BattleBots is an American competition television series. Competitors design and operate remote-controlled armed and armored machines designed to fight in an arena combat elimination tournament. For five seasons, BattleBots aired on the American Comedy Central and was hosted by Bil Dwyer, Sean Salisbury, and Tim Green. The first season aired starting in August 2000, and the fifth season aired starting in June 2002.
A six-episode revival premiered on ABC on June 21, 2015 to generally favorable reviews
BattleBots is an offshoot of the original American version of Robot Wars, the brainchild of Marc Thorpe. Robot Wars had financial backing from Sme communications, a New York record company. The Thorpe/Sme partnership broke up in 1997, starting many years of legal wrangling between Thorpe and Profile Records (the former Sme communications). Profile licensed Robot Wars to a UK production company and Robot Wars ran for seven years as a popular television program in the UK.
The robot builders left behind in San Francisco formed BattleBots, Inc. and began a series of competitions. The first was held in Long Beach, California in August 1999 and streamed online, attracting 40,000 streams. Lenny Stucker, a television producer known for his work on telecasts of professional boxing, was in attendance, and showed interest in being involved with BattleBots—believing the concept of robot combat was “hip” and having shown an interest in technology. Stucker made changes to the competition’s format and presentation to make it more suitable for television, including elements reminiscent of boxing (such as a red and blue corner) and shifting to a single-elimination format. The creators tried selling the competition as a television series to networks such as CBS, NBC, HBO, and Showtime—but they failed to understand the concept of the program nor take it seriously. A second event was held as a pay-per-view in Las Vegas in 1999; the PPV was in turn, used as a pilot to pitch the show again, with a higher rate of success.
Among the networks interested was Comedy Central, who would ultimately pick up the program. Debbie Liebling, the network’s Senior Vice President of original programming and development, felt that the concept would appeal to the network’s young adult demographic, explaining that “it was really funny, and really nerdy. The Internet was not a big thing yet, so the nerd culture wasn’t so celebrated. It was sports for the nerdy person, I guess.” Co-creator Greg Munson viewed the deal as a double-edged sword; it gave BattleBots an outlet and a larger budget, but Comedy Central insisted on the addition of comedic elements to BattleBots as a program, such as sketches involving contestants, although the bouts and competition itself was not affected by this mandate. Liebling described the product as being “a parody of a sports show without being a parody”. Munson also noted that Comedy Central “rarely” followed his suggestion of having “attractive geek girls” with sufficient knowledge to speak with builders as co-hosts, electing to keep “throwing bigger and better hot babes at it”, such as Carmen Electra.
Despite this, viewership and awareness of BattleBots grew progressively over time; contestants Christian Carlberg and Lisa Winter would be invited to appear on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, BattleBots beat South Park as Comedy Central’s highest-rated program for a period during season 3, competitor interest grew, and licensing deals also emerged. The success of BattleBots, however, resulted in competition from other broadcasters; TLC introduced a competing program, Robotica, while other channels imported episodes of the British Robot Wars series.