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'The Contender' suffers a ratings knockdown in its first Sunday broadcast


By Wade Paulsen, 03/15/2005 

NBC's aggressive launch strategy for its reality-competition boxing show The Contender took a hard hit to the body on Sunday, March 13, when the third episode -- but the first episode in its intended time slot (Sunday at 8 PM ET/PT) -- hit the airwaves with a resounding thud.

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Although the ratings for The Contender in its first episode (aired Monday, March 7) and its second episode (aired Thursday, March 10) did not deliver the type of numbers that NBC may have wished for, the numbers were solid in certain demographics (particularly Men 18-34), and the show showed promise in other areas (especially Adults 18-49, the most-desired demographic). On both nights, The Contender was top-ranked in Men 18-34 and second-ranked in Adults 18-49 in competitive time slots.

After that start, the third episode, which featured the anticipated grudge match between Ishe Smith and Ahmed Kaddour, was viewed as a critical test of whether the audience would stay with the show. While The Contender didn't conclusively fail, its production executives also aren't celebrating over its performance. The overall rating for Sunday's timeslot debut in Adults 18-49 was only 2.7/7, meaning that it drew just a 7% share of the younger adult audience. By comparison, its first two episodes had drawn a 4.0/10 and a 4.7/12 share in Adults 18-49.

In total, only about 6.7 million viewers watched the show, a significant drop from the 8 to 9 million that had watched the first two episodes. By contrast, ABC's competing reality show, Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, drew a 7.7/18 in Adults 18-49, with 18.4 million total viewers. Although The Contender outperformed NBC's previously-scheduled American Dreams in the time period among Adults 18-49, a fourth-place finish in that demographic in the time slot (also trailing Fox's The Simpsons and CBS's older-skewing Cold Case) isn't the type of performance that NBC expected of a show that is costing it $2 million an episode.

For now, NBC is vowing to keep The Contender in its Sunday night time slot. However, these ratings raise the possiblity that Sunday night is not alright for fighting (unlike, say, Saturday night). NBC previously has had to make scheduling adjustments with reality shows, and these numbers indicate that The Contender also might benefit from such a move.

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