June 27, 2010: Shaquille O'Neal may not yet know where he will be playing during the 2010-11 NBA season, but his fans and TV viewers will know where to find him this summer. As he did last year, O'Neal will star in the quasi-reality show, Shaq Vs., the second limited-run six-episode season of which is scheduled to premiere Aug. 3 on ABC.
In Season One, O'Neal went "head-to-head" against athletes including Michael Phelps and Ben Roethlisberger in their respective fields. The ratings did not shake up any Richter scales, but was apparently interesting enough in the doldrums of summer fare for ABC to call for more. O'Neal and two-time NBA MVP Steve Nash are among the executive producers.
This year, athletes such as Dale Earnhardt Jr., Tyson Gay and fellow NBA center Dwight Howard will make appearances. But, according to producers, episodes "will also feature some fun, comedic non-sports competitions such as a spelling bee contest or a dance crew battle." In each case, O'Neal again will be given a handicap in an effort to level out the competition.
The spelling bee episode, in fact, was filmed on June 4 at the 2010 Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C., where O'Neal challenged 14-year-old Kavya Shivashankar, the 2009 champion. "I'm a guy who has his hand in everything and it's not always about sports," O'Neal commented at the Scripps event. "I was in town at a hotel and I saw some smart kids running around and I said to myself, 'No way that kid can out-spell me. I'm ready: Cat. C-a-t. Kitten. K-i-t-t-e-n-." Then, in a more serious mood he added, "[These kids] are the next doctors, lawyers, decision makers."
Season Two of Shaq Vs. will also feature some fun, comedic non-sports competitions such as a spelling bee contest or a dance crew battle.
U.S. national soccer team star Landon Donovan also seems targeted to be in the mix based on a tweet sent out by O'Neal after Donovan sent the U.S. into the World Cup sweet 16 with his game-winning goal on June 23: "Congrats 2 landon donovan 4 scorin game winning goal. grt job but u ain't scoring on me in shaq vs! " the NBA veteran-turned-reality-star offered. O'Neal has nearly 3 million followers at his perosnal Twitter site. O'Neal also is keeping people posted via his official Facebook page.
On June 19, O'Neal and Howard hit the track at Occidental College in Los Angeles in what producers described as "two Supermen [racing] against the fastest man in America." during a relay race. The NBA players each have laid claim to the Superman image — O'Neal now being the elder statesman version — while Gay holds numerous track and field records. The episode also features other athletes including NFL players DeSean Jackson (Philadelphia Eagles) and Chris Johnson (Tennessee Titans) and former track and field star Maurice Greene.
O'Neal also has done his turn on the track against Nascar's Earnhardt Jr. in an episode filmed at Concord (N.C.) Motorsports Park on June 23. Based on his posts on Twitter, it appears as if the 7'1", 325 lb. O'Neal's biggest problem against Earnhardt Jr. was getting into the Sprint Cup stock car with the special Shaq Vs. design. "yup, i fit in da car," he posted on Twitter along with a photo. "Took me few mins." On site, O'Neal confirmed with the media, "It took me 25 minutes to get in the car and 50 minutes to get out of the car."
ABC was in über-stealth mode regarding the events themselves and especially the outcomes, sending official notice in advance: "The media is not permitted to cover the actual . . . event" and that although the public was admitted free of charge "no cameras, phones (of any kind) or outside recording devices will be allowed inside."
Though done for fun, O'Neal did not embellish his sports career in Season One by losing in such competitions as beach volleyball against Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh (after which donned a pink bikini over his black workout suit as part of the losing bet)l, a home run derby against the St. Louis Cardinals' Albert Pujols, boxing against Oscar de la Hoya, tennis versus Serena Williams, swimming versus Olympic star Michael Phelps and leading the Pittsburgh Colts semipro football team in a 7-on-7 game with members of the Pittsburgh Steelers, led by quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
Last year, the premiere episode on ABC (on Aug. 18) came in third in the evening's ratings (4.3 million viewers) at the 9 P.M. slot behind, ironically, two other reality shows: America's Got Talent (11.6 million) on NBC and Big Brother (8.1 million) on CBS. The numbers, according to Nielsen Media Research, did put Shaq ahead of More to Love (4 million) on Fox and a repeat of 90210 on The CW. The rest of the season went along with pretty much the same ratings.
O'Neal played for the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2009-10 alongside LeBron James, but is not committing to the 2010-11 season until James, a free agent who beginning July 1 can officially be contacted by NBA teams, signs a contract. O'Neal has won four NBA titles — three with the Los Angeles Lakers, one with the Miami Heat — scored 28,255 points and totaled more than 12,900 rebounds during a pro career that began with the Orlando Magic in 1992-93.
Shaq Vs is produced by Media Rights Capital in association with Dick Clark Productions.