NBC's "American Gladiators" has characters with names such as Justice, Wolf, Titan and Phoenix. Even with that fighting pedigree, there are still hundreds of contestants lining up to get in the ring with the Gladiators.
Armed and ready
Every Monday at 8 p.m. throughout the summer, millions of Americans settle in for a steady dose of will versus strength as average souls climb into the ring with athletes appropriately titled Gladiators.
Standing next to Wolf and Justice, two of the stars of "American Gladiator," it is easy to know how Mini-Me feels everyday. There's muscular, and then there's "Gladiator" muscles.
They train as hard as you would think, but there is more to the equation than fitness for these "American Gladiators."
"It's a little stressful, actually," Wolf admitted.
"American Gladiators first debuted on NBC from 1989 to 1996. Knowing there were expectations only adds to the challenge for this new crop of Gladiators.
The Gladiator known solely as Justice was ready to tackle a program that was successful many TV seasons ago. He, for one, was thrilled at the challenge. "The first show was all that, you know? As far as me, I just feel I'm trying my best to represent the great work that was done before us," Justice said.
Gladiator size expectations
"American Gladiators" has found an entirely new audience with its 2007 summer return. But there are expectations after the show's successful return. "Because everyone knows what we brought to the table last year," Wolf said.
"They're expecting that or better. So, we have to give 100 percent to make sure we give audiences everything they want to and have become accustomed to seeing."
Justice concurs. "The first season was spectacular and the second season is here, so we have to always keep in mind that there's a huge audience out there that loves what we do," Justice said. Although he believes the current incarnation is leagues better than the first, he is also humbled by the adoration fans show for the original. "But also, there's the part that loved the first show, so we have to keep that in mind too."
"American Gladiators" is from Reveille productions, headed by current NBC chief Ben Silverman. Silverman made a name for himself bringing British television mainstays to American shores. From "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" to "The Office," his creative stamp is all over those and the "American Gladiator" triumphant return after almost 20 years.
"I don't look for shows I think will do well," Silverman said from his Hollywood offices. "If it is something that makes me laugh, or I enjoy it, that's what I go for."
Besting a classic
Hosted by wrestling superstar Hulk Hogan and boxer Laila Ali, "American Gladiators" has struck a chord with audiences, and that fact not lost on the show's stars.
It may be sacrilege, but Justice thinks one-on-one, the 2008 "Gladiators" would beat the show's older warriors in their prime.
"I hate to say this, but I think we've got better Gladiators this season, better contestants, the set, it's all up a few notches from the first show," Justice said.
One of the oldest sentiments is that success breeds imitation and no where is that more prevalent than with this summer's return of "American Gladiators."
There are four other reality shows with obstacle courses or themes involving putting people through extreme challenges out of their realm, and the cast of "American Gladiator" are keenly aware that imitation is indeed the highest form of flattery.
"We've hit a home run with this and now everyone wants to copy us," Wolf said. "It's great. But, it also means that we have to work that much harder to stay on top. Everybody can't be Betty Crocker, right? There's only one Betty Crocker."
Justice does not worry about the copy-cats. "When we're done, there's no room for those imitators," Justice adds. "'American Gladiators' will always rise above."
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