The old kids game Rock 'Em, Sock 'Em Robots comes to life in Syfy's "Robot Combat League," a new reality competition series that debuts Tuesday at 10 p.m. but already is online at Syfy.com and Hulu.com.
Fighting robots aren't new to TV. Comedy Central aired "BattleBots," a fighting robots competition series where most of the robots looked like a Roomba with a spinning blade attachment, from 2000-02.
"Robot Combat League" robots are 8-feet-tall humanoid machines powered by hydraulic fluid. In the show's first season, 12 robots will compete. Each robot is controlled by a team of two: A robo-tech, who controls the robot's legs, and a robo-jockey, who controls the robot's torso and arms. Robotics expert Mark Setrakian ("Hellboy," "Men in Black") designed the robots; Chris Jericho ("WWE Smackdown!") hosts the show.
"The first day when I was there on set and they go into the arena and have a robot walk toward me, had it not stopped I would have turned and ran away," Mr. Jericho said. "That's how intimidating it was, you know? If you get hit by one of these robots -- they have 2,000 PSI of punching power -- it can knock your head off. So Mark has actually created robots that can kill you. So in 10 or 15 years, when these robots take over the entire human race, you're going to know that you saw them on Syfy first."
"RCL" contestants come from all walks of life, but the techs all have some sort of technical background. "RCL" contestant Paulo Younse works for NASA and was an engineer on the Mars Rover Curiosity project. Another contestant, who takes the role of robo-jockey, is a professional mixed martial arts fighter and the daughter of "Star Wars" creator George Lucas.
"The technology of the robots is such that the personalities of the contestants really come through the robots themselves," Mr. Setrakian said. "We really started to recognize specific fighting styles that the robots had that was really coming directly from the contestants."
In part that's because the robo-jockey wears a suit that translates their movement into the movement made by the robot on the fighting floor.
"For me, one of the most compelling images is when you see a contestant and they're up in the tower, sort of a control tower that they operate the robots from, and they're in the exo-suit," Mr. Setrakian said. "And you see them take a swing and you see that robot take a swing, and you make that instant visual connection. It's like, 'Wow, that person is making that thing move.' The robots do the fighting and the dying in the arena and the humans are really the brains behind that. They're basically transmitting their heart and soul into these machines."
With Pittsburgh as home to the Robot Hall of Fame at Carnegie Mellon University, is it any wonder that a few of the contestants have Pittsburgh ties?
Heather Knight, a current CMU Robotics Institute doctoral student who splits her time between Pittsburgh and New York, is the robo-tech on the robot Medieval. Chris Hardouin, who earned his master's from CMU in 2001 and now lives in California where he works as a toy engineer for Mattel, is the robo-tech on the robot Scorpio. Neither is featured heavily in the premiere, but they will get their chance in the "RCL" ring at some point during the show's nine-episode first season.
Remembering Fred Rogers
Next Wednesday will be 10 years since the death of Fred Rogers, Western Pennsylvania native and star of PBS's "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood."
And although children today may not be as familiar with Fred Rogers as previous generations, they continue to gain comfort and social-emotional coping skills through PBS's animated spinoff, "Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood" (11 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. weekdays; 8 a.m. Sunday, WQED-TV), which ensures that the gentle approach of Rogers lives on.
Last Tuesday marked the 45th anniversary of the debut of "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" nationally. The staff at the Oakland-based Fred Rogers Company offered a toast (of sparkling juice) to the company's namesake at lunchtime.
Although "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" no longer airs in reruns as often or on as many PBS stations as it once did, more than 300 episodes of the series are available via Amazon Instant Video (www.fredrogers.org/amazon-first-300.html), and a smaller subset of episodes are available on DVD.
Tributes to Rogers continue to pop up online, including earlier this year on The Onion's A.V. Club, and on websites such as The Neighborhood Archive (http://neighborhoodarchive.com/).
PBS debuts 'Makers'
PBS debuts the documentary "Makers: Women Who Make America" (8-11 p.m., WQED-TV) Tuesday that looks at the roles women have played in shaping America the past 50 years.
The film includes first-person accounts from movement leaders, celebrities and political figures. It also features profiles of women who are not as famous as Gloria Steinem or Hillary Clinton. These unsung women's rights leaders include Barbara Burns of Crawley, W.Va., one of the first women coal miners, who fought again sexual harassment in the workplace.
At a January PBS press conference in Pasadena, Calif., Ms. Burns recalled how she coped with harassment from her male colleagues.
"Instead of, you know, raising Cain and trying to cause a lot of trouble whenever things would be said or done, I would try to handle it in a funny way," she said, recalling her first exposure to a Playgirl magazine while on the job. "They plastered my bathhouse with pictures of naked men, and I thought, 'Oh, my gosh, what am I going to do?' So I stayed in there and they all lined up waiting for me. And I thought, 'Oh, my.' So, finally, I just took the [magazine], and I walked out like I was reading it. And I got in the middle of all of them, and I said, 'Well, I don't know who the fellow is that did this, but thank you. I've always wanted to see one, and I was too bashful to buy it, and I expect one every month.' Never got another one."
While strides have been made, Ms. Burns said coal mining as a career for women has regressed in recent years as more opportunities in other fields have opened to women. She said both men and women need to be educated on the role of the women's movement in America.
"[It's] not that we're trying to push the men aside or take over their jobs or anything," she said. "We're just doing it just like they are to make a living. So I think that is one of the really, really big things that needs to be done in my area is education and to teach respect for each other."
Need more Oscar previews? WTAE is airing two syndicated specials Sunday: "Hollywood News: Oscar Edition" (4:30 p.m.) and "The Road to Gold: An Academy Award Preview" (5 p.m.). ... After just two low-rated episodes, CBS has fired Friday night reality competition "The Job," replacing it with "Undercover Boss" tonight. ... Reports now suggest NBC has given up on sitcom "Up All Night," which it had been planning to retool as a multi-camera show until star Christina Applegate quit earlier this month. ... PBS's "Downton Abbey" ended its third season with its best ratings ever. Sunday's season finale drew 8.2 million viewers, up 52 percent from the season two finale last year. ... FX has renewed its 1980s-set Russian spies drama "The Americans" for a 13-episode second season. ... Another year, another threat from Sinclair Broadcast Group, owner of Pittsburgh's WPGH and WPMY, to pull its channels as part of a retransmission contract showdown. This time it's from DirecTV and the deadline for a deal is Thursday. The last showdown in August with DISH Network was resolved at the 11th hour. ... "Saturday Night Live" returns on March 2 with Kevin Hart as host and Macklemore & Ryan Lewis as musical guest. Justin Timberlake will pull double duty as host and musical guest on March 9. ... Tyler Perry's comedy "For Better or Worse" will shift from TBS to OWN for its third season this fall. ... "Nick News With Linda Ellerbee" explores "What's the Deal With Fracking?" in a new episode at 8 p.m. Monday. ... Local singer/songwriter Brad Yoder posted on his Facebook page this week that his song "School Together" will be featured on Tuesday's episode of the CBS soap "The Young and the Restless" (12:30 p.m. weekdays, KDKA-TV). At deadline CBS had not yet confirmed this.
Tuned In online
Today's TV Q&A column responds to questions about "The Joe Schmo Show," "Drop Dead Diva" and local TV news personalities. This week's Tuned In Journal includes posts on "Cult," "Farscape," "Downton Abbey," Pittsburgh native Zachary Quinto and YouTube stars. Read online-only TV content at post-gazette.com/tv.
This week's podcast includes conversation about "Downton Abbey," "Zero Hour" and the upcoming Oscars telecast. Subscribe or listen at http://old.post-gazette.com/podcast.
TV writer Rob Owen: email@example.com or 412-263-2582. Follow RobOwenTV on Twitter or Facebook for breaking TV news.