A high-priced “Contender” has landed at NBC.
The network has given a 16-episode order to the boxing-themed reality show “The Contender,” which will feature Sylvester Stallone as the on-air frontman. Stallone will also executive produce the DreamWorks TV/Mark Burnett Prods. project with DreamWorks principal Jeffrey Katzenberg and “Survivor” guru Burnett.
The series has been described as the “search for the real Rocky,” a reference to Stallone’s 1976 Oscar-winning film. Each episode of “The Contender” will conclude with a boxing match between two amateur pugilists gleaned from a nationwide search for aspiring boxers, but the show will delve into the personal backgrounds of the dozen or so contenders who make it to the final rounds. It’s understood that NBC is eyeing an early 2005 debut date for the show.
The project was shopped to each of the Big Four networks last week. Sources said the producers asked for a hefty license fee of more than $2 million per hourlong episode, and a portion of the advertising time.
One source familiar with the deal said NBC wound up meeting the price, which is believed to be a record for a freshman unscripted series. But other knowledgeable sources maintained that because of the interest at ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC and because of the industry heavyweights involved, bidding went well over $2 million per episode.
As for the advertising time, sources said NBC worked out an unusual arrangement with DreamWorks and Burnett Prods. where the producers will buy at least six 30-second spots at NBC’s going rate in each episode in order to resell them to advertisers.
NBC executives declined to comment on the deal, but sources said the arrangement would likely help facilitate integrated advertising deals with sponsors aiming to get their brands woven into the ring with “The Contender” in addition to buying commercial time on the show. DreamWorks and Burnett are also exploring the possibility of launching a new boxing league in connection with “The Contender,” although sources stressed that the ambitious idea was still in the embryonic stage.
Burnett is already in business with NBC as the executive producer of “The Apprentice,” as well as last year’s limited-run series “The Restaurant.” He also has a scripted drama series in development at NBC about a group of people trying to survive on a remote island after a plane crash.
It’s understood that Jeff Wald, veteran Hollywood talent manager who has also handled such boxers Mike Tyson and George Foreman, played a big part in getting Stallone involved in “The Contender.”
Meanwhile, Foreman, a two-time world heavyweight champion, surfaced Friday as the host of a similarly themed show being developed by sportscaster Jim Lampley.
The project will bring a group of heavyweights together to live in a house with Foreman while they train with him and practice on one another. The William Morris Agency is shopping the project to network and cable buyers.
“Boxers are modern-day gladiators, and this series will challenge these contenders -- physically, mentally and spiritually -- to be the best they can be,” Lampley said.