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:
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.
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.
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.
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 Chevrolet Blazer (season 1-3) or a new Suzuki Sidekick (season 4 only) 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.
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.
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.
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 was titled on-air as "Battle of the Best"), 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 five alternate Gladiator who was named Dallas.
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.
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.
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.
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 United States, 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.
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.
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).
An episode of Family Matters titled "Surely You Joust", the 1st episode of Season Four and the overall 73rd episode which aired on September 18, 1992, features Carl and Urkel settling their feud in American Gladiators.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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, and it has not been seen on television since.
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 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).
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.
The American Gladiators performed in a dinner show in Orlando, Florida. This dinner show featured Dallas, Hawk, Ice, Jazz, Nitro, Sabre, Siren, Sky, Tower, and Turbo from the TV shows and 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.
The show spawned a whole slew of competition spin-off shows, such as Battledome, Beach Clash, Blade Warriors, and Sandblast.