”


Just when we thought it was over, Jackson emerges with his old and beautiful face, the face that many girls in America fell in love with before it was destroyed “circa 1971.” But Madonna beats him up anyway, raises her arms in victory and announces, “Now, who is bad?”

This is “Celebrity Deathmatch,” one of MTV’s top-rated programs at a time when fascination for celebrities seems to be at a high. Almost obsessively, the public appears to hold both admiration and contempt for celebrities, riding the roller coaster of fame with them, hugging them as their stars rise and jealously applauding as they fall.

“Celebrity Deathmatch” is a fantasy, Claymation fights that pit the best and worst of Hollywood, the NBA and the NFL against one another in the theatrics of professional wrestling. The audience for the Thursday night show, now in its third season, is up to about 1.3 million.

The bad thoughts that lie in the recesses and dark corners of minds can be unleashed with fury and vengeance. In clay, everything kindergarten teachers told us not to do doesn’t matter. Laugh as Cindy Crawford’s mole is sliced off her beautiful face, as overstuffed Marlon Brando is sucked inside a giant robot, as Donny and Marie Osmond blind each other with those big teeth, as Aretha Franklin takes out Barbra Streisand with rat-steeped water, infecting her with bubonic plague.

May the best celebrity die.

The show and its popularity make sense to some people who watch Hollywood.

“There is a terrific push in the industry to develop cheap programming that is high concept,” says Pat Aufderheide, professor in the school of communication at Washington’s American University. “They need our eyeballs, and we keep looking somewhere else, so they go for the lowest-common-denominator stuff: ‘Shock TV.’ ”

A show in which dolls are decapitated and torn apart certainly has the power to stop the remotes. Where else might you see a battle of the bods: Jennifer Lopez’s butt fighting Dolly Parton’s chest. Lopez punches Parton, sending her flying into outer space, where Parton explodes like an inflatable doll. The announcer raises Lopez’s arm and proclaims: “The winner is Jennifer Lopez’s [rear]!”


These clay dolls speak their minds, tell it like it is. They are alter egos.

“The things we do on the show are basically things you would never see in real life. We are acting out our fantasies in terms of what we would want to see happen in the ‘Deathmatch’ ring,” says creator Eric Fogel, 30.

“Last season, we had Roseanne fight Kelsey Grammer, and she swallowed him whole. We got to see what it would look like inside Roseanne’s stomach. It’s not something you would see on prime-time television.”

Fogel graduated from NYU’s film school in 1991 and began creating stop-motion animation at a studio. “When I had enough of a reel together of my own work,” he sent it to MTV.

Abby Terkuhle, president of MTV animation, liked what he saw and asked Fogel to develop something for MTV. His first series was a strange sci-fi program, “The Head,” which ran for two seasons.

Then one day in 1997, Fogel said, “It suddenly clicked; the idea of celebrities and wrestling collided in my brain.”

“When Eric came in, he had a two-word pitch,” Terkuhle says. “He said, ‘Celebrity Deathmatch.’ I said, ‘Why don’t we do that?’ ”


Fogel and Terkuhle knew they were onto something.

“There are celebrities out there who take themselves too seriously and forget they are in the business of entertainment,” Fogel says. “When it boils down to it, they are not curing cancer or saving the rain forest. They are entertaining us.”

The first “Celebrity Deathmatch” ran in 1997, with Marilyn Manson and Charles Manson out to prove who was the most evil man in America. Marilyn won.

“Deathmatch,” which targets adults 18 to 24, first came to the attention of a huge audience in January 1998 during the Super Bowl, when MTV aired an alternative halftime show called “Death Bowl,” in which Claymation Spice Girls fought with Hanson for the title of “The Most Annoying Band in the World.”

MTV says most celebrities who have been spoofed love the show.

Last month, Fogel got a dozen roses and a note from Whoopi Goldberg. She’d seen the fight she had with Robin Williams and Billy Crystal to raise money to repair wounded Claymation celebrities.

“I love your work,” Goldberg wrote. “I love you guys, and I really love that I won. Thanks for thinking of me! Love, Whoopi.”

* “Celebrity Deathmatch” appears Thursdays at 10 p.m. on MTV.