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Report: ESPN confirms being close to 'The Contender' second season deal

By Reality TV World staff, 07/19/2005 

Nearly two months after talk about The Contender returning on another network first started circulating, ESPN reportedly confirmed yesterday that it is close to a deal to acquire the rights for a second season the cancelled NBC reality boxing series.

While executives from The Contender's Mark Burnett Productions production company and co-producer DreamWorks did not immediately respond to inquiries about the show's future, The Hollywood Reporter reported Tuesday morning that although some details remain to be worked out, ESPN stated Monday that it expects to close a deal for a second season of the series. Among the details reportedly left to be addressed is the involvement of Sylvester Stallone, who in addition to being one of The Contender's producers, also served as the on-screen host of the show's first season.

Reached by Reality TV World later in the day on Tuesday, a Mark Burnett Productions spokesperson stated only that the company is "still in negotiations" regarding the future of the series and has "nothing to confirm at this time."

According to ESPN Original Entertainment executive producer Will Staeger, should the expected deal go through, The Contender also might not be the only boxing-based television series that the network would be airing. It's very possible that [The Contender] could be paired with a boxing dramatic series," Staeger told The Reporter.

Despite NBC's decision to drop the series after its initial season delivered poor ratings, The Contender creator Mark Burnett has made no secret of his intention to attempt to continue the show -- and equally important, The Contender's previously stated goal of becoming a power in the sport of boxing.

"We are looking not just for a TV partner, but for a partner overall to help really re-launch the sport," Burnett told Broadcasting & Cable in June. "This relationship will be as much about the overall opportunity of rebuilding boxing as it will be about a TV show. If we just wanted a TV deal, we'd be done already."

Burnett had also termed the possibility of another The Contender season as "highly likely" in a May interview with the New York Times. "You've got to remember," he said, "we don't consider The Contender to be in the reality TV business. We're in the boxing business. Our business plan all along was to continue along with these fighters."

Although Burnett has only publicly confirmed negotiating with "a number of outlets" for a Contender revival, the rumors of the last couple of months have focused on ESPN or HBO being the show's most likely landing spot (although Spike TV, FX, and even Fox have also been reported as being interested in the series.)

While The Contender's 6.2 million viewer season average made it a ratings failure for NBC, it is believed that the reality boxing series could be a hit for a cable network like ESPN. Despite the fact that the show lacked mainstream interest (particularly among women), drawing an audience of only several million viewers would make it a hit on cable, where average viewership figures are typically much lower than those of the Big Six broadcast networks.

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