Can ABC's 'Splash' Make Celebrity Diving the Next Big Thing in Reality TV?

Premiere Gets 8.8 Million Viewers; How Many Will Watch Tonight?

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Reality TV often thrives when it puts celebrities in difficult and uncomfortable situations, like rehab or a race to learn ballroom dancing. So it probably shouldn't seem so surprising that producers have thought of putting stars through a diving competition -- or that people are watching.

Kendra Wilkinson on 'Splash'
Kendra Wilkinson on 'Splash' Credit: ABC

The first episode of ABC's "Splash" last Tuesday attracted 8.8 million viewers, making it the top reality show debut since Fox brought "The X-Factor" to the U.S. in 2011.

The show offers the spectacle of competitive diving by 10 celebrities and semi-celebrities who can safely be said to be amateurs in the field: basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, comedian Louie Anderson, former Nickelodeon star Drake Bell, Chuy Bravo from "Chelsea Lately," extreme skier Rory Bushfield, former "Baywatch" star Nicole Eggert, Keshia Knight Pulliam from "The Cosby Show," NFL defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, model and Brent Musberger muse Katherine Webb, and former "Girls Next Door" star Kendra Wilkinson. Five-time Olympic gold medalist Greg Louganis coaches while Joey Lawrence and Charissa Thompson host.

Contestants get half their scores from the audience and half from the judges, London Olympic U.S. gold medalist David Boudia and Australian Olympic athlete and USA Dive Team director Steve Foley, with the two worst performers competing in a dive-off to stay. And of course, aside from all the footage of celebrities training, the show highlights their personal backstories and battles to conquer fears.

Broadly speaking, it's a proven model in TV: Take celebrities out of their comfort zones to see who will rise to the challenge and who will make a fool out of themselves. ABC has been banking on the format for years. Its venerable hit "Dancing with the Stars" returned for a 16th season on March 18, actually rebounding in ratings from its fall debut, while 7 million viewers watched Kate Gosselin and Mr. Wilkinson switch lives in the return of "Celebrity Wife Swap."

The question is whether "Splash" can keep the momentum going after the initial curiosity fades.

"Splash" is actually the second celebrity diving show to hit the air in the last few months. Fox attempted a similar concept with "Stars in Danger: The High Dive," a two-hour special that aired in January, but made a belly-flop, bringing in just 3.4 million viewers.

Like "The X-Factor" and countless other reality shows, the format for "Splash" originated overseas. Its first iteration was in the Netherlands, where it was called "Sterren Springen," literally translated as "Star Jumping." The rights have been bought by broadcasters in the U.S., France and Australia.

A version of "Splash" has already aired in the UK, where it averaged 5.6 million viewers, making it the top show in Saturday prime-time. A second season of the show has been commissioned. "Celebrity Splash" will air in Australia later this year.

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