Ben Berman Talks About His ESPN ’30 For 30: The American Gladiators Documentary’

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Documentarian Ben Berman joined me for a chat about his new two part series on ESPN’s ‘30 for 30: The American Gladiators Documentary‘ airs May 30 and 31, 2023, on ESPN and streaming on ESPN+.

The ‘American Gladiators‘ was a fringe sport that was shunned by the mainstream media and embraced by the American people. Former professional athletes turned gladiators would face off weekly against contenders trying to upstage the larger than life behemoths with names like Zap, Laser, Dallas, Nitro, Gemini, Thunder, Viper, Siren, Ice and Malibu.

However, what we saw on TV was only the tip of the iceberg as behind the scenes, the ‘American Gladiators‘ origin story was not the Hollywood fantasy that co-creator, Johnny Ferraro wanted everyone to believe. Ferraro was an Elvis impersonator hoping to the turn the ‘American Gladiators‘ into a movie about the working man turned hero…or so he claimed.

Berman takes us through a two part in depth dive of who the actual creators were, why Ferraro is so secretive about his associates and co-creator, “Apache” Dan Carr was not originally allowed to speak with Berman and ESPN regarding the 30 for 30 documentary.

Follow Ben German on Instagram @horse_berman and Twitter @Horse_Berman.

ESPN’s ‘30 for 30: The American Gladiators Documentary‘ airs May 30 and 31, 2023, on ESPN and streaming on ESPN+.

American Gladiators Co-Creator John Ferraro.

Synopsis:

From 1989 to 1996, American Gladiators was one of the most popular syndicated programs in television, a competition show that predated the reality TV era but used many of the same techniques to attract viewers. Every week, “amateur” contestants would go up against a cast of “professional” gladiators in a range of physical competitions, setting up David versus Goliath matchups that were popular with big television audiences but also earned considerable criticism for being “crash TV”. The show’s cast and crew look back on it all, with their memories complicated by regret over what it did to many of the gladiators’ lives. And as the behind-the-scenes story of the series is told, from the beginning of the film, the central, most compelling character of the story is clear: Johnny Ferraro, the creator of American Gladiators, a former Elvis impersonator from Erie, PA who came to Hollywood with a dream of putting the show on screen and ended up with a singular success.

“We’re very excited to finally get this story out into the world, and you can trust that it’ll take you to some weird places,” said Berman. “Come for the 90’s nostalgia, but stay for the Elvis impersonators, the burps, the mental torment, the murder plots, aliens, and of course the undeniable atrocity of America’s dark history. And sports. It’s got some sports too.”

The film features original interviews with Johnny Ferraro, Deron McBee (‘Malibu’), Michael Horton (‘Gemini’), Lynn ‘Red’ Williams (‘Sabre’), the late William Billy Smith (‘Thunder’) and Salina Bartunek (‘Elektra’). The documentary is executive produced by ESPN Films and VICE Studios and produced by Ben Berman, Kirk Johnson, Russell Wayne Groves, Danny Gabai and Andrew Freston. Advance press screeners, additional information, including film clips and director statements and bios, are available upon request. Follow 30 for 30 on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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