Premiering in 1989, this precursor to today's reality show phenomenon pitted athletic contestants against the muscle-bound, spandex-clad American Gladiators in games for cash and prizes culminating in a tournament at the season's end. Boasting a heroic theme music by Rocky composer Bill Conti, this was more than just a spectator sport, this was a show that challenged couch potatoes to prove themselves. While the series was initially an enigma to everyone involved, including the Gladiators themselves, the competitive events and mass appeal of the Gladiators saved it from a premature demise. Hosted by former NFL stars Joe Thiesmann (who was eventually replaced by Todd Christensen) and perennial host Mike Adamle, the first season (as with most shows) had its fair share of growing pains. The games and props were not well designed, the Romanesque arena was dimly lit (perhaps to conceal the lack of audience members), the awarding of points was excessive, comical-looking hooded figures initially officiated the games, and the Gladiators were too often forced to stay in character (as opposed to the individual natural charisma exuded in subsequent seasons). Although the show changed drastically throughout the first season, expect to see trademark events such as Breakthrough & Conquer, Joust, and Powerball. The six original Gladiators who ushered in this inaugural season included;
Raye "Zap" Hollitt- This buxom, blonde beauty (who was unceremoniously cropped from the DVD cover image) packed femininity and brawn into a relatively small frame. Hollitt was the only Gladiator to have a fan following prior to the show, having come off the John Ritter comedy film Skin Deep.
Michael "Gemini" Horton- The oldest Gladiator and considered by many as the father figure of the group, Gemini more than compensated for a lack of speed and flexibility with his unmatched intensity and brute strength.
Marisa "Lace" Pare- Although lacking the strength and muscularity of the other female Gladiators, the curly-haired Lace was nevertheless willing to test her mettle against any contestant willing to challenge her deceptively delicate looks.
Deron "Malibu" McBee- Seemingly perfectly cast as the chiseled, long-haired surfer type, Malibu failed to prove he had the athletic prowess necessary to be a true Gladiator and was gone from the show midway through the season.
Cheryl "Sunny" Barldinger- This statuesque stunner used her impressive size and agility to dominate contestants with relative ease while remaining true to her all-American appeal. Unfortunately, an injury in one of the first season events sidelined her career after several episodes.
Dan "Nitro" Clark- Arguably the most popular Gladiator, Nitro was the tough talking braggart who always backed up his words while making the contestants earn his respect. Clark recently wrote about his experiences on the series and his battles with personal demons in the autobiography entitled Gladiator.
While the first season had 26 episodes total, this 3-disc set is comprised of episodes 13 (the mid-season highlights show) through episode 26 (the Grand Championships) for a total of 14 episodes. Shout Factory apparently wanted to keep costs down to attract a larger consumer base, thus the decision to omit the first 12 episodes. Fortunately, the recap episode will suitably bring fans up to speed on the outcomes from the first half of the season. Bonus features include commentaries on 4 episodes and an interview with actor and former contestant, Billy Wirth. Hopefully, this set sells well enough to warrant further season releases featuring fan-favorite Gladiators such as Laser, Diamond, Sabre, Turbo, Ice, Hawk, and many more. Fans who have been clamoring for DVDs of this innovative show have finally gotten their wish. The only thing left to do now is let the games begin!