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ESPN cancels 'The Contender,' expected to land with another network


By Christopher Rocchio, 04/11/2008 

ESPN has apparently decided to knockout The Contender.

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The network has canceled the boxing-themed reality competition series after airing its last two editions, ESPN.com reported Friday.

"It was a hard decision to make. We were talking to [promoter Tournament of Contenders] about a renewal but we couldn't come to terms," ESPN vice president of series development and production Ron Wechsler told ESPN.com. 

"We have the greatest respect for TOC, [executive producer] Jeff Wald, Mark Burnett Productions and DreamWorks and we stand by the quality of the show.  But it's a very competitive marketplace and the ratings weren't as strong as they were the year prior."

However The Contender fans shouldn't fret just yet, as the show's producers are apparently in the process of cutting a deal for it to air on another network.

"We're sorry it didn't work out at ESPN, but we're in the process of making another deal," Wald told ESPN.com, declining to specifically mention which network he was negotiating with. "Hopefully, the deal we are working on will be closed in the next few days. The Contender is the show that will not die."

While The Contender might refuse to die, it apparently won't be living on HBO or Showtime anytime soon. 

An HBO representative told Broadcasting & Cable that the network is not interested in The Contender; while Showtime sports and event programming executive Ken Hershman also characterized his network acquiring The Contender as "unlikely."

"The show is a success with the fans and it became that without much marketing or promotion," Wald told ESPN.com.  "With the exception of Ron, who was in our corner from day one, the show was mishandled right from the beginning."

"Mishandled" may be a bit of an understatement.

NBC ordered the Mark Burnett-created reality boxing show in early 2004.  That July, NBC announced plans to move The Contender's debut from midseason to November -- the exact same month that Fox was planning to debut The Next Great Champ, a The Contender knockoff that Fox had ordered after losing a bidding war for Burnett's series.  Fox countered NBC's move by moving its Champ knockoff even further up, to a September 2004 debut. 

Since Burnett's show -- at the time, the most expensive new reality show ever produced -- couldn't be ready in time for a September premiere, The Next Great Champ ended up beating The Contender to the airwaves.  However the Fox show tanked in the ratings and was quickly pulled off the air and dumped on the media conglomerate's Fox Sports Net network of regional cable sports channels. 

Meanwhile The Contender -- which ended up being an expensive ratings flop that is believed to have lost NBC millions of dollars -- eventually premiered in February 2005 but lasted only one season on NBC before moving on to ESPN, which eventually debuted the show's second season in Spring 2006.

Sakio Bika scored an eighth-round TKO against Jaidon Codrington to win The Contender's third-season crown during last November's live finale broadcast on ESPN.

"The show ended on a high note with an amazing fight," Wechsler told ESPN.om of Bika-Codrington. "We're proud of our involvement in the series and the people who participated in the show. That some of these guys are fighting in these important fights shows their viability outside the series."

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