It was first seen on Australian television in 1995 with hosts Aaron Pedersen and Kimberley Joseph screening for 18 months on Seven before it was revived in 2008 with Tom Williams and Zoe Naylor.
Now 16 years on, Gladiators is back with hosts Beau Ryan and Liz Ellis, this time on 10.
12 Australian and New Zealander athletes, with names like Cobra, Phoenix, Dragon, Halo and Elektra, take to the arena to face off against contenders in games such as Powerball, Pyramid, The Wall and The Eliminator.
Screening as 10’s summer entertainment fare ahead of ratings season, the show lands just a day after the franchise was also revived in Britain, after its last incarnation 15 years ago.
“Maybe in the world at the moment with the way it is, we need heroes, we need fun,” says host Liz Ellis.
“We need television that sort of takes us away from all of the misery that you see when you turn on the news.
“You can have people dressed as superheroes having fun, going up against each other. But it’s a really good spirit.
“When we filmed the show, there was a lot of trash-talk and stuff that goes on before. Sometimes it’s funny. Sometimes it’s like, ‘Oh, my goodness!’ Because you don’t want to fire your opponent up.
“But at the end of it, they all hug and say ‘Well done.’”
The show also nods to its past seasons, with 1995’s Hammer (Mark McGaw) now returning as Referee.
“I remember the ’90s version with Mark McGaw because I was a Rugby League fan, and I just remember them being larger than life,” she recalls.
“I remember seeing little kids pretending to be Gladiators. I just feel like that was a pivotal moment in television, because it was like the first reality franchise to mix sport and entertainment. We’d had the wrestling beforehand, but this was something that was probably accessible.
“Gladiators was so over the top … and the poor contenders getting pummelled. But I remember it was a real family thing, everyone sat down to watch it.”
Ellis, who even admits to failing a dance audition for It’s a Knockout, also acknowledges the high camp and theatre of the production.
“Gladiators didn’t take itself too seriously. So when we went into production for this version there were a couple of things that I wanted to really lean into. For the contenders, this is like a World Cup. They’re fit, they’re strong, they want to test themselves… so you have to respect the athletic component of it. Beau and I were very keen to do that, because we come from athletic backgrounds.
“But you also can’t take the whole thing too seriously, because it’s not the Olympics.”
The cast includes a Hollywood stuntwoman, CrossFit Games athletes, Bodybuilders, UFC mixed martial artists, ex-NRL players, and Ironman Jett Kenny as Viking. In Gladiators they are likened to super-hero characters.
“(Producers) Warner Brothers kept talking about ‘A Marvel-esque universe with characters and costumes really inspired by that.’ When you walk into the arena it looks like this big mythical place with lightning, clouds and golden orbs. So you need the Gladiators costumes to match that,” she continues.
“Chaos is the strongest woman, potentially the strongest person, I’ve ever met. She does have this chaotic energy about her when she’s on the set. Cyclone is a beautiful bloke out of costume, and it took him a while but by the end he was so strong and had grown into his character beautifully.”
Filming of 13 episodes took place at Disney Studios in Sydney in October with Ellis, in her first big entertainment hosting role, crediting co-host Beau Ryan with his generous insight.
“It took a few days to get my brain fit-for-purpose to be able to keep thinking about doing the same thing a different way over and over to give the editors something else to work with. I was really fortunate to have Beau with me because he’s hosted entertainment shows before and he was able to give me a lot of advice. He’s super generous, super fun to work with, high energy,” she says.
“I often liken him to a big puppy. Way too much energy, but funny as! You could mistake that for being scatterbrained, but he’s quite the opposite. He’s got a real knowledge. He’s a craftsman in that respect. He’s done his work. He knows where the edit points are. He knows what they’re trying to do.”
Yet while she’s hoping for further seasons, Ellis is also realistic about what ratings the show may attract during summer. Then again, it’s also someone else’s problem.
“I had a great sports producer years ago who just said, ‘Don’t worry about ratings. As a host or as a commentator, you just worry about producing sport.’ So I all I cared about was doing my best, learning with Beau, showcasing the contenders, allowing the Gladiators to grow into their personalities and I think we’ve done that.”
Gladiators screens 7:30pm Monday – Wednesday on 10.