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NBC reschedules 'The Contender' (again) for Sundays beginning March 13


By Reality TV World staff, 02/08/2005 

No one knows if NBC's The Contender will score a ratings knockout when it finally premieres, but one thing is clear -- it certainly has the "float like a butterfly" part of boxing legend Muhammad Ali's strategy down. NBC has announced yet another scheduled change for the upcoming Mark Burnett-produced reality series -- its fifth for those keeping score at home.

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"Tweaking" a spring schedule that it had just revealed two weeks ago, NBC announced yesterday that The Contender will still premiere on Monday, March 7 from 9:30-11:00PM ET/PT. However, rather than have its regular time period premiere two days later on March 9, The Contender will now have a "second preview" on Thursday, March 10 at 10PM ET/PT following an episode of The Apprentice, Burnett's other NBC reality show. Following those "preview" broadcasts, The Contender will finally settle into its new regular time period -- Sunday evenings at 8PM ET/PT beginning March 13.

Just as it has in the past, NBC gave no specific explanation for The Contender move, with NBC Entertainment president simply stating that the schedule tweaks (which also include new premiere dates for Law & Order: Trial by Jury and The Office and previous Sunday 8PM time period occupant American Dreams taking over The Contender's Wednesday slot) were made "in order to provide the best launch platform possible in March."

Emboldened by its success in using The Apprentice to take on CBS's top-rated CSI, NBC had originally announced (as part of its 2004-2005 primetime schedule announcement in May 2004) that The Contender would debut in midseason 2005 and air in the Tuesday 8PM time period versus Fox's top-rated American Idol.

That plan lasted for only a couple of months -- until the network announced that it was accelerating the series to November 2004 in an attempt match the debut of Fox's The Next Great Champ copycat series. NBC ultimately decided against that strategy (a good decision considering Champ ended up flopping without The Contender's help) and instead announced a February 21 debut date and a resumption of its earlier plan to air the show on Tuesdays versus Fox's Idol.

NBC's heavyweight reality show showdown intentions lasted until the fourth season of American Idol actually premiered -- and set series ratings records. Idol's season premiere performance convinced NBC to give up on its dreams of using The Contender to weaken the Fox juggernaut, instead announcing that The Contender would now air on Wednesdays at 8PM ET/PT -- a decision that lasted all of two weeks until yesterday's latest change.

While NBC wouldn't state a specific reason for the latest move, the schedule juggling seems to indicative of a widespread suspicion that (as it has in past seasons) Fox will expand Idol's Wednesday broadcasts as the its fourth season progresses. Fox's The Simple Life 3 is scheduled to air in the Wednesday 8:30-9:00PM time period beginning this week, however given that its first two editions have only featured 8-10 episodes, there is speculation that expanded Idol broadcasts will swallow up the 30-minute block once The Simple Life ends its latest run, a move that would put The Contender back in a position that NBC sought to avoid with the show's most recent move.


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