In Depth

NBC Calls for More ‘Gladiators’

NBC announced they're ordering an unspecified number of additional episodes of “American Gladiators” from producers MGM and Reveille on Monday, but the renewal is just the start of extensions planned for the competition show.

Original “Gladiators” series owner MGM intends to announce a broadband Web site stocked with new and classic content based on the syndicated version of the show, as well as plans for a “Gladiators” animated series. MGM, Reveille and NBC—who collectively own the new series—are planning a nationwide tour a la “American Idol” to find the next crop of “Gladiators” contestants.

“‘American Gladiators’ is another example of how MGM franchises can be revitalized for today’s audiences,” said Jim Packer, MGM Television co-president. “The studio’s strategy of reinvigorating popular franchises from our extraordinary library is definitely working, and our new AmericanGladiators.com broadband site will expand the franchise to the digital world.”

“Gladiators” surprised the industry when its Jan. 6 premiere was the highest-rated new-series debut of the season. The second episode dropped 19% amid increased competition from college football, but NBC is optimistic the show’s popularity will hold fast.

The “Gladiators” Web site, due to launch Jan. 28, will include clips from the original series and new content updating fans on the lives of former Gladiators.

MGM, Reveille and NBC also plan to launch a “Gladiators” cross-country tour. The touring version gives fans a live show in which local athletes can compete against the Gladiators and possibly earn a spot on the TV version.

“Gladiators” creator Johnny Ferraro said the rebirth of the franchise on NBC has been “a dream come true.”

The original show ran in syndication from 1989 to 1996. Ever since “Gladiators” went off the air, Mr. Ferraro said, he has been trying to get the show back on. “Every night, that’s all I did,” he said. “I harassed everybody.”

Mr. Ferraro credited Mr. Packer for not losing faith in the brand and NBC Co-Chair Ben Silverman for “having the vision” to revive the series.

“Instead of going out and getting something like ‘American Gladiators,’ he went out and got it,” Mr. Ferraro said.

The planned nationwide tour would not be the first for the “Gladiators” brand. When it was airing in syndication, “Gladiators” embarked on a 112-city tour to find new contestants.

Updated 8:40 AM

“It’s not like we’re doing what ‘American Idol’ is doing—it’s more like ‘Idol’ is doing what we were doing,” Mr. Ferraro said. “We created reality television.”

“Gladiators” started in 1981 when an iron worker in Erie, Pa., invited Mr. Ferraro to his company picnic. There, bulky iron workers faced off in arm-wrestling and other physical challenges. Mr. Ferraro began staging competitions, the first held in a high school gym.

For years afterward, Mr. Ferraro tried to launch a national version of “Gladiators,” first as a movie, then as a television series.

After the show became a hit, Mr. Ferraro tried to get a version of “Gladiators” set up in a popular hotel in Las Vegas. With the NBC series generating renewed viewer interest, he hopes to move the production from Los Angeles to Las Vegas and create a regular attraction.

“It’s Siegfried and Roy with muscles,” he said.

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