Gladiators (ITV, 1992-2000)
This was the action game show based on American format where contestants competed against the mighty Gladiators in the challenge to prove who is the best. The presenters were Ulrika Jonsson and John Fashanu, and Jeremy Guscott also hosted a series.
Each edition of Gladiators was an hour long, took place in an arena in front of a big crowd, and featured competitions for male and female contestants. The idea was that the contestants would take part in various games against the clock to score points while the Gladiators would try and stop them. The games would also feature breathless commentary by John Sachs and a referee who seemed to endlessly blow his whistle.
There were a variety of games on offer. Some of the most memorable ones were Atlaspheres, where contestants were encased in a large sphere and had to roll over targets to score points, Powerball, where contestants had to swing on ropes to collect balls and put them in their basket for points, and most famously Duel, a one-on-one battle with a Gladiator to try and knock them off their stand in 30 seconds.
The contestants would then take their points to the Eliminator. The leading contestant would be given a half-second head start for every point that they were ahead. The final was essentially an obstacle course, with the winner who successfully negotiated the final and toughest obstacle going through to the next round, and there were some exciting finishes.
Gladiators went on to be a big success with viewers, especially younger ones, and ITV was thrilled to have a Saturday night hit on their hands. I was among those who did like to watch the show regularly in the 90s. Naturally ITV started to milk the format somewhat, with a lot of the Gladiators such as Jet, Warrior and many others going on to become stars themselves and appearing in several other programmes.
There would go on to be several variations of the Gladiators format, including a version featuring child contestants on CITV called Train 2 Win, plus many others including celebrity specials, and international versions. Unsurprisingly there was a lot of merchandise released including many toys and VHSs and when the show went on tour lots of people turned up to watch their heroes. And of course, they were all given those oversized sponge hand things which supposedly create an exciting atmosphere.
However, the show did begin to run out of steam by the end. The final series was a special champion of champions version that was exclusively shown only on the OnDigital platform, which was then shown on ITV a few months later in a rather minor slot at the end of 1999 which brought the run to an end after seven action-packed years.
Somewhat inevitably there was a revival about a decade after the original run of Gladiators ended, but the idea was about a decade past its best by then. It is still fondly remembered by lots of viewers though, and there have been repeats on Challenge on the early series when it really was a successful show.