The following closeup feature of BattleBots appeared on on January 23, 2001:

By David Tagnani

(10 pm/ET, COMEDY)

At last. Now we can get our fill of TV violence and ignore the ubiquitous warnings that it desensitizes us. After all, the Comedy Central series BattleBots does not present real violence... not the kind of violence Joe Lieberman was talking about anyway. In fact, BattleBots encourages random acts of engineering more than any kind of violence, and its charm lies in the fact that it's relatively guilt-free.

This is certainly not brain food, but there is no risk to human life involved, so you don't feel your annoying conscience bothering you as you would watching, say, Tough Man competitions, World's Scariest Police Chases or professional wrestling, but you get a similar visceral experience. And unlike wrestling, this is not scripted, feigned violence.

Okay, for those who don't know yet, the premise is simple. Take two robots designed to kill each other, surround them with a 48-square-foot cage of shatterproof glass (the "Battlebox") and let them go at it like two pit bulls. The shatterproof glass is there to keep the flying debris from maiming audience members... and the creators, who also seek refuge behind the glass as they control their robots. The 'bots employ all sorts of weaponry and armor... pretty much the only thing against the rules is the use of explosive or corrosive liquids. Projectiles are okay if they're tethered.


They also use all sorts of strategies, from the aggressive, weapon-based attack, to the positioning-and-leverage approach. As if this needed any more spice, there are "hazards" placed in the Battlebox, which include saw blades that randomly rise from the floor and metal spikes lining the perimeter. Even with all of these pitfalls, fights usually don't end in a knockout. Judges assess the damage at the end and determine a winner.

With names like Vlad the Impaler and Biohazard, the battlebots are easily seen as the stars of the show. But surprisingly, their creators — those behind-the-scenes humans who pour copious amounts of time and money into their creations — have also garnered attention. They range from Hollywood special-effects guys (one competitor works at George Lucas's Industrial Light & Magic) to 14-year-old Lisa Winter, whose ladybug 'bot shocked everyone with its ferocity. Jay Leno even has his own robot named Chinkilla, which defeated series creator Trey Roski's 'bot Ginsu. Some newcomers are struck with awe at the "legends" they must compete against. Many have their own Web sites and are becoming nothing short of celebrities on the robotics circuit. Don't laugh. Check the Internet.

BattleBots has been a surprise in the ratings, quickly becoming Comedy Central's No. 2 show behind South Park. The reason behind BattleBots's wide appeal is that it combines serious competition with a decidedly lighthearted atmosphere, creating an exciting, silly, entertaining half-hour of technology and carnage as it blurs the lines between sport, sci-fi, comedy and action.

On top of the inherent charms of the competition itself, the show very adroitly plays to all audiences. It has a comedian (Bil Dwyer) and a former NFL quarterback (Sean Salisbury) as announcers, and Bill Nye the Science Guy to handle, well, the science behind it all. And, oh, yes... there is former Playboy Playmate Heidi Mark (her job is to look good, and she does her job well).

Playmates, violence and a clear conscience. What's not to like?