A California judge Wednesday refused a bid by producers of NBC’s upcoming TV boxing show “The Contender” to block the Sept. 10 debut of Fox’s rival reality series, “The Next Great Champ,” giving the first round of judicial fisticuffs to the Rupert Murdoch-owned network.
DreamWorks Television and reality TV titan Mark Burnett sued Fox earlier this week claiming producers of “Champ” violated state boxing laws “to rush their ersatz copycat show to air” ahead of “Contender,” which is set to premiere in November.
The suit sought a temporary restraining order against September’s launch of “Champ” on grounds the producers and Fox engaged in illegal business practices to gain an unfair competitive edge.
Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Linda Lefkowitz denied the request, but did leave open the possibility of blocking its premiere in the near future, according to court papers.
She set a Sept. 8 date for Round 2, a hearing on a motion for a preliminary injunction against the show and ordered an expedited exchange of documents between the parties to the lawsuit.
Fox hailed the judge’s ruling as a “significant victory,” but the hearing’s timing means the court will weigh a second request for an injunction before the premiere of “Champ.”
Moreover, before the Sept. 8 hearing, California boxing regulators will decide on separate recommendations urging state action against the show, which could mean fines or perhaps their own injunction stopping the program. The California State Athletic Commission meets on Sept. 3 to take up the recommendations.
The lawsuit cites a recent investigation of “Champ” by the former chairman of the California State Athletic Commission, who accused producers of numerous violations of state boxing rules and urged a crackdown by state authorities.
His 18-page report specifically accuses “Champ” producer Endemol USA — named in the suit with Fox and Lock & Key Productions — of illegally promoting boxing matches without a license.
The legal bout over the two boxing shows represents a new tack in the high-stakes reality TV wars, in which courts have thrown out previous cases based on claims that networks or producers stole ideas for similar programs from one other.