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NBC accelerates 'The Contender' to November debut, matching Fox's copycat show


By Wade Paulsen, 07/14/2004 

If you can't beat them, don't let them beat you. That appears to be NBC's new motto for dealing with the reality-TV copycats at Fox.

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During the Television Critics Tour last week, NBC Entertainment President Kevin Reilly announced that the Peacock Network would move the debut of its reality-competition boxing show, The Contender, from midseason to November -- which is, not coincidentally, when Fox planned to debut its copycat show, The Next Great Champ.

By speeding up the launch of its original show, NBC, which won a bidding war against Fox for the rights to The Contender, avoids looking like the copycat -- the impression that Fox has been trying to create with such efforts as the early release of the contestant list for The Next Great Champ. In addition, The Contender will get a chance to find its audience in the Tuesday at 8 PM ET/PT time slot before the head-to-head showdown with Fox's American Idol begins in January.

Said Reilly, "All of us will see ourselves in these would-be champs who are just looking for a chance to succeed." Of course, executive producer Mark Burnett is doing a little more than that in his quest to succeed instead of the Fox gang of reality-show thieves.

So far, Burnett has lined up co-producers Sylvester Stallone (aka "Rocky Balboa") and Jeffrey Katzenberg (the "K" in DreamWorks SKG), host Sugar Ray Leonard, "special adviser" George Foreman, and "den mother" Jackie Kallen. By contrast, The Next Great Champ is produced by Endemol USA and has announced only its host, Oscar de la Hoya.

However, NBC Universal Television Group President Jeff Zucker acknowledged that Fox's show probably would still reach the airwaves first, since The Contender will not start until after the conclusion of Last Comic Standing 3, while The Next Great Champ will begin as soon as the 2004 World Series concludes. Nevertheless, giving the Fox clone a headstart of a couple of weeks is less daunting to NBC than conceding it a headstart of a couple of months.

The Contender will trace professional boxers through training camp over 15 episodes, and the final victor will win $1 million. The series has now completed its nationwide search for contestants

Burnett, who became famous as the executive producer of CBS's Survivor, recently delivered a knockout hit with NBC's The Apprentice, the 2003-04 television season's #1 new show among Adults 18-49 and total viewers.

Katzenberg and DreamWorks Television also are producing NBC's new CGI-animated Father of the Pride as well as the returning drama hit Las Vegas.

The Contender will be a joint production of Mark Burnett Productions, DreamWorks Television and Rogue Marble. Burnett is the executive producer.

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