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NBC schedules 'The Contender' for heavyweight showdown with FOX's 'American Idol'


By Reality TV World staff, 05/18/2004 

Fresh off this winter's successful strategy of moving producer Mark Burnett's The Apprentice series to Thursdays at 9PM versus television's top-ranked CSI series after Apprentice was pummeled in its originally scheduled Wednesday 8PM time period by FOX's American Idol, NBC and Mark Burnett have announced that they want a rematch -- and this time they'll be bringing another of Burnett's new shows, his much-hyped The Contender series, to the showdown.

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NBC introduced its new prime-time schedule for the 2004-05 season yesterday, but its biggest reality programming news announcement had little to do with its fall schedule. In announcing its Tuesday programming lineup, NBC revealed that its popular Average Joe series would be moving to Tuesdays at 8PM ET/PT for this fall's fourth installment of the show, but the network's bigger reality news was that The Contender, the heavily-hyped boxing series that it announced in February, will premiere as a midseason series in the Tuesday 9PM time period following the conclusion of next fall's Average Joe 4.

The Contender's scheduling as a Tuesday 8PM midseason series puts it straight in the expected path of FOX's January 2005 fourth American Idol season, making this the second time that NBC is scheduling a Mark Burnett reality show to air versus the FOX ratings goliath. Last winter's The Apprentice series was also originally scheduled to regularly air in the Wednesday 8PM time period versus American Idol after two special Thursday night broadcasts of the program's first two episodes. However, once Apprentice's third episode broadcast was pummeled in a direct matchup with Idol, the network quickly returned it to the Thursday night NBC lineup where it had previously debuted strongly (and where it once again resumed its strong performances, even when matched head-to head with CBS' top-ranked CSI.)

Perhaps sensing that in light of this season's controversial voting decisions, the public's appetite for the FOX reality hit might be waning -- or perhaps just emboldened by its Apprentice success -- NBC is speaking much more boastfully for now. "Mark is fully on board and is incredibly excited about the schedule," NBC President Jeff Zucker told the audience attending the schedule announcement at Radio City Music Hall. "With regards to American Idol, we're not gonna roll over as we have the past two years. We think that in The Contender, we have the next great unscripted drama."

Of course, considering The Contender is still conducting its initial auditions, it remains to be determined whether that confidence might be misplaced. After all, Mark Burnett was also calling the third reality show he produces for NBC, The Restaurant, a "great unscripted drama" not so long ago... and NBC pulled it from the airwaves this past weekend.

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