American Gladiators (1989 TV series)

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American Gladiators
American Gladiators.png
The first American Gladiators logo, from 1989–1993
Genre Sports/Game Show
Created byDan Carr
John Ferraro
Directed byBob Levy
Presented by Mike Adamle (1989–1996)
Joe Theismann (1989)
Todd Christensen (1990)
Larry Csonka (1990–1993)
Lisa Malosky (1993–1995)
Danny Lee Clark (1995–1996)
Narrated by Joe Theismann (1989)
John Harlan (1990–1993)
Theme music composer Bill Conti
Country of originUnited States
No. of seasons7
No. of episodes139 [1]
Camera setup Multi-camera
Running time60 minutes
Production company(s) Trans World International
(seasons 1–3)
Four Point Entertainment
The Samuel Goldwyn Company
Distributor Samuel Goldwyn Television
MGM Television (current)
Original network Syndication
Picture format 480i (SDTV)
Audio format Stereo
Original releaseSeptember 9, 1989 (1989-09-09) [2]  
May 11, 1996 (1996-05-11)
Followed by American Gladiators (2008)
Related shows Battle Dome

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.


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. The streaming service Pluto TV, has all episodes on demand as well as a live channel showing reruns from all 7 seasons, in the United States.

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 ]


American Gladiators featured four competitors, two men and two women, in most episodes. The players, referred to throughout the series as "contenders", faced off in a series of physical games against each other and against a cast of costumed athletes looking to prevent them from succeeding (the titular "Gladiators"). Each match was part of an overall tournament that spanned the length of the season.

When the series premiered in the fall of 1989, ten men and ten women were selected to participate in the thirteen-week tournament with several more chosen to be alternates in case one or more of the contenders had to withdraw due to injury. After five matches were conducted, the winners of those matches automatically advanced to the quarterfinals along with the three contenders with the highest scores among the five non-winners. Any alternates from this point forward came from the losing contenders in previous rounds.

Once the quarterfinals began, the tournament became a single-elimination affair. Reaching the semifinal round guaranteed a contender would leave with no less than $2,500 in cash. The tournament runner-up would receive $5,000, while the winner was to receive $10,000 and the opportunity to become a Gladiator for subsequent competitions.

The initial thirteen episodes proved to be popular enough with audiences that it was decided that a new set of episodes would need to be produced to keep up with the demand. Thus, the original idea for the champions of the first tournament to become Gladiators would be done away with; instead, twenty more contenders were selected to compete in a second tournament beginning in early 1990. The winning contenders in that tournament then faced the winners of the earlier tournament in one last match to conclude the season. That match became known as the Grand Championship, with the victorious contenders becoming the season's overall champion and winning an additional cash prize.

From then on through the next four seasons, the tournament format remained largely unchanged. The second season format remained the same as the previous season's format, with twenty contenders starting out and the field eventually whittled down to the male and female winners of each half season, with the Grand Championship to close the 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. A total of thirty-two men and women were selected to compete, with eight men and eight women chosen for each half-season tournament. The preliminary rounds were played for seeding purposes rather than to advance into the quarterfinals, with the eight contenders on each side ranked in order of how they performed in their initial matches. Once seeded, the tournament continued as it had in previous years, with the main difference being that there was no longer a need for wild card berths.

In seasons six and seven, the tournament format was changed to resemble the format used on the British Gladiators series at the time. The object for the contenders was to not only win their respective matches, for which they would be awarded $2,500 in cash for doing so, but to win with a high enough score to rank in the top four for the season; this resulted in the series abandoning the half-season tournament format. Once all the matches were completed, the four highest scoring men and the four highest scoring women advanced to the season semifinals, with the winners of those matches competing for $25,000 in the Grand Championship. In season seven, the Grand Championship was only played for $20,000, but the winner received an automatic berth to represent the United States in the second International Gladiators tournament which comprised the second half of the season.

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.


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:

LineupEvent 1Event 2Event 3Event 4Event 5Event 6
1PyramidHang Tough/AssaultJoust/WhiplashGauntlet/Tug O WarSnapbackPowerball
2SwingshotAssault/Breakthrough & ConquerWhiplash/Tug O WarSnapbackPyramidJoust/Gauntlet
3PowerballWhiplash/Hang ToughSkytrackSwingshotAssault/Breakthrough & ConquerJoust/Gauntlet
4SwingshotTug O War/WhiplashThe WallHang Tough/AssaultPowerballBreakthrough & 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.



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.

Production notes

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]


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 S-10 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 personalities

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 broadcasts

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 ventures


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 TV 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!. Edited reruns of the UK Gladiators series were also added. As of 2020, both shows are no longer on the Charge! schedule.

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 original show, as well as the 2008 revival was added to Pluto TV on channel 136. Episodes span the entire run of both shows, with only the International Gladiators episodes absent.

Home media

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).


American Gladiators: The Music
Soundtrack album by
Dan Milner, Bill Conti
ReleasedMarch 3, 1993 (1993-03-03)
Label Sandstone 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: The Music
1."American Gladiators Introduction" (Featuring Mike Adamle)0:28
2."American Gladiators Opening"0:27
3."We Will Rock You–Queen"1:45
5."Rock and Roll (Part II)–Gary Glitter"2:46
7."Jump–The Movement"1:51
9."Tuff Enuff–The Fabulous Thunderbirds"3:07
11."Hit Me with Your Best Shot–Pat Benatar"2:47
13."Breakthrough and Conquer"1:14
14."Oh Yeah–Yello"3:04
16."The Warrior–Scandal"3:45
17."Hang Tough"1:58
20."Powerball" (Featuring Mike Adamle)0:32
21."American Gladiators Theme"0:43

American Gladiators Orlando Live!

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 versions

Gladiators 2000

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 revival

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

See also

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  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
  7. "New Dinner Show Ready To Do Battle". December 25, 1995. Retrieved August 8, 2018.