In the late 1980s a new competition game show came out swinging – American Gladiators.
Created by Dan Carr and John Ferraro, the game show was based on a competition held at a Pennsylvania highschool, with the concept sold to the Samuel Goldwyn Company.
10 men and 10 women were pitted against the gladiators, chosen from a preliminary competition of strength and agility. Gaining points (the highest total per event was 100) with their achievements, the competitors stay in the game by trying to place in the top three until the final round.
During the one hour show, the competition was treated like a traditional sports event, showing the competitors and calling the actions just like any professional sport.
The competitions were held in the Gladiator Arena, alluding to the Roman Gladiators of the past. The competitions were all timed, so it wasn’t about beating the person as much as it was about beating the clock to finish an event.
Meanwhile the gladiators (three men and three women) were former NFL football players or pro/amateur bodybuilders, who competed to win events such as powerball, whiplash, slingshot, skytrack, pyramid and the grand finale – Tug o’ War.
The first season debuted in 1989, and was hosted by former NFL great Joe Theismann and Mike Adamle.
Initially the prize for competitors was to become an American Gladiator, but that was abandoned, and a cash prize of $10,000 was on offer.
As the syndicated series continued into the next decade, there were foreign editions created in Mexico and Japan and the series was screened to huge popularity in South Africa, Finland, UK, Australia and Germany.
I tried to watch this series, but didn’t really believe the competitors could ever beat the gladiators, so it held no allure for me. But I was alone, since this show became the inspiration for many 21st century competitions that are ratings gold.