American Gladiators is an American competition television program that aired in syndication from September 1989 to May 1995. 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.
The concept was created by Dan Carr and John C. Ferraro, who held the original competition at Erie Tech High School in Erie, Pennsylvania. They sold the show to The Samuel Goldwyn Company/MGM where the concept was enhanced and became American Gladiators.
An effort in 2004 to launch a live American Gladiators show on the Las Vegas Strip became mired in a securities fraud prosecution. However, the television series was restarted in 2008. 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.
American Gladiators ran on television from 1989–1996, and was conducted in a tournament style format.
In the first two seasons, two tournaments were held in each season. Twenty contenders (ten of each gender) 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. Two contenders of each gender competed on each episode. 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.
Later, the tournaments used a single elimination format, with the last two contenders meeting in the half-season tournament final. The winners of each half season tournament received a cash prize and advanced to the Grand Championship at the end of the season, with more money and a new car available for the winner. The runners-up in the Grand Championship received a smaller cash prize.
In seasons three and four, the tournament format was changed. The preliminary round consisted of six matchups on each side, with the six winners advancing to the quarterfinals and no wild card berths available for the preliminary round losers. The quarterfinals consisted of three matches, and the winners of those matches all advanced. In addition, the highest scoring quarterfinalist that did not win was given a berth in the semifinals. The semifinal winners then met each other to determine the half-season champion and the spot in the Grand Championship.
For season five, the tournament format was revamped again, with the entire tournament now conducted in single elimination format. Eight preliminary match-ups were played, and the winners of those match-ups were seeded depending on their performance. No wild card spots were made available to losing contenders.
In seasons six and seven, a single tournament was spread out over the season. Also, there were no quarter final rounds; the top 4 highest scoring contenders would advance to the semi-finals.
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. Starting in Season 2, former Pacific 10 football referee Larry Thompson became the referee.
After being based at Universal Studios Hollywood for the first two seasons, production moved to the CBS Studio Center, into a studio referred to as "Gladiator Arena". Other aesthetic] changes were made as the series progressed.
- Main article: Events
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", because more than one game was played per round. Three games per show were played by both males and females and 3 were split between the males and females, two in one round. In split rounds, the men went first, then the women. Including the Eliminator, 10 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 & Grand Championship; each round was a single event.
There were four lineups used during the season:
- Pyramid | Assault/Hang Tough | Whiplash/Joust | Gauntlet/Tug-O-War | Snapback | Powerball
- Swingshot | Assault/Breakthrough & Conquer | Whiplash/Tug-O-War | Snapback | Pyramid | Joust/Gauntlet
- Powerball | Whiplash/Hang Tough | Sky Track | Swingshot | Assault/Breakthrough & Conquer | Joust/Gauntlet
- 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 & Conquer, The Wall, Joust, Assault, Powerball, and The Eliminator, although The Wall did not debut until the second half of the first season.
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.
The show was taped at Universal Studios Hollywood until 1991, then moved to Gladiator Arena 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.
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 four seasons a new car 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 semi-final rounds. $25,000 was given for winning the Grand Championship in season six, while $20,000 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 season. Following Theisman's departure prior to the 1990 season, Adamle continued to host the program through the final season in 1996. Adamle's co-hosts included Todd Christensen (1990), Larry Csonka (1990–1993), Lisa Malosky (1993–1995) and Dan "Nitro" Clark (1995–1996).
A referee wearing an costume appeared during the first season (portrayed by former football player Jeff Benson). Bob McElwee (a former NFL referee) took over the referee position in 1990 and was later replaced by Larry Thompson (a former Pacific-10 Football referee) that year, who continued with the program until 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.
Like some other game shows, American Gladiators had themed shows. Some shows featured celebrities competing against each other (like castmembers from Baywatch and Superman portrayer Dean Cain, as well as host Mike Adamle & character actors such as a pre-Scrubs John C. McGinley).
There were three alumni shows conducted during the course of American Gladiator. The first occurred in the second season, and featured competitors from the show's first season. Contenders Lucian Anderson and Cheryl Ann Silich emerged victorious, beating out Terry Moore and Aimee Ross, respectively.
Another alumni show aired in season six. This alumni show featured the six grand champions that were crowned in the previous three American Gladiators seasons competing against each other in an elimination-style format, with two contenders left to run the Eliminator. Season five champions Wesley Berry and Peggy Odita won the competition.
Season seven's alumni show, dubbed the "Battle of the Best", pitted season five grand champions Wesley "Two Scoops" Berry and Peggy Odita against season six grand champions Kyler Storm and Adrienne Sullivan, respectively, with the season five champions prevailing yet again. This show in particular saw two notable incidents, both involving Kyler Storm and Turbo. The first incident occurred during Breakthrough & Conquer, in which Kyler did a front flip over Turbo in the Breakthrough portion to score. However the aftermath was positive with Turbo, Laser and Hawk all giving him praise for doing so, and Turbo received a positive reaction from the announcers and fans. The other, more ugly, incident was in the Swingshot event: Kyler faked twice during the event (which is against the rules in Swingshot, but according to Kyler he wasn't informed of it) to get a total of 12 points from those two swings. It prompted Turbo to punch Kyler in the face when they met during a later swing. Following the incident Turbo apologized and explained to Kyler "they had rules here and you broke them." In the following interview Turbo admitted his fault as did Kyler thus the two made up. The punch at the time was described as "completely uncalled for." Twelve points were deducted from Kyler for the faking, but he regained 6 points because Turbo was disqualified for the punch.
In another show, former Gladiators Zap and Dallas, who left the show the previous year, faced off against each other, with Dallas beating Zap. This was part of another special episode where the male contenders were Twin Martial Artists.
Pro Football Challenge of ChampionsEdit
In seasons three and four, American Gladiator included a show in which current and former NFL players competed against each other in an elimination-style format. The first competition featured NFL players from the 1970s and early 1980s, while the second had a mix of players that were active or had recently retired. The NFL players competed head-to-head with the male Gladiators, while the female Gladiators faced them in non-contact events like Assault and the Eliminator (where they served in the penalty pit).
Six former players competed in six events, with two eliminated after the first two and two in the event preceding the Eliminator. The winner of both competitions was former NFL running back Charles White, who was also the only person to compete in both episodes. He erased a deficit in the Eliminator both times to win.
Gold Medal Challenge of ChampionsEdit
In Seasons 5 and 6, "Gold Medal Challenge" shows were produced, featuring former Olympic Gold Medalists.
In the 1993 Gold Medal show, the males featured were 1984 gold downhill skiing medalist Bill Johnson, 1988 bronze basketball medalist Danny Manning, and 1984 gold boxing medalist Tyrell Biggs. The females featured were 1976 silver basketball medalist Nancy Lieberman, 1984 silver and gold and 1988 gold track and field medalist Alice Brown, and 1992 gold and silver speed skating medalist Cathy Turner. Alice Brown and Bill Johnson won the competition and $10,000.
For the 1994 show, the men were 1988 gold and 1992 bronze volleyball player Bob Cvrtlik and 1988 gold gymnast Mitch Gaylord. The women were 1994 silver and 1998 bold downhill skier Picabo Street and 1988 bronze figure skater Debi Thomas. Street and Gaylord were victorious.
International Challenge of ChampionsEdit
A precursor to International Gladiators, this tournament aired in seasons four and five and featured contestants from all over the world. Among the contenders was in season four was eventual season five champion Peggy Odita, who was representing Nigeria and who won the women's competition.
International Gladiators was a special championship series consisting of previous champions from various versions of the show from around the world. The initial series included contenders and gladiators from the USA, UK, Finland, and Russia. The second series had contenders and Gladiators from the USA, UK, Russia, South Africa, Germany and Australia. Both series were filmed at National Indoor Arena in Birmingham, UK, which was where the British Gladiators series was taped.
In the first series American Gladiators was represented by Season 5 men's champion Wesley Berry, Season 5 women's runner up Kim Tyler, Season 6 men's champion Kyler Storm, and Season 6 women's champion Adrienne Sullivan. Berry and Tyler advanced to the finals of the series, and Berry was the overall men's champion. Sullivan and Storm were eliminated in the series' semifinals; Sullivan fell to Eunice Huthart, who beat Tyler in the finals, and Storm was beaten by Paul Field.
In the second series, which served as the final episodes of the American Gladiators series, Season 7 men's champion Pat Csizmazia and Season 5 women's champion Peggy Odita were the representatives for American Gladiators; Season 7 women's champion Tiziana Sorge was absent for reasons that were never made clear as she would have qualified by her Grand Championship victory. Csizmazia and Odita both won by defeating Australian contenders in their respective finals.
Armed Forces Challenge of ChampionsEdit
In seasons five and six, contenders from each of the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines (men and women in season five, men only in season six) faced off against each other, with the two highest scoring branches facing off in the Eliminator. The Marines won both competitions. Captain Myles Bly Mire, an American Gladiators alumnus, was later involved with the capture of Saddam Hussein's nephew.
NYPD vs. LAPDEdit
In season six, a competition was held between officers of the New York Police Department and the Los Angeles Police Department. One of the female officers, the LAPD's Angela Shepard, was a season three contender who participated in the preliminary round during the second half of the season and was injured during her Eliminator run.
USC vs. Notre DameEdit
In season six, this contest pitted two USC alumni - former football players Anthony Davis and Charles White - against two Notre Dame alumni. USC prevailed in this competition, marking the third time White won on American Gladiators (the first two wins came in the Pro Football Challenge of Champions events).
Ties to professional wrestlingEdit
Like wrestling, American Gladiators is considered a form of sports entertainment, with the primary difference in that American Gladiators, unlike wrestling, is not pre-scripted. There have been several crossovers between the show and wrestling itself. The most obvious ties to wrestling is the 2008 revival which is co-hosted by professional wrestler Hulk Hogan.
The season 2 men's runner-up, first half champion Rico Constantino, went on to become well known as a wrestler in WWE, under the name of "Rico." Rico retired from the wrestling business after being released by the WWE in 2004 and is currently a Las Vegas police officer, which was also his job during his American Gladiators stint.
Tony Halme, known in the then WWF as Ludvig Borga, was a Gladiator on the Finnish version. Matt Morgan, who wrestled for a time in the WWE and is currently in Total Nonstop Action Wrestling or TNA for short (wrestling in both under his given name), debuted during season 2 of the 2008 revival as a Gladiator under the name Beast.
In 2008, longtime American Gladiators co-host Mike Adamle himself joined WWE as a backstage interviewer for the Raw brand before changing careers to perform play-by-play for ECW on Sci Fi three months later. He then returned to Raw as the General Manager but he later resigned. Prior to that, after the original series ended and while working with NBC Sports, Adamle indirectly worked with the WWE doing commentary for the XFL.
The American Gladiators format gained popularity all over the world. Several other countries created spin-offs based on the American Gladiators concept, including Finland, the UK, Australia, South Africa, Lebanon and more.
American Gladiators was also translated and rebroadcast in Latin America under the name Gladiadores Americanos. It was also shown in Japan as Gekitotsu Americane Kin-niku Battle. Japan also had a show called BANG! BANG! BANG! BANG!, which had some American Gladiators elements in the show.
Reruns of the series have been syndicated since 1992 but have not been seen since 2009.
The USA Network was the first network to rebroadcast episodes of American Gladiators, obtaining the rights to the first three seasons in 1992. USA aired the reruns daily for over four years, and added the fourth season to their package when it was completed in 1993. USA stopped airing American Gladiators sometime in 1996, after the series came to a close in first-run, and did not add any episodes from the remaining three seasons by the time the network stopped airing the series.
TNN, during its last days as The National Network (before its change to Spike TV), bought a package of reruns of American Gladiators consisting of seasons two through four, season seven, the entirety of both International Gladiators series, and the special episodes aired during seasons five and six. TNN aired episodes six days a week, in early afternoons daily and late nights on Saturday. Shortly after the switch to Spike, AG was reduced to one airing a week- the late night weekend airing= before it disappeared altogether. The show aired from 2002 until 2003.
In 2007 ESPN acquired rights to American Gladiators, resulting in reruns for the first time since 2003. ESPN picked up the complete series for rebroadcast and aired two episodes daily, one during the evening and one late at night on ESPN Classic. This meant that the first season was rerun for the first time since USA reran the series and seasons five and six were broadcast for the first time since their original airings (minus the special episodes). ESPN Classic pulled the original American Gladiators series from its lineup shortly after a revival debuted on NBC, then returned it to the air following the conclusion of the series; in 2009, ESPN Classic removed American Gladiators from its lineup and it has yet to return.
According to a press release from MGM, an animated television series based on the American Gladiators franchise is in development.
On July 14, 2009 Shout! Factory released The Battle Begins, featuring commentary from the Laser, 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).
The American Gladiators performed in a dinner show in Orlando, Florida. This dinner show featured Ice, Sky, Hawk, Gemini, and others. The events included The Wall, Breakthrough & Conquer, Assault, Whiplash, The Eliminator and others.