Long before every television network aired a reality competition series, one changed the game. From 1989-1996, the series American Gladiators pit a cast of amateur athletes against one another. And most famously, against the series’ own colorful champions. The contestants then fought in challenges of physical strength, dexterity, and overall agility. Oh, and lots of cheesy showmanship. It paved the way for reality competition series like The Amazing Race and dozens of others.
Via Deadline, we’ve learned a documentary about American Gladiators has now been greenlit. It’s coming as part of ESPN’s 30 for 30 series. It’s directed by Ben Berman, who gave us the acclaimed The Amazing Johnathan Documentary, covering the final tour of a dying magician. American Gladiators also returned to the airwaves in 2008 for a revival, which lasted a couple of seasons. In 2019, producers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg announced their plans to bring it back for the 2020s.
Samuel Goldwyn Television
The documentary will feature many of the titular Gladiators the show made famous. And we don’t know much beyond that yet. We imagine they’ll share stories about their days pioneering the reality competition genre. Johnny C. Ferraro, the show’s co-creator, is also participating. Many consider Ferraro as one of the driving forces in creating the reality TV format. American Gladiators spawned a million copycats and helped change the face of television in the ’90s. So in large part, we have him to thank (or blame).
Much like pro wrestling in the ’90s, American Gladiators’ performers were all wildly performative characters. This was a show with folks performing under names like Nitro, Lace, Gemini, and Zap. And then there was Malibu, the “laid back surfer.” Also known as the “Big ‘bu,” or “220 pounds of twisted steel and sex appeal.” Yeah, it was that kind of show. Here’s hoping the new documentary covers all the most fun and over-the-top aspects of this relic from a TV era long gone by.