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NBC to air special Easter Sunday 'The Contender' recap episode


By Wade Paulsen, 03/25/2005 

NBC announced today that it would add a special "recap edition" of its The Contender reality-competition boxing show, to be shown on Sunday, March 27 (Easter Sunday) at 7PM ET/PT. This special edition will serve as the lead-in to the show's regularly scheduled 8PM broadcast of its fifth episode..

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According to Contender executive producer Mark Burnett, "Due to tremendous feedback from our fans, we decided to offer a second look at the achievements of these brave warriors. The episode showcases the first four fights of our series. You will see the impressive wins of Alfonzo Gomez, Jesse Brinkley, Ishe Smith and Sergio Mora."

Intermixed with the fighting will be new footage and comments from show co-hosts Sylvester Stallone and Sugar Ray Leonard. Stallone told TV Guide that the recap would start with "me interviewing the wives, showing a different aspect, and then Sugar Ray and I will be recapping the four wonderful battles in the ring. We will sit there with the four winners and analyze what they did. You are going to meet them up close and personal."

Why the recap? According to Stallone's comments, one reason is that the show's premiere was disrupted by the "nuclear weapons" (Stallone's term) dropped on it by other networks. To disrupt its scheduled premiere on Monday, March 7, CBS pulled new episodes of its hits Two and a Half Men and CSI: Miami out of February sweeps -- costing itself vital (and expensive) sweeps ratings simply to disrupt NBC's Contender premiere. Then, to compete with the show's first Sunday night airing, ABC aired a special two-hour edition of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, its only Top 10 reality hit, beginning at 7PM ET/PT on March 13.

Given that The Contender premiered to somewhat disappointing ratings, CBS's strategy appeared to be at least somewhat successful, with NBC using a special Thursday night broadcast of the series to expose the show to additional viewers before settling it into its regular Sunday evening time period. Unfortunately for NBC, the CBS and ABC strategies appeared to work well, with The Contender's first Sunday night broadcast delivering a poor performance before rebounding in this week's second Sunday night broadcast.

By adding the recap, NBC apparently realizes that people who have missed the first fights have missed the three world-ranked boxers in the series: third-ranked junior middleweight (in August, when the fights took place) Peter Manfredo, who lost to Alfonso Gomez in the show's premiere; third-ranked welterweight Ishe Smith, who defeated Ahmed Khaddour in The Contender's third episode; and Top 15 junior middleweight Jesse Brinkley, the boxer who beat former world middleweight title challenger Jonathan Reid in the show's second episode. Also fighting and winning was undefeated former U.S. Olympic alternate Sergio Mora, who defeated the late Najai Turpin in The Contender's fourth episode..

When asked by TV Guide about the future of the show, Stallone noted that, while it was struggling in the U.S., in part as a result of Fox's low-rated "copycat" show The Next Great Champ, it was doing well in England and had been purchased in Germany, Australia, Italy and Spain. He attributed the existence of the recap to the fact that "the studio executives caught all the chat on the Internet and it was so positive, they thought they were really getting something at the grass-roots level." By giving people who had missed some or all of the first four episodes a chance to catch up so near the beginning, NBC is clearly hoping to capitalize on that buzz.

Due to East boxer Jeff "Hell Raza" Fraza coming down with chicken pox last week, the other boxers voted Peter Manfredo back on to the show to replace him (despite his Episode 1 loss), and rumors have him fighting the West's Anthony Bonsante in a fifth episode rematch of their grueling May 2004 fight.

Will people (especially women and older men, since the show has done very well in the Men 18-49 demographic) watch the show, given a second chance? And will they enjoy it more if they see the backstory behind Peter's and Anthony's own second chances? Sunday's ratings will tell the tale.

Stallone, for one, is hopeful. He told TV Guide that he is already planning the show's second season, which would be "dramatically different" from the first.

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