ESPN has released an exclusive clip from a new two-part documentary that will shed light on the behind-the-scenes story of the famed reality competition show “American Gladiators.”
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 documentary, which will debut on May 30 and 31 on ESPN and be made available on ESPN+ following its premiere, 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’).
“What we were doing consumed us so much. You lose communication with the world, you lose some private time, you lose some family time,” Horton said in the clip. “I remember one Saturday. I was obligated to stay later and sign autographs. You couldn’t even see the end of the line and I stood out there for hours signing as many autographs as I could. But after eight hours, I just couldn’t do it anymore.”
Horton said that was the moment he told Johnny Ferraro that he wanted to be done and be with his kids.
“He sat me down and said, ‘Mike, no one cares who Michael Horton is. You’re Gemini to these people. Stop trying to be Michael Horton out here’,” he added. “Those moments let me know that I had to become Gemini and I was no longer Michael Horton. Everyone has to make a sacrifice at some point.”
“The American Gladiators Documentary” is executive produced by ESPN Films and VICE Studios and produced by Ben Berman, Kirk Johnson, Russell Wayne Groves, Danny Gabai and Andrew Freston.
“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,” Berman said in a statement. “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 project is the latest installment in ESPN’s Peabody and Emmy award-winning “30 for 30” series.