FOX Sets 'Banzai' for July

Thu, May 29, 2003 06:43 PM PDT

LOS ANGELES ( - In the middle of a sweltering summer, nothing offers relief like a Michael Jackson impersonator doing the moonwalk on an ice rink, or a stick fetching race between a dog and "Diff'rent Strokes" co-star Todd Bridges, or the eternally amusing single joke of Mr. Shake Hands Man, who annoys celebrities by shaking their hands until they surrender. FOX will unveil these quirky characters and many others when "Banzai" premieres on Sunday, July 13 at 8:30 p.m. ET.

"Banzai" is based on a cult television smash from Britain's Channel 4, which in turn parodied Japanese extreme game shows. It combines crazy stunts, bizarre characters and a healthy does of at-home interactivity. As absurd as the on-screen antics get, viewers will be able to bet on the results of different wild gambits, like how long Mr. Shake Hands Man will be able to shake hands with Kelsey Grammer before the "Frasier" star can extricate himself.

At FOX's upfront earlier this month, few of the network's new offerings produced such wild laughter, but complaints may come as fast as the chortles. In 2001, USA ran snippets from the British series as part of the network's "Banzai Movie Friday." Even in those small doses, Asian-American groups objected to the stereotypical accents in the voice-overs, saying that the announcers poked fun at the sounds of Asian languages.

Media activist groups will have a chance to get a more extended view when Banzai premiers in six weeks and viewers will have a chance to discover a new cult favorite before it gets pulled.