Universal Kids has set the premiere date for “American Ninja Warrior Junior,” with Olympic gold medal gymnast Laurie Hernandez set to join the show as co-host, Variety has learned exclusively.
Hernandez joins previously announced hosts Matt Iseman and Akbar Gbajabiamila (pictured below), with the “American Ninja Warrior” spinoff set to bow on Oct. 13 at 7 p.m. on Universal Kids, NBCUniversal’s cable network for kids 2-12.
The series features real kids taking on the iconic course. Nearly 200 boy and girl Junior Ninjas from across the U.S. will face off on the same head-to-head courses in three age brackets: 9 & 10, 11 & 12, and 13 & 14 year olds. The courses will feature well-known Ninja Warrior obstacles, including Sonic Swing, Tic Toc, Spin Cycle, and the Warped Wall. Each age bracket will be mentored by All Star Ninja Mentors – Kevin Bull, Drew Drechsel, Natalie Duran, Meagan Martin, Najee Richardson, and Barclay Stockett. Three final winners (one per age bracket) will be crowned the first ever “American Ninja Warrior Junior” champions.
NBC’s “American Ninja Warrior” was nominated for three Emmy’s this year including best reality competition program, outstanding directing for a reality program and outstanding picture editing for a structured or competition reality program.
“At Universal Kids, we see kids as they see themselves and want to share their stories,” said Deirdre Brennan, general manager of Universal Kids. “‘American Ninja Warrior Junior’ celebrates a kid-centric movement that everyone can be a part of and enjoy together. Kids are already deeply connected to the primetime ‘American Ninja Warrior’ on NBC – young people across the US have been caught up in the spirit of this incredible show and they’ve been asking for the opportunity to get more involved. Now they can. ‘American Ninja Warrior Junior’ is fun and inclusive. It’s thrilling to watch but has incredible heart- Matt, Akbar and Laurie capture this feeling so well. This show will encourage and inspire all kids to push their limits and not shy away from challenges, because there is always success in trying. Arthur, Kent and their talented team at A. Smith & Co. have built ‘American Ninja Warrior Junior’ to be something truly special for audiences, from the course design to casting. They’ve embraced the show’s youngest fans with total respect for who these kids are and what they can do.”
The series is based on the global hit “Sasuke” from Tokyo Broadcasting System Television, which is now in its 35th season in Japan. The series is executive produced by A. Smith & Co. Productions founders Arthur Smith and Kent Weed along with Matt Cahoon. Smith is also the CEO of A. Smith & Co. Productions.
“Over the last number of years, we have received an outpouring of letters and videos asking when is there going to be a Ninja show for kids? Well, the time is now! People are going to be amazed at how talented and dedicated these young ninjas are,” said Smith. “To see the looks of determination and delight on their faces, some of whom have been training for half their lives, just captures the magic of the American Ninja Warrior franchise. They’re remarkable, and to know that they’ve been inspired by our show is immensely gratifying.”