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NBC's 'The Contender' premiere garners a ratings split decision


By Wade Paulsen, 03/09/2005 

Those people who said that NBC's new reality-competition boxing show The Contender would struggle to find female viewers were correct. Nevertheless, the March 7 premiere of The Contender, while not a huge success, showed promise for the later rounds.

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Overall, The Contender's special 90-minute debut pulled a 4.0/10 share in the critical Adults 18-49 viewing demographic, averaging 8.1 million total viewers and ending up third from 9:30-10PM and second from 10-11PM, according to final Nielsen ratings for Monday, March 7. The show slightly improved on the Adults 18-49 demographics of its lead-in, a 90-minute edition of Fear Factor (3.8/9 in Adults 18-49), but the real story is the male/female and young/old split.

The Contender was the top-rated show among Men 18-34 during its time period, defeating CBS's new episode of Two and a Half Men in the 9:30 slot and even edging out a new CSI: Miami (4.9/15 to 4.8/14) in the 10 PM slot. However, CSI: Miami drew a total audience of 21.68 million and an Adults 18-49 rating of 7.3/18 -- dwarfing The Contender and reflecting the fact that women and older men preferred CSI: Miami by a margin of about two-to-one. Thus, CBS's strategy to hurt the premiere of The Contender, even at the cost of its February sweeps ratings, appeared to be mostly successful.

Women and older men also preferred ABC's Supernanny at 10 PM to The Contender. However, Supernanny only placed third in the Adults 18-49 battle (3.8/9), despite its larger number of total viewers (9.01 million). In addition, although the leaders in Adults 18-49 in the 9:30 slot were CBS's Two and a Half Men (5.5/13 A18-49) and Fox's 24, the ratings for the second half-hour of 24's Idol-fueled broadcast dropped dramatically from the first half-hour.

Nevertheless, as is typical of the Hollywood hype machine, Fox claimed that 24 had put The Contender "down for [the] count." Fox may have stretched the truth to try to create an impression that The Contender is headed for the same fate as Fox's "copycat" (or should it be "ripoff"?), the Oscar de la Hoya-hosted The Next Great Champ, which bombed so badly (finishing fourth and even fifth in the Adults 18-49 demographic) that Fox ended up exiling its last six episodes to Fox SportsNet.

Whether The Contender will meet a similar fate remains to be seen. The small amount of actual boxing action shown (about six minutes of the main fight) and the emotional conclusion to the premiere may help ease women's misgivings about the show ... or it may have no impact whatsoever. In an effort to get more women and older viewers to sample the show, though, NBC will run the second episode in the Thursday, May 10 at 10 PM timeslot following The Apprentice, which is normally filled by the female-skewing ER. Young men throughout America will probably be watching. Whether they will be joined by women and older men remains to be seen.

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