Derby on the tube

“The Bachelor”, “Bunheads” and “Bones”. Within a week, all three shows featured roller derby. They aren’t the first shows to use our sport to boost ratings.

“CSI: Miami” and “Psych” both featured felonious derby girls. Reality shows like “Anthony

Love "Psych" but don't love this episode.
Love “Psych” but don’t love this episode.

Bourdain: No Reservations” and “Only in America with Larry the Cable Guy” saw both hosts attempting to skate. Larry gets bonus points for actually talking with a flat track team: Sin City Roller Girls. Bourdain tried with the LA Derby Dolls, the team also used in “Bunheads”, “Bones” and “The Bachelor.” (Seriously, do casting agents not realize other derby teams exist?)

It seems Hollywood is cashing in on the derby “trend”. I put trend in quotes because that’s certainly how they seem to treat it. They aren’t treating it like a sport. If they treated it like a sport, the writers would read the rule book, or actually attend a bout. Producers would say, “Hey, flat track is the more prevalent version of roller derby being played around the world. Let’s use that instead of banked.” But none of this is happening, and it’s up to us, the players, to correct all the misconceptions these shows raise.

  • Most teams aren’t banked track.
  • We don’t throw elbows or punch each other in the face.
  • It isn’t staged.
  • I don’t know where the writers for “Psych” got the idea to use tape like that. No team I’ve ever heard of uses tape to mark a player for a hit.
  • Yes, we get hurt sometimes, but we wear safety gear and have rules to prevent a lot of injuries. The contestant on “The Bachelor” should have been wearing a mouth guard. I have no clue how that one chick on “Bones” ended up with a scalp laceration. Was she not wearing a helmet?
  • No, we don’t run around burglarizing stores and killing people (“Psych”). We work, go to school, raise families, and go to practice. Who has time to commit felonies?
  • Yes, I’ve heard of players stealing money from the team (“Bones”), but none of those cases ended with a player being stabbed in the eye. They’re just kicked off the team and sometimes prosecuted.

It’s easy to get upset when people ask if roller derby is like this show or that movie, even I get annoyed. But you have to view it as a conversation starter. Don’t shut down the conversation with a bunch of snarky comments. Maybe the person asking you is actually interested in derby, but wants to make sure she/he isn’t committing to something as crazy as what they’ve seen on TV. Take a moment to explain the realities of derby and encourage them to come to a bout to see for themselves.

Also, I’m not mad at the LA Derby Dolls. Whatever they’re doing seems to be working for them. Those women pack the house for bouts and attract some great sponsors. They are a team located in LA and are obviously known in the television community. The team is only taking advantage of an opportunity that most of us would jump at as well.

monster highHonorable mentions go to “My Little Pony”, and “Monster High” for portraying derby in a more favorable light. Since junior derby is growing, I think it’s great that young skaters have their own conversation starters with these shows. I know that “Weeds” and “Bunheads”also featured junior derby (banked track), which is great for some of the older juniors.

I would like to mention one show that promotes derby in the quietest of ways. Every once in a while you can catch Abby on “NCIS” sporting a Psych Ward Sirens shirt. I’m a Siren, and this makes me insanely happy. The show doesn’t use us as a trope. We aren’t a punch line. We’re just there.


There are some shows I haven’t mentioned that used roller derby. “Futurama” and “King of the Hill” come to mind. Feel free to add any shows you know of in the comments. Also, what’s your take on derby being used on TV? Does it help or hurt us?

Oh, and one little thing I forgot to mention before. I actually started playing roller derby because of a short-live reality show called “Rollergirls”. It only had one season and aired on A&E. Because of that show, two of my friends decided to start Panama City Roller Derby. Sometimes good things come out of TV shows.


14 thoughts on “Derby on the tube

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  1. Hey Eenie – great article!
    Psych films in Vancouver, BC, so many skaters from Terminal City Rollergirls and our neighbour leagues were involved as extras (this was back in ’08 I think). Our own Andi Struction (who you may have heard on the Derby Deeds Podcast) was hired as a derby advisor. We certainly did our best to keep the skating scenes as realistic as possible, but the plot line involving marking a skater to take her out with a huge illegal hit was definitely wayyy farfetched (in the plot sense at least as much as the derby sense…!) and out of our control. At least it was flat track derby!

    1. I interviewed a former soap opera writer who told me how producers would add senseless items to scenes simply because they thought it seemed better. I imagine Andi and the other derby players did the best they could with what they were handed. In the end, you have to trust the powers that be to make it a good product.

  2. I think derby in television actually encourages people to attend bouts. People often ask me, “is it like that episode of Psych.” Even the new boot camp girls asked last night, “Is there really a move called ‘Whip It’ like in the movie and can you show us… do you really use it in a game.” It makes my heart soar when people get so excited when asking questions about roller derby.

  3. Necessary Roughness had a derby episode last season. They filmed in Macon, GA, and used the Atlanta Rollergirls. I got to be an extra as a spectator. While the scenes ended up being brief, it was a pretty accurate portrayal of flat track derby.

  4. ” I have no clue how that one chick on “Bones” ended up with a scalp laceration. Was she not wearing a helmet?”

    Yes she was, but it flew off when Hellicious hit her……

  5. Get ready to enter the way-back machine…….Clarissa Explains it All…..Sam’s mom was a derby girl. I think back then (early/mid 90’s?) Derby was largely still seen as a stunt entertainment thing like WWF….but even with shows throwing in all sorts of misinformation, I think derby on TV can only be a good thing for the sport. It breaks my heart into little pieces every time a person tells me something like “I’ve lived in Savannah for 35 years and I never knew we had a derby team!”
    In the end….whether you’re on a big ticket team packing the house or a smaller team working from the community up, derby needs more exposure….I’d prefer factual exposure…like being able to catch last weekend’s bout on local tv….but short of that, I’ll take crazy plot lines and damn near impossible injuries if that is what gets the word out….
    Lastly…SO COOL THAT ABBY WEARS YOUR TEAM’S SHIRT ON NCIS!!!! i love her. (not as much as i love you, obvi….)
    Great post, Eenie.

  6. Love this article, as a Skater that started on the Banked Track, and currently skate flat.. I personally think any light the media gives the Sport of Roller Derby is Good Promotional Martetial, There are so many different levels of skaters, rules sets and production styles. Of course like with anything, people tend to embelish stories, plot lines and what really happened! My first year of Banked Track Derby I had no clue how big Derby was, 3 years ago nor how big it will be. Lets face it, maybe a couple of the Bachlorettes will be Their own Hero one day! My botton line was I wanted in, and that means all in skates on 4 days a week miles of skating, then official practices! The general public has no idea how competetive this sport is, or what level they are watching.
    I had never seen “Whip it” yet watched it shortly after joining, then travelled to Austin. What a great Movie, not reality! Yet my reality was a 3 day training camp on the track that appeared in parts of the movie plus Racer McChaser was the trainer.. (the girl who gets to roll on the track with Drew) Totally in love, even if I cant mount and beat the bejesus out of players when I felt like it, unless its Legal contact area.. Then I give it all I got!
    The first derby bout I ever attended a skater by the name of Mini Me (5’1) was in a penalty challange with a rival Skater Heathen (5’9)… the smaller woman wound up on top! My sons were hooked, Hype gets people talking. Crowd participation is a must even if it is a TV show that got them to come to a game and check it out for themselves!
    OneLoveDerby, for the Love of Derby I Skate!
    PTR BLT #1939

  7. My real argument with the “Bones” episode was how flimsy the plot/motive really was. I don’t like the idea that there was no other motive for murder than preventing stealing and other bad behavior. Like you said, someone caught stealing from a derby league or team would have real-world ordinary consequences, but somehow because these are derby girls and everyone knows derby girls are rough, there was pretty much no explanation about how stealing jumped to murder. It was a “that escalated quickly” moment, and Derby was a gimmick. They could have used derby better in that episode, and just written the episode more coherently in general. Way too many things going on at once. Other than that I am getting used to seeing illegal stuff in movies and TV derby portrayals, and I do think it opens up a dialogue. Since I’ve started skating I have had a bunch of conversations that started out with an assumption that we were punching and elbowing each other, and I got a chance to educate, using myself as an example, since I am still trying to learn how to keep my arms to myself, LOL.

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