LOS ANGELES – Jeremiah Trotter (search) needs another rubdown. Lately the pro football star been on the massage table more than he ever has in his career. But pain happens when you're playing "Extreme Dodgeball."
"Those balls hurt when they hit you — especially if you get hit in the face," says Trotter, soaked in sweat after his third game of the day.
And there's still game four.
"That's a lot when you're out there moving and jerking. Especially throwing. I throw hard," the Philadelphia Eagles linebacker says, "and that takes a toll on your arm. I skinned my knee yesterday dodging for a ball, but that's the nature of the sport."
In this third season of GSN's "Extreme Dodgeball," premiering 10 p.m. EDT Tuesday, the game with roots on playgrounds veers from its first season as a comedic farce — where sumo wrestlers pummeled jockeys — into real hit-and-run sports action.
On the court, each team is headed by a celebrity captain. The top four teams will go on to the playoffs, vying for a championship purse of $170,000.
The first competition bounces off with actor Mario Lopez leading the L.A. Armed Response against the Denver Hurlers and snowboard champion Tara Dakides. Later, "Queer As Folk" star Hal Sparks and his Chicago Hitmen go up against Trotter's Philadelphia Benjamins, who then go toe-to-toe with volleyball gold medallist Kerri Walsh and the Detroit Spoilers, who in turn battle boxer Mia St. John's (search) New York Bling.
"Our version of dodgeball has moved away from the fourth-grade game and moved toward the NBA more than anything else," says executive producer Mark Cronin in the newly designed arena at Hollywood Center Studio. "It's an exciting sport to watch and it's an exciting sport to play."
The schoolyard game, discouraged in some areas for being too violent, has become an all-out sports craze on college campuses and among adults in recent years.
"Dodgeball is the new softball — it's very social," says GSN President Rich Cronin (no relation to the show's producer).
"We came up with the idea a year ago when we noticed it was catching on on college campuses. Then we read about the dodgeball movie (starring Ben Stiller and Vince Vaughn) and we thought, `Great, we will debut our dodgeball series at the same time as the movie. We'll jump on this hot trend of dodgeball as a growing sport (and) help fuel the trend.' That's exactly what happened."
"Extreme Dodgeball" is now the highest-rated show on GSN among 18- to 34-year-olds, according to the network, and in many ways has become key to the channel's programming strategy.
As the recently re-branded "network for games," GSN is looking to expand beyond its older-skewing retro game shows like "Family Feud" by adding other kinds of non-scripted gaming, such as the recently acquired "Amazing Race," (search) and game-related documentaries.
Along with "Extreme Dodgeball," the network will premiere a record 50 original episodes this summer including the billiards show "Ballbreakers," "Poker Royale: Comedians vs. Pros," the documentary "Anything to Win," and the returning series "Lingo" and "Kenny vs. Spenny."
"As `the network for games,'" Cronin says, "we feel anything that is game-related, that has to do with competition where there's winners and losers, where there's a parting gift and a big reward for the winner, we think that fits."
Independently owned, GSN has seen steady audience growth since 1999 and is currently available in 57 million homes. (By comparision, ESPN and FOX Sports Net (search) reach more than 80 million subscribers.)
Broadening its audience will be crucial for the GSN's long-term viability, says Mike Reynolds of the cable television trade magazine Multichannel News.
"The network has a situation where its long-standing viewers like the older game shows and now they're looking to bring in younger audiences with more competition kinds of shows," Reynolds says. "How well that will play out ultimately will determine where the network is in a year or so."