Confirming the recent public statements of ESPN executives, Mark Burnett Productions, DreamWorks Television, and the cable sports giant announced today that the network will become the new broadcast home of The Contender, last winter's critically-acclaimed but low-rated reality boxing series that NBC canceled after only a single season.

Casting and production of the series will begin immediately, with The Contender's second season scheduled to air as part of ESPN's primetime schedule beginning in April 2005. Although The Contender will continue to be executive produced by Mark Burnett, Jeffrey Katzenberg, and Sylvester Stallone, The Contender 2 will air its twelve weekly one-hour episodes under the ESPN Original Entertainment (EOE) banner. In addition to its second season agreement, ESPN also has options to renew the series for two additional installments.

"The Contender has all of the elements that make it the right fit for ESPN: compelling storylines, dynamic characters and suspense over the outcome," said Mark Shapiro, ESPN executive vice president, programming and production. "This series speaks to our viewers' love for competition and their appreciation for triumph over adversity, and it goes without saying that the track record of Mark Burnett is exemplary -- a perfect match for the critical and ratings successes EOE has delivered in both scripted and unscripted drama." Previous ESPN Original Entertainment reality series include Beg, Borrow, & Deal and Dream Job.

Burnett -- who despite the show's poor ratings performance, continues to call The Contender one of "the biggest successes of my career" -- is equally enthused to see the series continue. "Our vision from the onset was to improve the entertainment experience of televised boxing for the fans. What better platform to achieve that vision than on the network that pioneered sports television programming."

Like its first season, The Contender's second season will feature sixteen boxing competitors living and training together and competing in weekly boxing elimination bouts. However, according to a Mark Burnett Productions spokesperson contacted by Reality TV World on Thursday afternoon, whether all of the other aspects of the series will remain the same is currently undecided and will only be determined after Burnett and his team meet with ESPN executives.

While Stallone will remain one of The Contender's executive producers and still make at least some on-air appearances, the exact nature of his on-camera role is among the creative aspects that will be determined as the series enters pre-production. Although they are all also tentatively scheduled to return for Season 2, the roles of additional Contender personalities Sugar Ray Leonard, Jackie Kallen, and Tommy Gallagher may also be re-examined.

Also still to be determined are some of the show's most basic aspects: the weight class that the series will utilize; exactly what the boxers will be attempting to win; and where they will live, train, and compete. While the championship bout's victory prize is likely to remain $1,000,000, a final decision has not yet been made. And with the initial season's "Contender Gymnasium" complex having apparently since been converted to other uses, the production company is also scouting for a new production venue that won't necessarily be in Los Angeles.

Although ESPN's agreement with The Contender's partners is for future editions of the series, that also doesn't mean that television viewers have seen the last of the first season's boxers. In addition to tentative plans to have some of them make cameo appearances during The Contender's second season, ESPN is also planning to broadcast three live event boxing specials featuring The Contender's first season fighters. Although the first event's cards are still being finalized, a formal announcement is expected to be made next Tuesday, with the two-hour live event expected to take place sometime this fall. Both of the other live event broadcast specials will also take place before The Contender 2's April debut.