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NBC pumps up for ‘Gladiators’ redo

Competition show revived for midseason

NBC is getting into the ring with “American Gladiators,” which has been revived by the Peacock for midseason.

The competition skein — which featured players with names like Nitro, Turbo and Laser in its campy, early ’90s syndie incarnation — will be updated for the 21st century with new technology and twists. MGM TV, which was behind the original hit, is producing along with Reveille.

Peacock’s interest in the revival actually predates the arrival of NBC Entertainment/Universal Media Studios co-chairman Ben Silverman, who began developing the project while still in charge of Reveille. Net confirmed last month that “Gladiator” was a priority at the net (Daily Variety, July 16).

“We’ve been circling around this property for a long time now,” said Craig Plestis, exec VP of alternative programming, development and specials at NBC Entertainment. “It’s truly what’s not in the TV landscape right now. While everyone’s zigging, I’m attracted to doing a zag.”

Net wouldn’t confirm the episodic order, but at least six segs are believed to be in the works. NBC could opt to launch the show as a one-week strip — similar to how it bowed “Deal or No Deal” — or as a weekly skein.

Airing in syndication from 1989-96, “American Gladiators” focused on physically fit amateur athletes who competed against the show’s regulars (action stars, stunt professionals and pro athletes) in various physical strength and endurance competitions.

The show hit it big by showcasing David vs. Goliath-style battles in events such as the Joust, the Wall, the Eliminator and Hang Tough. Coincidentally, the original “Gladiators” shot its first several seasons at Universal Studios.

Plestis said he was particularly interested in the original U.K. version of “Gladiators,” which focused even more on the characters and the behind-the-scenes stories of common folk going up against the show’s powerful stars. The new “Gladiators,” he said, “will have the scale, scope, different characters and family drama that the U.K. version had.”

“We’re not going to completely reinvent the wheel here,” he said. “But we’re making it better, faster and stronger.”

Show will follow eight gladiators — four men and four women — as they take on contestants both male and female. This time, in a new wrinkle, the players will be given the opportunity to train for their match — and viewers will be given a glimpse of their personalities prior to the actual competish.

MGM Worldwide TV co-prexy Jim Packer said reviving “Gladiators” was part of a strategy to mine the company’s library and revive franchises for a new generation of TV viewers. Repeats of the original show are currently posting decent ratings on ESPN Classic, he noted.

“The timing to bring the franchise back is perfect, and NBC is the ideal home,” Packer said. “It’s a very big, grandiose type of show.”

In the 10 years after “Gladiators” went off the air, Reveille managing director Mark Koops said, shows like “Fear Factor” raised the bar for stunt-driven shows, and thus it’s more important than ever to find contestants with compelling backstories. Producers are currently scouting for new gladiators and hosts in addition to contestants. Koops will serve as an exec producer.

“Gladiators” marks the first co-production between MGM TV and Reveille. Under their arrangement, MGM Worldwide will handle international sales of the show, while Reveille will be in charge (with MGM’s assistance) of selling new locally produced editions around the world.

Koops said Reveille is close to making several international deals, including co-productions in Australia and the U.K.

Besides Koops, exec producers include Reveille’s Howard Owens, as well as “Fear Factor” alum David Hurwitz and original series creator Johnny Ferraro.

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