The American Gladiators Documentary, a two-part film on the famed reality-competition show will debut as the next installment in the award-winning ESPN 30 for 30 series.
Directed by Ben Berman (“The Amazing Johnathan Documentary”), the documentary will premiere Tuesday, May 30 at 8:30p.m. ET and Wednesday, May 31 at 9p.m. ET.
The film takes an unconventional approach to the epic tale of the famed reality-competition show. What begins as a traditional sports documentary soon gives way to bigger themes of greed, divergent narratives, and ultimately questions how history itself is written.
From 1989 to 1996, American Gladiators was one of the most popular syndicated programs in television, a competition show that predated the reality TV era but used many of the same techniques to attract viewers. Every week, “amateur” contestants would go up against a cast of “professional” gladiators in a range of physical competitions, setting up David versus Goliath matchups that were popular with big television audiences but also earned considerable criticism for being “crash TV”. The show’s cast and crew look back on it all, with their memories complicated by regret over what it did to many of the gladiators’ lives. And as the behind-the-scenes story of the series is told, from the beginning of the film, the central, most compelling character of the story is clear: Johnny Ferraro, the creator of American Gladiators, a former Elvis impersonator from Erie, PA who came to Hollywood with a dream of putting the show on screen and ended up with a singular success.
“We’re very excited to finally get this story out into the world, and you can trust that it’ll take you to some weird places,” said Berman. “Come for the 90’s nostalgia, but stay for the Elvis impersonators, the burps, the mental torment, the murder plots, aliens, and of course the undeniable atrocity of America’s dark history. And sports. It’s got some sports too.”
The film features original interviews with Johnny Ferraro, Deron McBee (‘Malibu’), Michael Horton (‘Gemini’), Lynn ‘Red’ Williams (‘Sabre’), the late William Billy Smith (‘Thunder’) and Salina Bartunek (‘Elektra’).
Watch the trailer for The American Gladiators Documentary.