How American Ninja Warrior Is Like The Olympics Before The 2021 Tokyo Games

american ninja warrior season 13 brett sims nbc
(Image credit: NBC)

NBC is the place to be on network TV this summer for the best of the best of athletes thanks to the upcoming 2021 Summer Olympics and, of course, Season 13 of American Ninja Warrior. The Olympics were originally planned for the summer of 2020, but the delay of the Games due to the pandemic meant that fans have been waiting a whole extra year to see elite athletes from all over the world compete for gold. Ninja Warrior returned earlier in the summer with some revolutionary new changes, and executive producer Arthur Smith opened up about how the show is like the Olympics.

American Ninja Warrior, which is produced by A. Smith and Co., delivers an obstacle course that brings out athletes who come from all kinds of backgrounds and face the challenges with all kinds of different strengths, ages, body types, and more. And while viewers may not see the likes of the Split Decision and Warped Wall challenges when the Olympians take the field in Tokyo starting in late July, there are definitely ways that the two competitions are similar.

Executive producer Arthur Smith spoke with CinemaBlend about Ninja Warrior, and he weighed in on why the show is a good way to get primed for the Olympics:

I've been in sports and entertainment for a long time. Our company [A. Smith and Co.] has been around for 20 years. We do a wide variety of programs, Hell's Kitchen on Fox, Welcome to Plathville on TLC. We also do The Titan Games with NBC, also with Dwayne Johnson. And so we're all over the place. But my background is sports. I started as a sports producer and I produced three Olympic Games. When Ninja first started, we were doing the show on G4, a little fledgling network called G4. We first looked at the Japanese version of the show. I got very excited about the everyday person who was on the show, and I remember we had a meeting when the show started, and I used the Olympics as an example. I used to say, 'Just like the Olympics, we are going to make people care about these athletes.' And we all love the experience of watching the myriad of sports during the Olympics, but it's amazing how we care about athletes and sports that we never watch at any other time. I really wanted to make sure that we sold who the athletes are, and a lot of times, Ninja is the type of show that you can join in progress.

Considering the size and spectacle of American Ninja Warrior on NBC nowadays, it's easy to forget that the show started on a tiny cable network and had to grow to the hit show (complete with hit spinoffs and even a video game) that it is today. And the Olympics were used as an example of what Ninja Warrior could bring to television from the very beginning, before its premiere back in late 2009.

Fans know well that American Ninja Warrior competitors are given the spotlight to not only show off what they can do on the course, but also their stories and their personalities, making it easy to root for people like superhero stuntwoman Jessie Graff, worship leader and trainer Daniel Gil, the young teens who have joined the series in Season 13, and many more.

So, the show provides reasons to root for these athletes beyond how fast and strong they are in the relatively small amount of time that they're actually on the course. Executive producer Arthur Smith continued, saying:

Every run is kind of a show within itself. You get the introduction of the athlete, you see the athlete run the course, you have resolution, you have a whole story and a complete story in five or six minutes. And I think it's a very digestible way to watch. I hear about parents, who've got young kids, and the show runs from 8 to 10 [p.m.]. I've heard this story a number of times, is that they go 'One more! One more! Can I just watch one more?' Because you can watch it like that.

I for one remember asking the exact same question of my parents when it came to watching the Olympics as a child, so it's only fitting that kids growing up in the American Ninja Warrior era have similar reactions to seeing incredible athletes showing off what they can do. It's also a family-friendly show, as even the most heartbreaking falls leave the athletes splashing into water rather than anything damaging. So, is American Ninja Warrior Season 13 a good way to get primed and hyped for the 2021 Olympics in Tokyo? Arthur Smith summed it up:

Because of the way Ninja is produced, and the way that we tell stories, people get invested in athletes and the quality of the competition. I think it's a great way to warm up before you watch the Olympic Games with NBC and then after the Olympics are over on NBC, I think it's great to come back to Ninja to kind of seize that appetite for great story and great competition.

The 2021 Olympics begin in late July and conclude in early August, but there's no need to wait weeks for more American Ninja Warrior, and the show will in fact run beyond the end of the Tokyo Games. Season 13 started in May and will run into September on NBC, with new episodes on Mondays at 9 p.m. ET. Plenty of athletes are still on the way as the coming obstacles get more and more challenging, so be sure to tune in both before and after the Olympics.

For some additional viewing options now and in the coming weeks, you can check out our 2021 summer TV premiere schedule. If you've missed the early episodes of American Ninja Warrior Season 13, you can find the episodes that have released so far streaming on both Peacock and Hulu. ANW already made franchise history this season by opening the competition up to athletes as young as 15, and more never-before-seen twists could definitely be on the way.

Laura Hurley
Senior Content Producer

Laura turned a lifelong love of television into a valid reason to write and think about TV on a daily basis. She's not a doctor, lawyer, or detective, but watches a lot of them in primetime. CinemaBlend's resident expert and interviewer for One Chicago, the galaxy far, far away, and a variety of other primetime television. Will not time travel and can cite multiple TV shows to explain why. She does, however, want to believe that she can sneak references to The X-Files into daily conversation (and author bios).