Fox to weigh in with its own boxing reality show

May 18, 2004|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

Fox and NBC are brawling over rival unscripted series designed to find America's next boxing champions.

While NBC is betting more than $35 million on The Contender, Fox has The Next Great Champ, which it hopes to begin airing in November. It will showcase ex-champion and Olympic gold medalist Oscar De La Hoya. The winner will get a contract with De La Hoya's Golden Boy Promotions and perhaps the chance to fight a titleholder.

Copycat shows are common in Hollywood - witness the plethora of makeover shows in the wake of ABC's Extreme Makeover - and so are arguments about who deserves credit for the idea. But perhaps due to the nature of the sport, or concerns about the size of the potential audience, the competing projects have inspired an unusual amount of trash talking before anything even airs.

"Our show is The Contender, their show is The Pretender," boasts veteran Hollywood manager Jeff Wald, who pitched a reality boxing show for months before selling it to NBC. Wald criticized Fox reality-show whiz Mike Darnell for allegedly filching the idea.

Contender producer Mark Burnett even threatened legal action, according to an interview with Daily Variety, although no court papers have been filed yet.

David Goldberg, president of Endemol USA, which developed The Next Great Champ, rejected the idea of theft. "I'm not quite sure that anyone has a lock on a boxing reality show," he says. Fox issued a similar statement on behalf of Darnell and the network.

Fox had a brief hit two years ago with Celebrity Boxing, in which faded stars such as Todd Bridges and Vanilla Ice squared off. But that program was seen as a tongue-in-cheek novelty.

MGM, which owns the rights to the Rocky movie franchise, earlier this year reportedly pushed a reality series called The Real Rocky, but the status of that project is unclear.

"I'm not suggesting it's a bad thing for boxing. On the contrary, maybe it will create new boxing fans," says HBO boxing analyst Larry Merchant. "Presumably, it's an idea whose time has come in terms of reality TV."

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