Longform

On the Rink of A Vervous Breakdown

Momentarily oblivious to the sound man who's cramming a battery pack down the back of her dress (a skintight creation that could pass for a sequined sausage casing), former Channel 10 newscaster Shelly Jamison ponders her new position in the show-biz firmament.

"What would my reaction have been if someone had told me I'd wind up being a roller derby announcer?" she wonders aloud as a hair stylist torments her tresses into the tonsorial equivalent of an unmade bed. "Well, I'd probably have had the same reaction I'd have had a year earlier if someone told me I'd be posing for Playboy: disbelief, major disbelief." Next month TV viewers will no doubt share that reaction when they get their first gander at RollerGames, a ball-bearing bacchanal that promises to make pro wrestling look like Masterpiece Theatre. An MTV-styled permutation on the roller derbies of yore, the syndicated series, shot on grimy Terminal Island south of Los Angeles, is heavy on flash and trash, featuring six teams of cartoonish goons who careen around a massive figure-eight track, a hazard-laden concourse replete with a fourteen-foot-high "Wall of Death," a three-foot-tall "Jet Jump" ramp, and an alligator pit modestly billed as "probably the most-talked-about addition to professional sports since the NFL introduced the instant replay."

And if that isn't enough to draw the suckers into the tent, audiences will also be bombarded with laser lights, bikinied cheerleaders, muscle-bound "Roller Gator" dancers and weekly half-time acts like Deborah Harry and Lita Ford.

What? No dwarf tossing?
"We're saving that for next season," laughs the 27-year-old Jamison. She landed the RollerGames gig in May after producers David Sams and Michael Miller (the team credited with marketing syndicated versions of Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy!) spotted her picture in a USA Today story documenting her controversial spread in the July Playboy that was her long-awaited ticket out of Channel 10.

"I was really unhappy working there," Jamison says of Channel 10, explaining that her grueling 4 a.m.-to-noon schedule left her little time to see her newborn son, Jake. Claiming to be overworked, underpaid and generally disillusioned with TV news, the producer and sometime on-air personality eagerly jumped ship when Playboy (impressed by some test shots submitted by Jamison's husband Ron, a Phoenix firefighter) offered her a six-figure sum to pose au naturel for a pictorial titled "Broadcast Nudes." "I'd have had to work at Channel 10 five years to make what Playboy paid me," she rationalizes. "It was a tough decision, but once I made it, it was really a relief." Jamison won't say what RollerGames pays but claims she's earning more in the four-week shoot than she did in a year at Channel 10.

Although soundly criticized by tut-tutting members of the Phoenix media (she chuckles that her most vitriolic detractor was a TV personality whose desk hides a "hippopotamus ass"), Jamison was crying all the way to the bank. During a whirlwind promotional tour of the Big Apple she stayed in the best hotels, dined in the finest restaurants and was chauffeured around the East Coast in a limousine. And although she ultimately turned them down (having just purchased a home, she wants to stay in Phoenix), the producers of A Current Affair reportedly offered her a glamorous gig as a globe-trotting reporter.

But as she tapes the final episode of the thirteen-show RollerGames series, there are no limos, no limelight, and--save for impersonators of Burt Reynolds and Cher who've been planted in the audience--little glamour. Instead, tarted up to the teeth, she slinks around the set (in an old NASA hangar), rubbing shoulders with the most motley assortment of characters this side of a carnival or biker bar. A dilapidated relic fancifully dubbed Harbor Star Stage, the unsightly building stands smack dab in the middle of Terminal Island, an environmental wasteland surrounded by oil refineries, a federal prison and a harbor full of rotting tugboat corpses. As the series' resident trackside announcer (a role jokingly referred to around the set as "the Vanna White of RollerGames"), if she ultimately finds herself blending into the bedlam of this blue-collar blockbuster--not an unlikely possibility on a show where the rock 'em-sock 'em action often resembles Spartacus on skates--so much the better.

"I'm the calm in the eye of the storm, but that doesn't really bother me," says Jamison, arching an eyebrow as a couple of hard-boiled roller babes swagger by, deep in a discussion about plans to break an opponent's face. "I actually like the fact that I'm a little removed--it allows me to distance myself a little bit from some of the things going on around here," says Jamison. "Don't get me wrong, though--I've really had a great time doing this show. Believe me, it's been a real education."

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Dewey Webb