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American Gladiators (1989 TV series)

American Gladiators was an American competition television program that aired weekly in syndication from September 1989 to May 1996. The series matched a cast of amateur athletes against each other, as well as against the show's own gladiators, in contests of strength and agility.

American Gladiators
American Gladiators.png
The first American Gladiators logo, from 1989–1993.
GenreSports/Game Show
Created byDan Carr
John Ferraro
Directed byBob Levy
Presented byMike Adamle (1989–1996)
with
Joe Theismann (1989)
Todd Christensen (1990)
Larry Csonka (1990–1993)
Lisa Malosky (1993–1995)
Danny Lee Clark (1995–1996)
Narrated byJoe Theismann (1989)
John Harlan (1990–1993)
Theme music composerBill Conti
Country of originUnited States
No. of seasons7
No. of episodes139[1]
Production
Camera setupMulti-camera
Running time60 minutes
Production company(s)Trans World International
(1989–1992)
(seasons 1–3)
Four Point Entertainment
The Samuel Goldwyn Company
DistributorSamuel Goldwyn Television
(1989–1996)
MGM Television (current)
Release
Original networkSyndication
Picture format480i (SDTV)
Audio formatStereo
Original releaseSeptember 9, 1989 (1989-09-09)[2] –
May 11, 1996 (1996-05-11)
Chronology
Followed byAmerican Gladiators (2008)
Related showsBattle Dome

The concept was originally created in 1982 by Johnny C. Ferraro and Dan Carr. Carr gathered the Gladiators and hosted the show, and Ferraro financed and produced the original competition at Erie Tech High School in Erie, Pennsylvania so Ferraro could have the event on film as to shop the new creation. In 1983 Ferraro financed, developed and packaged the American Gladiators as a movie project. In 1984 Carr sold his interest in a literary purchase to Flor-Jon Films. Ferraro had been the main driving force behind the American Gladiators brand since 1982. In 1987, Flor-Jon Films then licensed the unscripted rights to The Samuel Goldwyn Company (now part of MGM). Ferraro is the sole creator of the 1994 kids' version of the series, Gladiators 2000.

Flor-Jon Films, Inc and the Samuel Goldwyn Co in 1993 granted a license to Chariot Entertainment in an effort to launch a live American Gladiators show on the Las Vegas Strip, but the president of Chariot became mired in a securities fraud prosecution, through no fault of Flor-Jon Films or The Samuel Goldwyn Co, and the live show went unrealized.[3] Episodes from the original series were played on ESPN Classic from 2007 to 2009. Several episodes are available for download on Apple's iTunes Service.

MGM Television, the successor company to the Samuel Goldwyn Company, during the 2007–08 Writers Guild of America strike, sold to NBC a prime-time revival that was closer to the British version than the American, with hosts Hulk Hogan and Lalia Ali, and Van Earl Wright the play-by-play voice. That version lasted two seasons.

In August 2018, MGM Television, with Ferraro and actors Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, announced plans to bring American Gladiators back again for the 2019–20 season, the 30th anniversary of the franchise's television debut.[needs update]

CompetitionEdit

American Gladiators featured four competitors, two men and two women, in most episodes. The players went through a series of seven physical challenges with the goal to eventually become the season's overall winner, referred to as the Grand Champion. This was determined by a season-long tournament, whose format went through various changes during its run.

Originally, the first tournament was conducted to find one male champion and one female champion for the season. The winners would then return as Gladiators to compete in subsequent tournaments. Twenty contenders (ten of each sex) in each half-season tournament were chosen from a nationwide contestant pool based on tests of strength and agility, with several alternates chosen in case a contender could not continue due to injury. Five preliminary round matchups were played with the winners automatically advancing to the quarterfinal round, along with the three highest scoring losers. Any alternates from that point on came from the previous round's losers. Once the quarterfinals began, the tournament became a single elimination affair until the champions were crowned, with $10,000 cash awarded to them. Losing contenders were awarded $2,500 for advancing as far as the semifinals, while the losing finalists were given $5,000.

Initially, the first season was intended to consist of only the tournament, which lasted a total of thirteen weeks. Due to the popularity of those episodes, the producers of American Gladiators began work on a second series of episodes to fill the rest of the season. With a new format, four new Gladiators, and the addition of a new event along with the revamping of the rest of the events, the second tournament launched with a total of twenty-two men and women competing. The two extra spots were given to the winners of the first tournament, who faced off against the winners of the second tournament for more cash and prizes in the first ever Grand Championship final.

The show's second season used the same format as the previous half-season.

In seasons three and four, the field competitors increased to 48 and the tournament format was adjusted. Six preliminary round matches were played and the winners of those matches automatically advanced to the quarterfinals. The winners of the three quarterfinal matches advanced to the semifinals, along with the highest scoring non-winner. The semifinals and finals went on as before with the winners of the half-season tournaments meeting in the Grand Championship.

For season five, the tournament format was revamped again. Eight competitors on each side played four preliminary round matches, and following that each of the eight was seeded based on their performance. From there, the tournaments were conducted in single elimination format, thus eliminating the need for wild cards.

In seasons six and seven, a single tournament was spread out over the season and a rule in place on the British Gladiators (and later carried over to the 2008 revival) was adopted. This time contenders were not only competing to win, with $2,500 given to all preliminary winners regardless, but to have the highest overall winning score as well. Once all the preliminary rounds were completed the four highest scoring winners advanced to the semifinal round, with the winners playing for $25,000 in the Grand Championship.

During the first half of the first season, the show's set resembled that of an ancient Roman gladiatorial arena, with the stands raised high above the ground. For the second half, the show's set was changed into a modern indoor sports arena style. An onscreen clock was added in the second half of the season, which allowed viewers to see how much time a contender had left to complete an event.

The hooded figures that officiated the games were replaced by veteran NFL referee Bob McElwee (No. 95). Starting in Season 2, former Pacific-10 football referee Larry Thompson became the referee. In case of ruling explanations, a host would interview the referee for an explanation.

After being based at Universal Studios Hollywood for the first two seasons, production moved to the CBS Studio Center, into a studio that was referred to as "Gladiator Arena", where it stayed for the remainder of the run. Other aesthetic changes were made as the series progressed.

EventsEdit

In each episode, the contenders competed in a series of events. Six to eight events were played per show, varying from season to season. Most of the events tested the contenders' physical abilities against the superior size and strength of the Gladiators, who were mostly pro or amateur bodybuilders and former football players. In most events, the contenders were not directly pitted against each other, but against the Gladiators. In each event, the contenders earned points based on their performance.

In the first half of season one, the points in each event were given in minimum 5-point increments, with 100 points usually the maximum in every event. After the first half of the first season, single point increments were used. Events with a clear winner typically earned the contender 10 points for a win, 5 points for a draw, and no points for a loss. Events without a clear winner and loser (such as Powerball, Atlasphere, Swingshot, and Snapback) earned the contender points for each success.

Starting with the fourth season, the final event before The Eliminator, was labeled "Crunch Time", and was played for more points.

Season six used a format in which events were referred to as "rounds" due to more than one game played per round. Three games per show were played by both males and females and three were split between the males and females, two each in a round. In split rounds the men went first. Including the Eliminator, ten events appeared in each episode, and the lineup of single and split rounds changed during the season. The sole exception to this format was in the semi-finals and grand championship, in which each round was a single event.

There were four lineups used during the season:

Lineup Event 1 Event 2 Event 3 Event 4 Event 5 Event 6
1 Pyramid Hang Tough/Assault Joust/Whiplash Gauntlet/Tug O War Snapback Powerball
2 Swingshot Assault/Breakthrough & Conquer Whiplash/Tug O War Snapback Pyramid Joust/Gauntlet
3 Powerball Whiplash/Hang Tough Skytrack Swingshot Assault/Breakthrough & Conquer Joust/Gauntlet
4 Swingshot Tug O War/Whiplash The Wall Hang Tough/Assault Powerball Breakthrough & Conquer/Gauntlet

The Eliminator was the final event played in each episode, and determined which contender would win that day's competition. The contenders competed side-by-side to complete a large obstacle course as quickly as they could. In the first two seasons, the Eliminator had a time limit, and both contenders started the course at the same time. Contenders scored points for every second left on the clock when they finished the course; the contender with the highest final score won the day's competition. Beginning in season 3, the contender in the lead was given a head start with each point they led by worth a half-second; the first contender to cross the finish line won.

Of the events that debuted in the show's first season, only six lasted the entire original run on American television: Breakthrough and Conquer, The Wall, Joust, Assault, Powerball, and the Eliminator, although The Wall did not debut until the second half of the first season.

ProductionEdit

SegmentsEdit

Throughout the series, American Gladiators had several regular segments that were not related to the competition of the day. These segments were used to allow the audience to get to know the Gladiators or to highlight some of the best moments of past competitions.

  • Gladiator Moments (Season 3): Gladiators reflect and talk about their favorite moments of the first two seasons of American Gladiators.
  • Ask a Gladiator (Seasons 3 and 4): Fans write to their favorite American Gladiator asking them questions.
  • Csonka's Zonks (Season 4): Brief array of clips featuring the funniest moments of the show which includes mostly hits, tackles, and tumbles of the contenders and Gladiators.
  • 30 Seconds With: (Season 5 on): Gladiators are asked a number of fill-in-the-blank questions. In the final season the questions were taken away and it was just the gladiators talking about a random topic.

Production notesEdit

The show was taped at Universal Studios Hollywood until 1991, then moved to Gladiator Arena (Studio 3) at CBS Studio Center in Studio City for the rest of its initial run. The National Indoor Arena, home to the UK version, hosted the International Gladiators competitions.

The series, a co-production of Trans World International and Four Point Entertainment, was distributed by Samuel Goldwyn Television.

The original Pilot was hosted by Fran Tarkenton and Tim Wrightman.[4]

The first 13 episodes were recorded, from July 24 to August 5 of 1989. The entire 26 episode second season was recorded in five weeks in the Summer of 1990.[5]

PrizesEdit

During the first half of season one, the intention was to reward the winners by promoting them to the role of American Gladiators, but that reward was never implemented and was abandoned after the first half of the first season.

The show awarded cash prizes depending on how far the contenders advanced. For the first five seasons, $10,000 cash was awarded for winning the half-season finals. Runners-up in these finals were guaranteed $5,000. Contenders that lost in the semi-final rounds were guaranteed $2,500 for advancing that far. Grand Champions received $15,000 more, while the runners up won $10,000 more. In the first two seasons a new 1990 or 1991 Chevrolet automobile of the Grand Champion's choice, worth up to $20,000 (selections included Lumina, Lumina APV, Cavalier, Metro, Tracker, Storm, C/K pickup, Caprice, Suburban, Camaro, Beretta, Blazer, etc.), were awarded to the Grand Champions. In season 3, a 1992 Chevrolet Blazer and in season 4 a 1993 Suzuki Sidekick was awarded to the Grand Champion, and the runner up received a Club Med vacation. The runner up prize was eliminated in the fifth season.

To coincide with the change in tournament structure in Season Six, contenders won $2,500 for winning matches in the preliminary rounds and $10,000 in the semi-final rounds. $15,000 was given for winning the Grand Championship in season six, while $10,000 and a guaranteed berth in International Gladiators 2 was given for the seventh season.

Hosts and other personalitiesEdit

Joe Theismann and Mike Adamle co-hosted American Gladiators during the first half of the first season, with Theismann presiding over the proceedings and Adamle serving more of an analyst's role. After Theismann left the series, Adamle became the lead commentator and remained in that role for the remainder of the series. Todd Christensen initially was Adamle's replacement as analyst, with Larry Csonka joining the series at the beginning of season two in 1990. Csonka was replaced by Lisa Malosky following the fourth season, and she held the analyst position for seasons five and six. Danny Lee Clark, who spent the first three seasons and most of season six on the show as Gladiator Nitro, became co-host for the final season and was credited on air as Dan "Nitro" Clark.

Adamle also hosted both seasons of International Gladiators and was joined by John Fashanu in season one and Ulrika Jonsson and Kimberley Joseph in season two.

A referee wearing an executioner costume appeared during the first half of the first season (portrayed by former football player Jeff Benson). Then-NFL referee Bob McElwee became the referee for the second half of season one. Larry Thompson (a former Pacific-10 Football referee) took over for season two in 1990 and remained until the series ended in 1996. The referees were assisted by several game judges, including Bob Wucetich, Fred Gallagher and Jim Marcione.

Theismann also was the announcer of the first season and was replaced by John Harlan in 1990, who remained with the show through the 1992–1993 season. There was no announcer after that, although Adamle introduced the Gladiators in the final season.

International broadcastsEdit

American Gladiators was broadcast in the UK by ITV as part of their Night Time slot starting on 1 September 1990.[6] In 1992, ITV debuted their own version called Gladiators and in doing so became the first country to adapt American Gladiators.

Other venturesEdit

RerunsEdit

USA Network was the first network to air reruns of American Gladiators. In 1992, USA began airing episodes daily in the late afternoon following its game show rerun lineup and preceding Cartoon Express, and later moved the episodes to air as part of its mid-morning lineup. The network initially had rights to the first three seasons and picked up rights to the fourth when it finished airing in 1993, but did not pick up any additional seasons beyond that. USA aired reruns through at least 1996, just as the show ended its original run.

Spike purchased a rerun package they began airing during their last days as The National Network in 2002. Originally airing weekday afternoons and late night Saturdays, Spike eventually scaled back the reruns to the late Saturday airing and then dropped them in 2003. Spike was only given rights to seasons two through four in their entirety, special episodes from seasons five and six, season seven in its entirety, and both editions of International Gladiators in their entirety.

In 2007 ESPN added the entire original series to ESPN Classic's lineup. This meant that the non-specials from seasons five and six saw their first airings since their respective seasons and the first season, including the episodes under the original format, would be seen for the first time since USA carried the series. ESPN Classic briefly pulled the original American Gladiators series from its lineup shortly after a revival premiered in 2008, but returned it after the revival concluded. ESPN permanently removed the show from ESPN Classic in 2009.

In 2017, after an absence from television lasting several years, American Gladiators reruns returned to the air with the launch of the Sinclair Broadcast Group's action-themed broadcast network Charge!.

As of April 2018, SI TV (Sports Illustrated TV) has added the original series to their premium channel add on for Amazon Prime.

In October 2019, a channel dedicated to the tv show was added to PlutoTV.

Home mediaEdit

On July 14, 2009 Shout! Factory released The Battle Begins, featuring commentary from the Lazer, Zap, and Nitro, and an interview with Billy Wirth. This DVD only has the last 14 episodes of season one (the mid-season recap, and the second half of season one).

SoundtrackEdit

American Gladiators: The Music
Soundtrack album by
Dan Milner, Bill Conti
ReleasedMarch 3, 1993 (1993-03-03)
Length38:19
LabelSandstone Music

In 1993, American Gladiators: The Music was released by DCC Compact Classics/Sandstone Music, featuring songs used on the show, Dan Milner's music for the games and the opening and closing themes by Bill Conti.

American Gladiators Orlando Live!Edit

In 1995, American Gladiators performed a dinner show in Orlando, Florida.[7] This dinner show featured Dallas, Hawk, Ice, Jazz, Nitro, Sabre, Siren, Sky, Tower, and Turbo from the TV show along with the new Gladiators Apache, Cobra, Electra, Flame, Flash, Jade, Quake, Rage, Raven, Tank, Thor, Tigra, Titan, Viper. The events included The Wall, Breakthrough and Conquer, Assault, Whiplash, the Eliminator and others.

Other versionsEdit

Gladiators 2000Edit

A kids version of the show called Gladiators 2000 (also known as G2) hosted by Ryan Seacrest and Maria Sansone (later Valerie Rae Miller in season 2) aired from September 9, 1994 until May 5, 1996.

2008 revivalEdit

A revival of American Gladiators hosted by Hulk Hogan and Laila Ali aired on NBC from January 6 until August 4, 2008.

See alsoEdit

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ "American Gladiators – Gladiators". Gladiatorszone.co.uk. 2008-02-16. Retrieved 2015-07-01.
  2. ^ "BROADCASTING MAGAZINE – Read and search 3400 issues from 1931 to 2000". Americanradiohistory.com. Retrieved 2015-07-01.
  3. ^ "Initial Decision: Robert Cord Beatty, Release No. 271; File No. 3-11666". Sec.gov. Retrieved 2015-07-01.
  4. ^ Weekly Variety; July 5, 1989 issue; Page 45
  5. ^ MEYERS, JEFF (7 September 1990). "These Gladiators Perform in a Tubed-Shaped Arena : Entertainment: 'American Gladiators' combines sport with glitz in a program that's more real than wrestling but restricted by the confines of TV" – via LA Times.
  6. ^ The Guardian – 1st September 1990, Page 66, via Newspapers.com
  7. ^ "New Dinner Show Ready To Do Battle". December 25, 1995. Retrieved August 8, 2018.

External linksEdit