‘American Ninja Warrior’ Continues to Evolve in Unscripted Landscape

Heading into Monday’s season finale, “American Ninja Warrior” is building momentum.

Last week’s episode drew a 1.6 rating in Nielsen’s 18-49 demo, according to live-plus same day numbers, hitting a season high. The ratings surge followed two straight weeks in which the series had tied its previous season peak.

Currently in its ninth season, “American Ninja Warrior” has proven to be a durable and evolving reality staple. The show has outlasted the network on which it launched — the defunct cable channel G4 — and become a mainstay of NBC’s summer programming strategy. A competition show in which athletes wind their way through a complex obstacle course, the series was a precursor to other physical-challenge reality shows such as Netflix’s “Ultimate Beastmaster” and NBC’s own “Spartan: Ultimate Team Challenge.”

“People never seem to get tired of seeing ordinary people – both men and women alike – do extraordinary things,” says Arthur Smith, whose A. Smith and Co. produces the series. “Every year we are blessed with phenomenal stories of human triumph and surprising athleticism. The thing that keeps ‘Ninja’ fresh are the inspiring personal stories and new physical challenges we create as the course continues to evolve.”

On the air for nearly a decade now, “American Ninja Warrior” has seen the talent level of its contestants steadily increase over the years. The volume of people competing to be on the show has also grown. This season, “American Ninja Warrior” had more than 70,000 potential contestants apply.

Whereas the applicant pool used to be made up primarily of generalist athletes and crossfit trainers, many contestants now train specifically for the show. Some have even made it on the air after building their own courses on which to train.

To keep a step ahead of the aspirants, Smith’s fellow exec producer Kent Weed oversees a process every season of evolving the course. “We have a warehouse where obstacles are incepted, tested, and constantly refined,” Smith says. This season, more than two dozen obstacles were added across all seven cities that the show filmed in.

Meanwhile, Smith looks to the other athletic competition shows that have popped up elsewhere and sees the impact that “American Ninja Warrior” has had on the unscripted-television landscape.

“The show has proved a model that sports entertainment can play really well to a broad audience,” he says. “There’s something that is in the DNA of ‘Ninja’ that’s special and relateable to people of all ages and all walks of life and that is why it has become true family entertainment.”

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