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ABC's newest ratings pitch: Celebrities on a high dive!

Basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar diving in "Splash."

Unless you're, say, a summer Olympian, diving can be pretty boring. But throw some celebrities into the mix, show a little skin and you've got yourself a show. At least that's the premise behind ABC's new reality TV show "Splash”.

Extreme skier Rory Bushfield is among the show's 10 contestants, along with comedian Louie Anderson, former Cosby kid Keisha Knight Pulliam, and basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Bushfield says he almost face planted in the water the other day and ruptured an eardrum. “I'd say I'm a terrible diver, yeah. Going in head-first is not easy."

That's good, because people want to see bad diving. And they want drama, says Rob Cesternino, who produces a podcast about reality TV. “We want to see people fall into the pool and we want to see people cry about doing badly,” he said. “That's gonna be the reason. Nobody cares if Kareem Abdul-Jabbar can do a backflip.” Even if that backflip is off a 10-meter board.

And then there's the swimsuit factor. One of the contestants is Kendra Wilkinson. You may remember her from another reality show, “The Girls Next Door.” As in next door to the Playboy Mansion, where she eventually moved. Put her in a bathing suit and that kind of thing can attract viewers, says Cesternino. Up to a point, anyway. “Until we're talking about Louie Anderson in a swimsuit, “ he said.

Deborah Jaramillo is an assistant professor of television studies at Boston University. She says the idea of pitting celebrities against one another in sports isn't new. “I'm just surprised that they narrowed it down to diving. It just seems so bizarre.”

Actually it's been tried before. “Splash” is modeled on a British show. And back in January, FOX aired "Stars in Danger: The High Dive," its own celebrity diving special. That was a flop. The winners, Jaramillo says, are the D-List celebrities, and the network.

“It's great publicity for them and it's very, very cheap for the network as well,” she says.

There’s little to lose and a lot to gain. If "Splash" is anything like ABC's hit "Dancing with the Stars," all the network has to do is plug in a new celebrity cast every season and watch the money flow in.

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Celebrity high dive is not new at all. German late night TV host Stefan Raab has been hosting an annual celebrity high dive contest since 2004. And quite successfully. His celebrity stock car races and his celebrity wok world cup (racing down an olympic luge track on a wok) are also quite popular programs.

Why do we continue to use the term "reality TV"? There is no reality here. It's a game show.

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