American Gladiators : Old Versus New

American Gladiators was a popular game show that had amateur athletes compete against the shows own gladiators. There were two versions that came to television. The original aired from 1989 to 1996. The revived series only had two seasons in 2008. The resurrection seemed in comparison not as popular as the original. Some longtime fans enjoyed the revival, while supporters of the original said it was lacking. There were some problems in an attempt to modernize this game show. The set design, costume, roster, and the talent are crucial to making a program like this work and maintain an audience. These elements have to be examined from each show. Critics are quick to say revivals are horrible just because they favor the original version. These critics are highly nostalgic, but there is some credibility to their arguments. Constant remakes of films and television shows demonstrates a lack of originality. The other perspective is that one should at least give it a chance before making such criticisms. The first series must be compared to the old one before stating which one is better.

        The roster for the women in the 1989 series was very powerful. The majority were female bodybuilders or weightlifters. Part of the fun of watching American Gladiators was that the Gladiators would cause so much trouble for their opponents. Many times it was a mismatch in  strength and agility between them. There were a few gladiators who were not exactly athletes who were on the show. Marisa Pare (Lace) did not have an athletic background, but seemed to manage well enough. She would later be replaced. Victoria Gay , Shelley Beattie, Raye Hollit, Lori Fetrick  and Sheri Pendelton are just a few talents to be seen on American Gladiators.


It seemed as if female athleticism was not condemned, but celebrated in this atmosphere. Women just did not show powerful physiques they prove they had power. Looking at their statistics it was clear they were formidable. Shelley Beattie stood at 5 ft 7 inches and 149 pounds. Raye Hollit was 180 pounds of muscle. They were not selected because they just looked good, it was because they had plenty of athletic skill. This made the events such as joust, tug of war, the wall, power ball, and other obstacles more exciting. The great aspect about this was that strong and muscular women were deliberately being sought after. There was no negativity in mainstream presentation and this was rare considering the time period. Women’s athletic endeavors were usually disparaged, but this was a pleasant paradigm shift. The women not only displayed athletic talent; they could be entertaining as well.


 Victoria Gay known as Jazz was 5’10 and was a weight of 180 lbs. Lori Fetrick, Tonya Knight and Erica Andersch made numerous appearances on bodybuilding stages. It was no mistake these women were very physical powerful and skilled. Shar-ri Pendelton had a background in track and field. She actually did get coaching from Bob Kersee. She had to place her bodybuilding on hold, while training for javelin throwing for the 1992 Olympics. She was only on the show for three years, but performed well. The gladiators were not shown has villains, but tough challengers. Some claimed that the match ups were completely one sided, which made them look like bullies. However, it was part of acted persona that the gladiators would adopt.The viewer could tell that the gladiators and competitors were having fun. The most important part was a high level of performance and that women looked the part. Compared to the gladiators of the 2008 version, it would appear as if they were stronger.

The 2008 roster seemed to just have figure or fitness models. There were very few women from the weightlifting or bodybuilding category. It appears that executives did not want women who looked a particular way. Although this cannot be proven, it appears they were focused more on how the women looked , rather than their athletic performance. It would have been nice to see even stronger women on the 2008 program. The addition of Robin Coleman was a positive development. She competed in the World’s Strongest Woman contests on multiple occasions. She was involved in rowing  and trained in boxing as well as martial arts.This is not to say the rest of the 2008 roster was not athletically talented. Beth Horn and Tanji Johnson demonstrated dexterous during the show’s short run.

 Another issue in selection is that there was a general lack of diversity both versions. There are a few African American gladiators compared to the majority of white gladiators. The United States is a nation of immigrants and various ethnic groups. Why can’t its popular entertainment represent that? There are Asian American and Hispanic American athletes who probably loved to be included in the show. Unfortunately. executives and producers still believe that “whites are more marketable.” That problem was never addressed in both series and it is a reflection of America’s problems with race. Doing an analysis of the roster it appears that the original series cast would be better performers if they were to compete against the 2008 version.

Siren( 1992) versus Siren (2008) 

Valerie Waugaman  stands at 5′ 9” and weighed 145 pounds. Shelly Beattie  would be shorter in comparison, but outweighs her. This hypothetical match up would probably favor Beattie in the jousting match. The tug of war and break through would favor Beattie’s higher weight. Waugaman would have to compensate with skill to be a challenge. Her fitness skills would be best utilized in the hang tough event. The use of gymnastic rings would be easy for her.

Diamond (1990) versus Crush (2008)

Erika Andersch was also another bodybuilder 5′ 8” in height and a weight about a 140 lbs. Gina Carano would be more formidable. She had a background in mixed martial arts and was a prominent fighter. Her height is also the same as Erika’s, but she out weighs her by a pound.  Although most of her MMA moves would not be legal on the show, she has a great understanding of knock someone down. When looking at their backgrounds it becomes hard to say which roster is better. Even though the 2008 version seemed afraid to put larger women on, this did not harm the quality of athleticism. Then also one must consider the way the gladiators team is organized. Similar to a football team, not all members will be quarterbacks. Having women of diverse athletic backgrounds would only make it more interesting. The problem with the 2008 version was not its gladiators.

         The costume design is a critical aspect. While most viewers are focused on the events and action what the costume looks like still has relevance. The first series had gladiators dressed in red, white, and blue colored spandex. The colors and design with the American flag  were both outrageous  and designed to make them easily recognizable. This was not only done for marketing purposes, but it lets the viewer get an idea of the show by only seeing an image. The 2008 version’s costumes cannot be easily recognizable.Someone who is not familiar with the show could not deduce what its about. The traditional American flag colors are gone replaced by dull black and gray uniforms.

If an observer were to look at these images, without knowing what the show is it would seem like some B movie sci-fi  film. The American imagery seems to be extracted from the design. The costumes in the 2008 series were not as colorful or amusing as the 1989 series. The whole point of a costume design is to make it either unique or strange. The 1989 series had a level of camp that was displayed by  their ludicrous presentation of patriotic colors. This decision seemed to even extend to its iconic logo. The old logo had the same US flag colors. The 2008 version has the dry black and gray colors, which makes a person wonder why even call the show American gladiators. There are plenty of game shows and sports events on television. A program must do whatever it can to distinguish itself. It has to compete with other shows and networks for ratings.

Either costumes or materials that can spark a viewer’s interest are essential to success. There is also another factor that is related specifically to a demographic. Men are a large target audience and this is why the costume design important for women. There are some male viewers who take interest in the female gladiators beyond their athletic talent. Their is a high level of beauty in the athletic female form and it is obvious that costumes accentuate that.

Some competitors had uniforms with the abdominals exposed in both series. However, the 2008 version had some of that area exposed with section covering the middle of the stomach. The 2008 version costumes seemed poor in comparison to the 1989 version. Many do not believe it important, but it gives the show a particular feel.Other than the costumes that give a certain feel, set design is also a major element.

        The sets in the show also are critical. These sets are styled like arenas with stage lights and intricate obstacle courses. For any game show, the set also has to stand out. The 1989 series set matched with the US flag colors of the gladiators themselves. The 2008 set design seems more like something out of Ninja Warrior. The only difference is that their obstacles would be more challenging to navigate.

 The images above are shots of the American Gladiators arenas. The one on the left is from the 1989 series and other on the right was from 2008. The original version’s set matched that of the theme of patriotic America. This corny theme along with the costumes developed a general persona of the program. The 2008 set seemed to lack a persona or imagination. That was the key, otherwise the show just seems like any other sporting event. This was not to say the set design in the 2008 version was of low quality. It almost seemed as if they were afraid to display flag themed colors in the recent version. The lighting and effects were considerably better in the recent version. This mainly was because the flood and spot light technology had advanced much more since the 1990s. The set may have had better technology, but for design purposes the 1989 one was a little better.

     It can be seen that both series do have weaknesses and strong attributes. The wonderful aspect about the 2008 version was that Laila Ali and Hulk Hogan were selected as host of the program. The selection of Laila Ali was an important one. She was an accomplished boxer and this was the second  time American Gladiators had a permanent female host. Hulk Hogan one of the most recognizable professional wrestlers always has been entertaining. His commentary and quirky mannerisms added to the fun of the program.


The 1989 version had rotating hosts that few might remember. Both shows had entertaining events  and still amused audiences. The hosts of the 1989 version were not as colorful with their commentary. This was a weakness of the original. The original was longer lasting in terms of seasons and had higher ratings. There could be several explanations for the disparity. While it did obtain 12 million viewers in its first season, the problem was it had to compete with reality television. When the second version was released the American public was more into reality television rather than scripted shows or game shows . No such thing existed back in the 1980s or 1990s  when the original series ran. Some have even hypothesized that the show getting revived by NBC was a response the Writer’s Guild of America Strike of 2007 to 2008. A game show that did not require writers would be perfect to fill time slots. Although it cannot be confirmed, it was odd after the strike the show was not renewed for a third season.  The original had a durable pop cultural staying power. The version of the 2000s failed to capture that enthusiasm. That was probably its biggest weakness. This was a chance to capture new fans and bring the old fans back. The revival failed to do so to the fullest extent.

         There has to be some understanding of the fandom. American Gladiators when it originally aired was widely popular. It spawned trading cards, video games, action figures and a host of other products. These became part of a classic 1990s pop culture nostalgia. A huge fandom still remained even when the show stopped airing with fans making their own websites. Kids would collect items of their favorite gladiators and argue with others which one was the best. Mattel produced a number of action figures that had the gladiators . This does not include the entire roster, seeing as some left the show at certain points or other arrived later in its run.

 Video games and trading cards 

Action Figure and sticker 

American Gladiators also had some influence in the fitness industry. It was not uncommon for some of the gladiators to appear on various fitness publications. This was a positive development for women in bodybuilding. Here female muscle was getting mainstream exposure and at least a moderate level of acceptance. The women gladiators were just as popular as the male ones and were getting the same amount of exposure. Many of the women gladiators had already been involved in bodybuilding so magazine shoots were nothing new to them.

Gladiators would appear on Muscle and Fitness, Female bodybuilding and Sports Fitness, and Muscle Training Illustrated. This show spawned a franchise. There were even talks about making an animated series. This was a common practice of the 1980s and 1990s was to take live action properties, films, or subjects and develop them into a Saturday morning cartoon. This was one area that the franchise did not get into however. When it last aired in 1996 a loyal fan base had been made. The 2008 series did not capture this excitement and thrill of the original series. What could be culpable is limited marketing of the 2008 version. The merchandise compared to the original was diminutive in comparison. There were no Helga action figures  and it was hard to find American Gladiator Halloween  costumes. There were no licensed video games for the 2008 show. That was a missed opportunity. The graphics and game play of modern systems would be perfect for an American Gladiators video game. Playstation, Nintendo, and Xbox have graphics that extend far beyond the 8 bit, 16 bit, or 32 bit systems of the 1990s. Producers should pay attention to the fandom if they want revival efforts to be a success.

          There is an answer to which series is the better one. It depends on what you prefer. The viewer who remembers the original would say it is better because of the joyous memories it brought them. Younger viewers who did not grow up with the program may prefer both. This is not a terrible development, because it exposes more people to the show and it can continue to be remembered. This does not mean the 2008 version is perfect. Some minor improvements could have extended its life cycle beyond just two seasons. Adding gladiators of various backgrounds could expand viewership. Changes to costume design and set can also help. This is not vituperation; it is constructive criticism. It would be ludicrous just to dismiss the program simply because it is a reboot or  remake. A true fan would at least give it a chance.  Although some of the frustration can be understood. Film and television seems to be in a trend of remakes and reboots. This leads many to believe that originally has become extinct in entertainment. Resurrections of  franchises can be done, if performed correctly . There is a possibility that American Gladiators can comeback even better than before. The hardcore fan will like either version no matter what. To the hardcore fan questions of which one is better have little relevance.

American Gladiators : Old Versus New

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