While there’s no denying the original ‘American Gladiators’ had developed its own cult following back in the 1990s, it’s also true that it remains utterly embedded in the hearts of many to this day. After all, it was arguably the first competition production to have come to light, especially one to outrightly incorporate the concept of professionals vs. everyday amateurs at each step of the way. So now that ‘Muscles & Mayhem: An Unauthorized Story of American Gladiators’ has brought this incredible series back into the limelight, let’s just find out more about its authenticity, shall we?
Was American Gladiators Scripted?
If we’re being honest, ever since the core idea behind ‘American Gladiators’ was realized around the late 1980s, it has been billed as a completely unscripted (reality) game show production. Though what’s more noteworthy is that despite the producer-involved careful selection of cast members as well as the structure provided, there’s been nothing to contradict these initial claims. This is because the original in itself was a contest of agility and strength with home athletes facing off against “gladiators,” so it would’ve been impossible to carry out without some pre-planning.
However, according to those actually involved in this series at one point or another, this orchestration stuck to the aforecited aspects, game training, set development, and other similar aspects. This means never once did a professional have influence over the way a match panned out or on the emotional sentiments, heated disputes, or personal interactions to feature along the way. In other words, yes, even the physical blows endured by gladiators as well as contestants alike during games such as Assault, Human Cannonball, Joust, Swingshot, and many more were real.
Netflix’s ‘Muscles & Mayhem: An Unauthorized Story of American Gladiators’ also backs this up by underscoring the brief yet intense rivalries and severe injuries faced by the cast over the years. Former gladiator Raye “Zap” Hollitt actually clarified in it that nothing they did was staged in any way, shape, or form: “Everything was real. Ludicrous, we’ll put it that way.” Even Danny “Nitro” Lee Clark said, “The realness, I think, for the viewers made [our show] attractive. I think this is what really set us apart from wrestling and other shows that, while those guys are great athletes, it’s staged.”
We should also mention that despite the fact ‘American Gladiator’ gave its leads different personalities (like “Malibu”) and had a “script coordinator,” this was more for the interviews rather than the competition’s outcome. “[Producers] give the hosts some bullet points of information to put in their own words to set the table, so to speak, and provide some questions to ask the contestants in interviews,” an NBC representative actually told Today when this series was briefly revived in 2008 before clearly adding that the responses were not at all scripted or nudged. “This is a straight-up sporting competition where when the referee blows the whistle, it’s game on.”
Then there’s the unavoidable post-production process, within which producers have all the power to play with a narrative in any way they deem fit to maintain their audience’s positive attention. Yet, considering the concept of this particular original, editing doesn’t really change any facet here in its entirety, meaning ‘American Gladiators’ is as unscripted, real, and natural as possible. Though it’s imperative to note that you should always take every such reality series with a grain of salt because you never really know the true extent of producer interference or engineering, even when there’s no direct manufacturing.