A California judge Friday gave the Fox television network and its boxing series “The Next Great Champ” a victory against a rival reality show, allowing “Champ” to air next week as planned, TV executives said.
“Champ” and “The Contender” have been joined in a legal fight since earlier this month when “Contender” producers — DreamWorks Television and reality TV titan Mark Burnett of “Survivor” fame — filed a suit to bar “Champ” from airing.
“Contender” won’t be ready to air until later this fall, whereas “Champ” is scheduled to ring its opening round bell on Sept. 7, giving it an advantage by being first to air in the race to capture the hearts, minds and eyeballs of TV viewers.
Both shows center on a group of real-life boxers slugging it out for a cash prize and a shot and pugilistic glory. “Champ” is backed by boxing great Oscar De La Hoya, while “Contender” has champion Sugar Ray Leonard and “Rocky” star Sylvester Stallone in its corner.
The “Contender” backers had sought an order barring “Champ” from airing, but California Superior Court Judge Lisa Hart Cole denied their request for injunctive relief, a spokesman for DreamWorks Television said.
He said the group could appeal and would look at all their options next week, then decide how and whether to proceed.
In a statement, Fox said “the court clearly recognized that this action constituted an improper prior restraint” to the network’s free speech rights. It said it would seek to have the entire action dismissed.
The “Contender” group had argued that “Champ” producers — Endemol USA and Lock & Key Productions — gained an advantage over them by engaging in unfair business practices to rush “Champ” into production.
Their lawsuit is based on a report by the former chairman of the California State Athletic Commission, Sanford Michelman, that alleged Endemol may have illegally promoted boxing matches without a license to do so.
The commission can still urge the state to take action against the show. Acting Chairman Chris Mears told showbiz newspaper Daily Variety, he was trying to organize a meeting in September to consider whether to refer Michelman’s report to the state Attorney General for further action.