9-11 p.m., Sunday, Jan. 6
Desperate for original programming, NBC put a revamped "American Gladiators" on its schedule card with a two-hour premiere Sunday night. The show had been off the air for a decade. Even then, it appeared only in syndication, presumably too embarrassing a spectacle to interest network programmers
But times change, and a writers strike combined with a need for cheap series was all the impetus needed to resurrect "American Gladiators," a first cousin of professional wrestling with its glitzy costumes, bombastic names and trash talk.
This time, just as in the original, a group of mostly muscular men and women contestants compete against the house gladiators, a team of six men and six women with such names as Titan, Militia, Mayhem, Crush, Venom and Stealth (the latter three are women, by the way). In each hour, two men and two women compete. One out of each pair moves to the next round.
The grand prize, given after an entire season, is a paltry $100,000 to the last man and woman left standing. Someone should tell them they could do so much better by conserving their energy and just opening a few briefcases.
The well-padded players take turns battling the gladiators in games that make dodgeball look like hopscotch. The eliminator is the Eliminator, the name given to a rugged obstacle course that ultimately decides which of the two men or women stays on the show.
The producers have updated the show with all the usual reality bells and whistles: flashing lights, dramatic music, two tons of product placement and a studio audience warmed up with loco weed.
The action is taped to eliminate the long, dull parts while they change the set. Short videos try to coax viewers to develop a rooting interest in the contestants.
The co-hosts are pro wrestling icon Hulk Hogan and Laila Ali, Muhammad's daughter. They encourage and commiserate with the contestants, sometimes in bewildering ways. In the opening minutes of the show, a divorced mother of three suffers a disqualifying leg injury during the first contest. "You're a great role model to your children," Ali consoles.
Later in the show, a male contestant says he is dedicating his victory to "my buddy, who passed away a year ago." Responds Ali, "I'm sure you made him proud."
Following Sunday's premiere, the show is scheduled to air at 8 p.m. Mondays.
MGM Television in association with Reveille
Executive producers: David Hurwitz, Mark Koops, Howard Owens, Claire O'Donohoe
Co-executive producer/director: J. Rupert Thompson
Producers: Edison Layne, Tom Herschko
Production manager: Sam Yamada
Casting: Randy Bernstein, Danielle Harrington, Chad Haywood
Stunt coordinator: Pat Romano
Production designer: Anton Goss
Art director: Dylan Jones
Hosts: Hulk Hogan, Laila Ali