MMA in prime time

LL Cool J and Chris O'DonnellAP Photo/Dan Steinberg

Who knew? LL Cool J and Chris O'Donnell will help Strikeforce and CBS achieve a comfy TV synergy.

Never once have I thought to myself, I would like to watch LL Cool J portray a hardened Naval criminal investigator who is fluent in Arabic and solves crimes relating to the Navy and Marine Corps while backed by a wisecracking Chris O'Donnell.

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I am in the minority, however, as "NCIS: Los Angeles" is ranked a healthy No. 8 in viewership out of the thousands of hours of television available to widening backsides each season. For Tuesday's episode, producers decided the requisite homicide victim would be a regular at a mixed martial arts gym. Why? Because CBS, the show's network, will be airing live Strikeforce bouts in less than two weeks. This is called "synergy," which is a nice way of saying corporate executives tell producers what to do under the duress of either canceling their shows or extinguishing a cigar butt in their ears.

(Athletes stuck in episodic television are nothing new. During the heyday of the WWE's "Saturday Night's Main Event" NBC specials, Hulk Hogan popped up on "The A-Team." There are other examples. You can look them up.)

Back to the episode: If you caught mentions of guest appearances by Strikeforce fighters Dan Henderson, Cung Le, Frank Shamrock, Josh Thomson and Gilbert Melendez, you might be disappointed to learn none had a speaking part -- unless you count Shamrock and Le yelling insults as LL Cool J engaged in a cage fight with a guy who was also an undercover LAPD officer. (Cool J's character, for his part, had gone undercover as a fighter, telling the gym's instructor that he "has a ground game" to accompany his striking. By mainstream television standards, this is insight no less impressive than Jordan Breen scripting the episode himself.)

The show is your standard police procedural: clues get dropped, pursued and absorbed until the "a-ha!" moment. It wasn't a hackneyed portrayal of MMA, although the gym name in the episode was a not-so-subtle "Blood and Guts." And at least "The A-Team" gave Hulk Hogan something to do.