It looks like NBC's The Contender may not be down for the count on Sunday nights after all, despite last week's debacle.

The Contender's March 20 episode performed significantly better than its initial March 13 Sunday night broadcast, boosted its Adults 18-49 demographic rating to 3.5 and delivering a 9 share. Although these numbers are still below the numbers recorded by the show in its first two airings, on Monday and Thursday night, they represent a 30% increase above last Sunday's disastrous 2.7/7. This week's show also drew 7.8 million total viewers, a significant rise from last Sunday's 6.7 million but still smaller than the Monday and Thursday audiences of the show's first two "preview" episodes.

The key problem for The Contender in its present timeslot is clear: Fox's The Simpsons. During its half-hour, a new episode of The Simpsons drew an Adults 18-49 rating of 4.0/10, and it placed second among Adults 18-49 and first among Adults 18-34, Men 18-34 and Men 18-49 -- the same groups with which The Contender is strong. Small wonder that The Contender moved from a 2.9 rating for the first half-hour (head-to-head against The Simpsons) to a 4.0 rating for the second half-hour.

Although ABC's Extreme Makeover: Home Edition placed first in Adults 18-49 in the time slot with a 4.5/11 rating/share, narrowly edging CBS's basketball-delayed "tag team" of 60 Minutes and Cold Case, The Simpsons and then The Contender held the edge among younger men. As a result, NBC achieved its best performance with regular programming in the time slot in over a year.

Whether The Contender can continue to build on this improvement is unknown. At least it wasn't flat on its back in Round 2.

Although more people watched The Contender this week, one unimpressed viewer was New York Times "sports media" writer Richard Sandomir (better known for his role in The Times' 2002-03 crusade against Augusta National Golf Club and 2004-05 crusade against a new New York Jets football stadium), In a March 22 column, Sandomir writes that The Contender is failing to do better because the show's "attempt to clean up the sport's systemic corruption ... ignores the historic truth that boxing's appeal rests with its resistance to cleanliness."

It does? Do people truly like boxing because it is "resistant to cleanliness" -- ie., because it's corrupt? Does that mean Don King is really "good for boxing," because he has ripped off millions of dollars from his boxers, ranging from Muhammad Ali to Mike Tyson (and has had to pay millions more in lawsuit settlements)?

If so, then how would Mr. Sandomir explain the voluntary appearances of boxing columnist Thomas Hauser and undisputed middlewight champion Bernard Hopkins before Congress in February in support of a proposed federal bill designed to clean up the sport? Could it be because they secretly want to kill boxing? Or, maybe, is it just an example of why Mr. Sandomir has such a poor reputation as a sports columnist: because he regularly makes outrageous, unsupported statements.