Round 1: Stallone vs. De La Hoya
2 hours, 21 minutes ago
By Kimberly Potts
In this corner: NBC and Sylvester Stallone.
And in the other corner: Fox and Oscar De La Hoya.
At the sound of the bell, let the reality TV series sparring begin...
While NBC's Mark Burnett-produced boxing reality series The Contender has long been in the works and planned for a midseason 2004-05 premiere, Fox has just thrown its hat into the ring with The Next Great Champ, a similarly themed reality show that will beat NBC to the punch by debuting in the fall.
And Burnett, the reality TV whiz behind Survivor, The Apprentice and The Restaurant, is none too pleased by Fox's announcement, especially since he and Stallone, an executive producer of The Contender, pitched their boxing series to Fox before eventually landing the deal with NBC.
Burnett, who is also working with DreamWorks honcho Jeffrey Katzenberg on The Contender, is even considering taking the gloves off and moving the tube battle into the legal arena.
"If we feel they've stepped over the line, it's creatively outrageous [and] not only will we take legal action, but it doesn't bode well for the future prospects [of Burnett and DreamWorks projects landing at Fox]," Burnett told Variety. "Fox lost out [on The Contender] fair and square, and it's hard to believe they'd do something substantially similar."
There is a precedent for allowing a legal referee to rule on such a dispute: CBS sued ABC last year when the Eye accused the Alphabet net of copycatting Burnett's Survivor with I'm a Celebrity...Get Me Out of Here!. A judge ultimately decided that the "execution of ideas" was the determining factor, and, in that instance, ABC was cleared of cloning CBS.
But how similar are the NBC and Fox boxing projects?
Both shows will feature amateur fighters training and duking it out each week in a series of bouts that will eventually leave one contestant standing. The differences:
The Contender's, uh, contenders, will be mentored by Stallone and retired boxing champ Sugar Ray Leonard as they compete for a $1 million grand prize. Burnett and company have also talked about the possibility of trying to revive interest in professional boxing by starting their own league, which would feature The Contender winner.
The Next Great Champ contestants, meanwhile, will work with current WBC super-welterweight boxing champ De La Hoya, the 1992 Olympic gold medalist who's also a Grammy-nominated singer, boxing promoter and TV fight commentator. According to Fox execs, Champ wannabes are competing for the chance to, well, compete for an existing boxing title (though details of that aspect of the show are not yet confirmed) and a contract with De La Hoya's Golden Boy Promotions company.
"Ours is the only boxing show where we have a real-life boxer, one who's working right now, rather than someone who portrayed a boxer," Fox reality exec Mike Darnell told Variety, in an apparent jab at The Contender's Stallone.
But whether or not the shows ultimately prove to be too similar, Fox's decision to go ahead with its boxing series after losing out on The Contender may have already led to a technical knockout of many of the working relationships among the TV land contenders.
Burnett, for instance, could be wary of future dealings with Fox, which has much of its summer 2004 ratings hopes pinned on The Casino, a Burnett-produced reality series about the makeover of a Las Vegas gambling operation.
And Fox's The Next Great Champ is coproduced by Endemol USA, the team behind NBC's hit reality show Fear Factor.
Then there's Fox host De La Hoya, who is scheduled to return to the boxing ring himself in June in an HBO pay-per-view bout against undefeated Felix Sturm. The champ is also on the card to provide commentary for NBC's Summer Olympics boxing coverage...conflict of interest?
And if that isn't enough to make you feel punch drunk with pugilistic possibilities and disputative dealings, Variety reports that MGM, which owns the rights to the Rocky brand, including the famous theme song, may have both NBC and Fox on the ropes by talking with other networks to launch a Rocky-branded boxing talent search/TV series of its own.
Which begs the question: When the sport itself has waned in popularity in recent years, will viewers really bother to take a ringside seat for three different shows chronicling the making of a pro boxer?
Let's get ready to rumble, indeed.