October 15, 2004 --
DOGGED by rumors of dissent behind the scenes and the failure of a similar show on Fox, NBC's heavily hyped boxing show, "The Contender," is facing an uphill battle.
The new series is from reality show guru Mark Burnett, the mastermind behind "The Apprentice," "Rocky" star Sylvester Stallone, Jeffery Katzenberg and boxer Sugar Ray Leonard. It follows the lives of 16 amateur boxers.
They fight in a startup boxing league formed by the producers and square off each week in the ring.
But at $2 million an hour, with more than 400 hours of video tape to edit down into each one-hour episode, there's word that Burnett and Stallone are bickering in the editing bay.
"Of course there's been a lot of discussions with him seeing the way we're doing boxing and saying, 'I think it should be done differently,' and actually he's been right," says Burnett.
"Nobody can edit boxing like Sly," says Burnett. "We're different, but we've come together very well. His help has been immeasurable.
"There's no question that he's [edited] more boxing, dramatically, than anyone else in the world," says Burnett. "He knows, he's really good and I think he's been pretty impressed with the way we do storytelling."
On the show, winners move up to the next round, losers face elimination. The two finalists square off in the finale for a $1 million prize.
"I know that boxing isn't the most popular sport," says Horizon Media's Brad Adgate. "But one thing that Mark Burnett does really well is make his shows personality driven — viewers get a chance to have favorites and pick out the ones that they want to lose."
Filming of the show has ended, and Burnett says he has at least 17 editing machines going 24 hours a day in order to get the show on the air by January.
"The Contender" was originally slated to debut this fall, but NBC pushed it's premiere back to distance itself from the car wreck that is Fox's "The Next Great Champ."
"Champ" features boxing poster boy Oscar De La Hoya and also follows the lives of a group of boxers who compete in a league created just for the series. But when it debuted on Fox earlier this fall, the ratings were terrible, and it has since been booted from the network onto cable's Fox Sports Net.