NBC executives may have been juiced over American Gladiators' stellar debut, but the gladiators themselves were all natural. That's because NBC Universal subjected the gladiators to steroid testing before they could appear on the show.
The 12 cast members were tested as part of their medical examinations and then required to sign a document saying they were clean and that they could be tested at any time.
NBC Universal co-chairman Ben Silverman confirms the testing, but declined to comment further.
NBC insiders say the testing was done more for medical reasons than anything else.
But the analysis comes as performance-enhancing drugs continue to hold the attention of officials—and fans—around the sports world.
Gladiators debuted on Jan. 6, the same night baseball pitcher Roger Clemens appeared on 60 Minutes to discuss the allegations that came forth from the Mitchell Report, the examination of performance-enhancing drugs in baseball that implicated some of the sport's biggest stars.
NBC wanted no such problems. In fact, the self-titled "captain" of the gladiators and the one who cracked his neck at the end of promos for the show has a history of speaking out against doping. Michael O'Hearn, whose name on the show is "Titan," is a four-time Mr. Natural Universe who actually authored a book called Proven Techniques for Drug Free Bodybuilders.
Ratings for the Gladiators remake didn't need any artificial help. The show had the biggest debut of any rookie this season with a 5.9 rating on Jan. 6, a Sunday. A network source admitted that beat internal projections, which were in the low-four range.
A second episode the next night did a strong 4.8. Silverman says NBC was especially excited because the Monday airing held up against college football's championship game on Fox.
"We were thrilled it did so well, because you can't have much more in-demo competition than that," he says.
NBC did benefit, however, from a generally lackluster Ohio State-Louisiana State game that failed to generate much buzz and was down 23% from last year's Ohio State-Florida title game.
The network thinks it won't get a real read on the show's popularity for another week or two once more originals show up and sampling subsides. Silverman will wait a while before increasing his order.
Silverman will stack two of his remakes into one night on Feb. 17, when the season finale of Gladiators leads into a two-hour Knight Rider remake.
The young audience composition for Gladiators is due in large part to viewers who hadn't seen the original, a syndicated show that ran from 1989-96 but still airs in repeats on ESPN Classic.
But Silverman says, "It couldn't have been only nostalgia when half the viewers hadn't been born yet."