UPDATED - Interviews and photos: 'American Ninja Warrior' returns to OKC and state Capitol
UPDATED 1:15 p.m. Sunday, April 14: Due to heavy rains, Saturday night's "American Ninja Warrior" filming has been delayed to tonight. To request tickets, go to on-camera-audiences.com/shows/American_Ninja_Warrior.
An abbreviated version of this story appears in Saturday's The Oklahoman.
As seen on TV: 'American Ninja Warrior' returns to state Capitol
The state Capitol steps were adorned Friday evening with a sequence of elaborate temporary attractions sporting unlikely names like the “Salmon Ladder,” “Fly Wheels” and “Warped Wall.”
A splash zone was also in effect as final preparations were made for two nights of filming on the television show “American Ninja Warrior.”
“In this one, for example, when they’re hanging upside down, they’re hanging about 18 feet over a 4-foot pool of water, which is entirely safe, but fairly intimidating,” said executive producer Anthony Storm Friday evening just hours before filming was to begin.
“We’re bringing a show that’s better than ever this year. We’ve made lots of really exciting changes and we’re thrilled to be able to bring this thing back and have some fun summer programming.”
Producers, medics and designers – and higher up, the “The Guardian” statue atop the Capitol dome – oversaw the action as a series of test warriors tried out the new obstacles featured in this season’s OKC obstacle course. Several hopefuls struggled to get into the swing of the “Tricky Trajectory” - which lived up to its name and sent many a challenger plunging into the chilly waters below – while other testers went bananas trying to stick the complicated landing on the “Coconut Climb.”
He confirmed that Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt’s Wednesday run at the course, which resulted in a bloodied elbow for the former CEO, is believed to be the first time a governor has attempted an “American Ninja Warrior” course.
“He’s certainly the first one to get through a few obstacles – spoiler alert,” Storm said with a grin. “he looked pretty darn good out there.”
The producer said the “traveling circus aspect” is part of the appeal of “American Ninja Warrior,” which is filming for its 11th season overall and eighth to air on NBC.
The show follows competitors as they traverse challenging obstacle courses in qualifying and finals rounds in various cities around the country. Top competitors in each of the city finals rounds move on to the national finals, where they compete on a four-stage course that includes multiple obstacles on each stage. The winner, who must complete all four stages, will earn the grand prize of $1 million.
It's the production’s second visit to the state Capitol, where it previously filmed in 2016.
“A lot of it has to do with scale. Our course, as you can see, is large, so it requires a backdrop that gives it the proper scale. If we put this in the parking lot, all you see is the course, and you don’t get any context of the size of it,” Storm said.
“If we put it in front of this magnificent building in all of its majesty, you get more of a sense not only of place … but also of the scope and the scale of the course itself.”
Each of the 10 obstacles in this year’s OKC course towers about 20 feet tall. It takes about 10 days to set up, film on and break down the course.
“It’s about 20 18-wheelers that hit the road and carry all this stuff with us. That’s what it takes to move this thing from place to place,” Storm said. “
“The show means so much to so many people across the country. And we’ve always said that it’s a platform for everyday people to do extraordinary things. And everyday people live in every part of this country, so if we don’t visit every region of this country, then we’re going to miss some of those really special people.
“And yes, we could probably invite them to come to us. But then we don’t get the flavor of all of these spectacular cities like Oklahoma City.”
The show’s second OKC stop in such short order speaks volumes about the people in our state, said Tava Maloy Sofsky, director of the Oklahoma Film + Music Office.
“An estimated 50-plus local crew are being employed, and over 200 out-of-state crew members are occupying an estimated 2,200 hotel room nights in Oklahoma City in only 10 days, which boasts an economic impact worth bragging about,” she said.
On Thursday, the production visited several additional OKC landmarks to shoot footage and capture the excitement of the show’s local fans. Rodeo Cinema Executive Director Kim Haywood encountered the crew filming in Stockyards City.
“The exposure our city gets from the show filming here is point of pride for us Okies because it showcases the immense growth that has taken place in OKC over the past decade,” she said. “The people of Oklahoma City have worked passionately to put ourselves and our city on the map so the selection of OKC as an official location is a testament to years of hard work.”
The “American Ninja Warrior” crew and competitors can relate to hard work. Since it airs at night, that’s when the show films, and 100 contenders were to take on the obstacle course Friday night, with the top 30 or 35 to continue in the competition Saturday.
“It’s important to us that our audience have a feeling that they’re watching a live sports event. That’s always the feeling that we’re going for, so in order to achieve that we shoot only at night. But we don’t shoot in real time – no TV show does except for maybe a game show – so it takes us from sundown to sunup to complete a night of competition, which asks a lot of our competitor,” Storm said. “Many of them are running at 4 in the morning, but that’s the game. It’s so exciting to be out here competing that they’re willing to make that sacrifice.”
“American Ninja Warrior,” which will include episodes filmed in Oklahoma City, will launch its eighth season on NBC with its summer premiere at 7 p.m. Wednesday, May 29. The show then will move to its regular time slot from 7 to 9 p.m. Monday, June 10.
Filming began in March with the Los Angeles and Atlanta city qualifying rounds, before coming to Oklahoma City, with filming continuing in Baltimore, Seattle/Tacoma, Cincinnati and finally, Las Vegas for the show’s national finals.