October 14, 2007
Going Retro: NBC Revitalizing American Gladiators

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.

I've written in the past about retro branding here on the C3 blog, as I wrote about my interest in Mama's Family and the importance of content from the archives here, here, here, and here.

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.


On October 16, 2007 at 1:12 AM, Hillary K said:

Seems like either the early ninties were a hotbed for amazing television or the executives are just getting a little lazy. If Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles turning into TMNT (the CG version) wasn't enough, now we get to see a "new and improved" version of an old classic - American Gladiators.

Most of the fun of the show WAS the campiness of it - over-the-top red and blue piping on the gladiator outfits, nerf guns, and the audience holding up hand-drawn signs. From what I recall the old version wasn't even on a major network. I can only imagine the new one will be on the former set of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire and recycle contestants from Fear Factor.

Your right it will be interesting to see how the new series balances the absurdness of the original with current reality game show conventions. I can imagine the Gladiators themselves will be a little more fleshed out as characters (in the WWE vein you mentioned) and the stunts will surely involve more than just giant foam balls and hand crake bridges.

On a side note, I was so obsessed with AG in the 8th grade, I chose St. Blaze as my Confirmation name. (I sure hope someone gets that.)


Hilary, being of a similar TV generation, I am amazed as well to see the era that seems not that far in the past show up. I'm sure that it's how every generation has felt since TV began, to see products that didn't seem like that long ago pop back up as "retro" and as cool again. There's just something that feels fundamentally wrong about calling American Gladiators classic, but it was certainly part of a generation to me. The ridiculousness/illogicality of some of the challenges, the overblown spectacle of it all, and the production of a whole just embraced what it was, campy indeed. I do hope that they embrace this aesthetic, even as they update the show, if they want to value the nostalgia. It needs to be fundamentally ridiculous, but I think it can be updated, as you point out, in light of the many new innovations that have taken place with the rise of the reality show and contest-based games from Fear Factor on. The ability to incorporate character-building vignettes, for instance, as has been popularized by reality shows might stretch Gladiators even closer to pro wrestling in the process.


But the most important question: will the women still have the early 90s hair? If not, count me out ;-)


I heard that the quality of the Gladiators will be more lackluster this time, since there will have to be more extensive steroid testing.


NBC's classic competition show of the early 90s is back. "American Gladiators" which pits the strength and agility of both male and female contestants against each other, will be taping at the Sony Studios (Culver City, CA) from Nov 28th-Dec. 12, 2007. The host is Hulk Hogan.

For groups of 10 or more (from a registered organization), who attend a taping, NBC will write a donation check. The more people, the higher the payment. For details, please call: 1-866-515-4950

Online reservations for individuals can be found here: