It's retro marketing at its most direct, and since it is intended to appeal directly to my demographic, it fascinates me: it's NBC's plans for the return of American Gladiators. For those who don't remember the original, it was over-the-top television spectacle at its most ridiculous, often to the point of absurdity. Of course, it was coupled by many stations in syndication alongside professional wrestling content, hoping to appeal to the same demographic.
In the early-1990s, when I was in elementary school, I watched American Gladiators among my Saturday morning television favorites. Without the narrative development and greater story world of the World Wrestling Federation (now WWE), American Gladiators seemed to pale in comparison, but it served as an acceptable appetizer for wrestling content.
Why does it not surprise me, then, to hear that Hulk Hogan is lined up to be the host of the new NBC series. Surely, there's no one better out there for nostalgia to represent this era of colorful and overinflated American masculinity at its most ridiculous, so seeing competitors "run the gauntlet" with the histrionics of The Hulkster narrating it seems to make a great deal of sense. And with Hogan gaining a new generation of fans through his nostalgia runs in WWE and his hit VH1 series Hogan Knows Best, it could potentially be retro camp to a whole new generation.
The series will be produced by MGM Television and Reveille and is currently being filmed. James Hibberd writes, "The new 'Gladiators' will still have everyday weekend warriors competing against the show's cast of athletes, but it will add "special effects, water skills and the latest technology," according to the press release. Also, the show will chronicle the backstory of the competitors as they train for their match."
According to Hibberd, Gladiators will be a midseason series.
I personally am not sure if the series will be poised for a longtime revival, but at the very least it could be a fun short-term nostalgia series for those who grew up on the Gladiators, seeing a group of wannabes/up-and-comers go up against established athletes. Either way, the show could end up finding a new audience in the process, the nostalgia and throwback of the show granting it some sort of authenticity. Of course, if it strays too far from the aesthetic and tone of the original series, some fans seeking it as a retro brand could rally against it, which is always the danger of playing too heavily in a camp favorite from yesteryear.
What will be the fate of American Gladiators? Much of it will depend on how much that nostalgia leads to new interest, as well as how well the new creators maintain the sensibilities of the old series while giving people new reasons to watch.