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 that they were clean and that they could be tested at any time.
NBCU co-chairman Ben Silverman confirmed the testing but declined to comment further.
NBC insiders said 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 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 Jan. 6, a Sunday. A network source admitted that the number beat internal projections, which were in the low-four range.
A second episode the next night did a strong 4.8. Silverman said NBC was especially excited because the Monday airing held up against college football’s BCS Championship Game on Fox.
"We were thrilled that it did so well because you can’t have much more in-demo competition than that," he added.
NBC did benefit, however, from a generally lackluster Ohio State-LSU game that failed to generate much buzz and was down 23% from last year’s Ohio State-Florida title game.
Silverman will stack two of his remakes into one night Feb. 17, when the season finale of Gladiators leads into a two-hour Knight Rider remake. And more original episodes are on the way, with NBC already extending its order.
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 said, "It couldn’t have been only nostalgia when one-half of the viewers hadn’t been born yet."