American Gladiators: A Saturday in the Gladiator Arena
As you may have heard NBC is bringing back American Gladiators. The revamped version of the classic game show of the early 90s will begin to air on January 6. I wish I would have waited until January 6 for my first chance to see the new Gladiators in action.
Saturday morning I got up early and headed down to the Sony lot to be a member of the Gladiator audience. I gave up on sleeping in for a little walk down memory lane. In hindsight, I could have really used the sleep.
Our day started with a short drive from my place over to the lot at 10:30 am. There are no cell phones, cameras, iPods or knives allowed inside. These rules not only got in the way of my plans of shanking a Gladiator while listening to my workout mix on shuffle but also required us to walk all the way back to our car to drop off our cell phones before entering the lot. We were then directed to take another long walk, this time to an empty sound stage. The empty sound stage served as a holding area for us while we waited to enter "Gladiator Arena" better known as Stage 30.
Commercial for the new American Gladiators
The first difference between the new Gladiators and old Gladiators is very apparent from our first step in the stage, I mean arena. This time around there's water. Original Gladiators: no water. New Gladiators: water.
The arena was split into two, on one side an event called something like "Hit and Run" was set up which consisted of a suspension bridge over a pool of water, the other side was set up for "Powerball" which looks exactly like it looked back in the day. The water event was going to be our first event of the day and we unfortunately were sitting on the "Powerball" side. We were going to have to watch on the big screen.
After a lengthy setup we were graced with the presence of the male Gladiators. Massive men in spandex striking poses as their names are announced really gets a rise out of the audience, which is made up of about 50% kids, 40% mid to late 20s guys and 10% scumbags. No more Nitro or Gemini, we now have Gladiators named Wolf, Justice, Mayhem and Titan (they brought that name back). The Gladiators stand on top of podiums while holding a giant ball on a string hanging from the rafters which they will swing at the contestants who will attempt to run across the bridge without falling in the water.
Shouted over the PA, we hear directions given to these muscle-bound freaks of nature. The director says things like, "Howl for me, Wolf," and "More posing, Justice" and my personal favorite - "Look menacingly while you stare at your balls" (he was referring to the giant balls that were swinging from the rafters, I hope).
Co-host Laila Ali shoots an interview with the male contestants prior to the event. Six takes later we are ready to roll. Like her dad, Laila was great with her fists. Her dad was also a great showman with great charm when the cameras rolled. Like I said, Laila was great with her fists so let's just move on.
Actual competition time was about 30 seconds. The time it took to tape was about 45 minutes. That's the magic of television.
The comedian who had the tough task of working the audience in between all of the action got the crowd in a frenzy when he introduced our other co-host, Hulk Hogan. The Hulkster has a really big house and a lot of cars thanks to his ability to talk on the microphone in front of a large audience and it showed. Unlike his counterpart, Hogan can really work a crowd even when he is saying things like "Gladiator maniacs" and "our beautiful Gladiators." There are a lot of adjectives that would fit the female Gladiators, but beautiful isn't really one of them. Where are the writers when you need them? Oh right.
The female Gladiators go by names of Venom, Crush, Siren (that was another old school name that brought back) and Helga, who fittingly, was a mountain of a woman with long blond pigtails. The original Gladiator girls had names that actually sounded feminine like Lace and Sunny. I can't imagine bringing a girl named Crush home to mom, but that's just me.
The female contestants lasted much longer on the bridge than the men did. Total time of actual competition was two minutes, the amount of time it took to tape was also about 45 minutes. After an hour and a half of watching production assistants preparing the "Powerball" arena (we felt for the kids who had the tasks of counting balls, vacuuming the turf and dusting the goals) we were excited to see the action come our way. We were going to be just a few feet away from Gladiators tackling contestants. "Powerball" was always my favorite event as a kid watching it on TV.
Thanks to the production staff of American Gladiators, TV is the only way I will get to see "Powerball." Those great seats we had for the event were taken away from us. An audience coordinator came over to our section and let us know that our row and the row in front of us was going to need to move. A bunch of us asked the coordinator "Where are we going?" but she had nothing for us. She knew, she just wanted to avoid being yelled at by the angry college aged guys who were sitting in front us. We were being brought to the other side of the arena, where the first event was taped. Once again we were going to be left to watch on the big screen while our side of the arena would be left vacant. That was enough for us. We decided to find a side door and get the hell out of there.
I am not upset about the events that took place at this taping, I have been to tapings before and I understand that it pretty much sucks to be an audience member. I had low expectations.
I'm not upset but I am offended. Was our section not attractive enough to be on camera? The girl sitting next to us was wearing a Confederate flag doo-rag, maybe they wanted to make sure the show didn't offend anyone so they just moved her entire section off camera, I don't know. Will having our section off-camera increase the show's ratings a half-point? I have watched pretty much every episode of the original Gladiators and do not remember saying, "Boy, that audience looks great."
Until I hear an explanation from an American Gladiators crew member I will continue to feel offended. That doesn't mean I won't give the show a shot and watch when it premieres on January 6, there won't be anything else on TV anyways.
Access Hollywood's preview of American Gladiators