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American Gladiators

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American Gladiators

American Gladiators
The first American Gladiators logo, from 1989–1993.
Genre Sports/Game Show
Created by Dan Carr
John Ferraro
Directed by Bob 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 origin United States
No. of seasons 7
No. of episodes 139[1]
Producer(s) Trans World International (1989–1992)
Four Point Entertainment (1989–1996)
Samuel Goldwyn Television (1989–1996)
Location(s) Universal Studios Hollywood (1989–1991)
CBS Studio Center (1991–1996)
Camera setup Multi-camera
Running time 60 minutes
Original channel Syndication
Picture format 480i (SDTV)
Audio format Stereo
Original run September 9, 1989 (1989-09-09)[2] – May 11, 1996 (1996-05-11)
Followed by American Gladiators (2008)
Related shows Battle Dome, Hip Show

American Gladiators is 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 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 (later MGM) where the concept was enhanced and became American Gladiators.[3]

An effort in 2004 to launch a live American Gladiators show on the Las Vegas Strip became mired in a securities fraud prosecution.[4] 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 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.

In the first two seasons, two tournaments were held in each season. 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 with the eight remaining competitors vying to earn a berth in the Grand Championship and $10,000 in cash The winners of the first tournament of the season would face the winners of the second, with an additional cash prize and a car at stake for the winner.

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. 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.


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:
Lineup Event 1 Event 2 Event 3 Event 4 Event 5 Event 6
1 Pyramid Assault/Hang Tough Whiplash/Joust 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.



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 notes

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.

The first 13 episodes were recorded in a 12-day-period, from July 24 to August 4 of 1989.[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 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 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 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.

Special shows

As had various other game shows in the past, American Gladiators had a series of special themed episodes over its run. These began in season two, and featured celebrities playing for charity as well as former professional athletes and former contenders returning to compete again.

Alumni shows

There were three alumni shows conducted during the course of American Gladiators. The first came in season two, the second in season six, and the third and last in season seven.

In the season two alumni show, first season contenders Lucian Anderson, Terry Moore, Cheryl Ann Silich, and Aimee Ross returned to compete against each other. Anderson and Silich emerged victorious.

In season six, AG decided to hold another alumni show. Season three Grand Champions Mark Ortega and Kathy Mollica, season four Grand Champions Cliff Miller and Cheryl Wilson, and season five Grand Champions Wesley Berry and Peggy Odita did battle in two separate elimination matches where the two highest scoring contenders at the end of the events ran the Eliminator to determine the winner. Berry and Odita won their matches and returned for the season seven alumni show, which pitted the two of them against season six's champions Kyler Storm and Adrienne Sullivan. Once again, the season five champions emerged victorious.

During season seven, as part of a dual special which featured identical twin martial artists competing against each other, two former female Gladiators competed against each other with Raye Hollitt, who portrayed Zap for much of the show's run, facing Shannon Hall, a season six alternate Gladiator who was named Dallas.

Pro Football Challenge of Champions

In seasons three and four, American Gladiators 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 Champions

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 Ctvrtlik and 1988 gold gymnast Mitch Gaylord. The women were 1994 silver and 1998 gold downhill skier Picabo Street and 1988 bronze figure skater Debi Thomas. Street and Gaylord were victorious.

International Challenge of Champions

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

More information: International Gladiators 1, International Gladiators 2

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 American representatives and both of them emerged as champions by defeating the Australian representatives in the finals.

Armed Forces Challenge of Champions

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.


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 Dame

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).

International broadcasts

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

Other ventures

Ties to professional wrestling

Like professional wrestling, American Gladiators is considered a form of sports entertainment, although the outcomes of events in the show are not pre-determined, unlike pro wrestling matches. There have been several crossovers between the show and wrestling itself. One of the strongest ties is Hulk Hogan serving as a co-host of the 2008 revival.

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.

Total Nonstop Action Wrestling (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.

International versions

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, Germany, 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.

Country Title Broadcaster Duration
Australia Gladiators Seven Network 1995 – 1996
Denmark Gladiatorerne TV3 2003
Finland Gladiaattorit MTV3 1993 – 1994
Nigeria MTN Gladiators on M-Net DSTV 2002
South Africa MTN Gladiators SABC3 1999 – 2001
Sweden Gladiatorerna
United Kingdom Gladiators ITV 10 October 1992 – 1 January 2000

Three other countries were also set to adapt their version of Gladiators. France's version called Gladiateur was cancelled in production in 1993. Spain's version called Gladiadors was cancelled in production in 1994. And Poland's version called Gladiatorzy was cancelled in pre-production in 1999.


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.

Animated series

According to a press release from MGM, an animated television series based on the American Gladiators franchise is in development.[6]

DVD release

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
Released March 3, 1993 (1993-03-03)
Length 38:19
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.

Dinner show

The American Gladiators performed in a dinner show in Orlando, Florida. This dinner show featured Dallas, Hawk, Ice, Jazz, Nitro, Sabre, Siren, Sky, Tower, Turbo from the TV shows and new Gladiators Apache, Cobra, 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.


The show spawned a whole slew of comeptition spin-off shows, such as Beach Clash, Blade Warriors, and Sandblast.



Grand Championship Results
Season Men's
1 Winner Brian Hutson Bridget Venturi
Runner-Up Lucian Anderson Tracy Phillips
2 Winner Craig Brahnam Dorann Cumberbatch
Runner-Up Rico Constantino Maria Nichting
3 Winner Mark Ortega[7] Kathy Mollica
Runner-Up Joe Mauro Kimberly Lentz
4 Winner Clifton Miller Cheryl Wilson[8]
Runner-Up Marty DePaoli Betsy Erickson
5 Winner Wesley Berry Peggy Odita
Runner-Up Troy Jackson Kim Tyler
6 Winner Kyler Storm Adrienne Sullivan
Runner-Up Dan Cunningham Liz Ragland
7 Winner Pat Csizmazia Tiziana Sorge
Runner-Up Richard McCormick Carla Zeitlyn

List of gladiators

Gladiator Name Debut season Years active Notes
Malibu McBee, DeronDeron McBee 1 1989 Recently reprised his role as Malbu on Tosh.0
Lace Pare, MarisaMarisa Pare 1 1989–1992
Zap Hollitt, RayeRaye Hollitt 1 1989–1990, 1991–1995
Gemini Horton, Michael M. Michael M. Horton 1 1989–1992
Nitro Clark, DanDan Clark 1 1989–1992, 1994–1995 Color commentator during show's final season (1995–1996) and coordinating producer of the 2008 revival
Sunny Baldinger, CherylCheryl Baldinger 1 1989 Injured during semifinal round and did not return
Blaze Pendleton, Sha-riSha-ri Pendleton 1 1990–1992
Bronco Campbell, RobertRobert Campbell 1 1989 Appeared as a replacement on one episode following an injury to Malibu
Gold Knight, TonyaTonya Knight 1 1990–1992
Laser Starr, JimJim Starr 1 1990–1996 Only gladiator to appear in all seven seasons of the series
Jade Corrin, T.C.T.C. Corrin 1 1990 Appeared as a replacement on one episode following an injury to Sunny
Titan Nelson, DavidDavid Nelson 1 1990
Diamond Andersch, ErikaErika Andersch 2 1990–1993
Ice Fetrick, LoriLori Fetrick 2 1990–1992, 1993–1996
Thunder Smith, BillyBilly Smith 2 1990–1992
Turbo Tomlinson, GalenGalen Tomlinson 2 1990–1996
Storm Clark, DebbieDebbie Clark 3 1991–1993 Appeared as a replacement following an injury to Gold, continued to appear as a regular gladiator until 1993
Tower Henneberry, SteveSteve Henneberry 3 1991–1994 Appeared as a replacement following an injury to Turbo, continued to appear as a regular gladiator until 1994
Viper Berlinger, ScottScott Berlinger 3 1992–1993 Debuted during 1992 Grand Championship, became regular gladiator the following year
Atlas Poteat, PhilipPhilip Poteat 4 1992–1993
Cyclone Turner, BarryBarry Turner 4 1992–1993 Injured during preliminary rounds of Season 4 and did not return
Elektra Bartunek, SalinaSalina Bartunek 4 1992–1994 Appeared sparingly following an injury during the 1992–1993 grand championship
Lace Lennox, NatalieNatalie Lennox 4 1992–1993 Appeared on only two episodes
Havoc Williams, MattMatt Williams 4 1992–1994 Appeared sparingly
Sabre Williams, LynnLynn Williams 4 1992–1996
Siren Beattie, ShelleyShelley Beattie 4 1992–1996 Only Deaf gladiator
Sky Eson-Korito, ShirleyShirley Eson-Korito 4 1992–1996
Dallas Hall, ShannonShannon Hall 5 1993–1995
Hawk Reherman, LeeLee Reherman 5 1993–1996
Jazz Gay, VictoriaVictoria Gay 5 1993–1996
Rebel Tucker, MarkMark Tucker 5 1993–1994
Tank Radcliffe, EdEd Radcliffe 5 1993–1996 Appeared as a replacement following an injury to Laser, appearing on three episodes

See also


  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^ SEC document
  5. ^
  6. ^ "MGM Takes 'American Gladiators' Online, on Tour, and Into Animation". Archived from the original on 22 February 2008. Retrieved 2008-01-14. 
  7. ^ Season Three's Men's Grand Championship was decided by a video review after eventual champion Mark Ortega and Joe Mauro finished the Eliminator in an apparent dead heat. Ortega was declared the winner because he was ruled to have crossed the finish line at 48.86 seconds versus Mauro's 48.88 seconds.
  8. ^ Johns, Elizabeth (1997-03-05). American Gladiators" Champ Murdered""". Retrieved 2011-01-03. Season 4 champion Cheryl Wilson-Minelli was murdered in 1997 by her husband, after what he thought was an affair. 

External links

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