Looking for its next ratings knockout, NBC has clinched a deal for a boxing reality series developed by “Survivor” creator Mark Burnett, DreamWorks co-founder Jeffrey Katzenberg and big-screen “Rocky” champ Sylvester Stallone.
A spokesman for Mark Burnett Prods. told Reuters Friday that after shopping the project, titled “The Contender,” to all the major networks this week, “we ultimately made a deal with NBC.”
Sources close to the bidding said NBC agreed to pay $2 million an episode for the 16-part series, a higher license fee than many first-year scripted dramas and sitcoms fetch, but that the deal was structured to allow the network to recover much of the fees.
The Burnett Prods. spokesman said the series, planned for a debut sometime next season, would begin casting on Monday for several aspiring pugilists to compete on the show as they slug their way through training and qualifying bouts to a big-time title shot.
Stallone, who gained fame in the 1976 film “Rocky” as the small-time boxer who beats the odds to go the distance with the world’s heavyweight champion, will play a central role in “The Contender” as a kind of mentor to the young boxers.
He also will serve as executive producer with Katzenberg and Burnett, the producer behind such reality shows as the hit franchise “Survivor” on CBS and “The Apprentice” with real estate tycoon Donald Trump on NBC.
But the series is not being linked with “Rocky,” in part because Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc. controls rights to that franchise.
Details of the program remained sketchy, but the Burnett Prods. spokesman said the series is envisioned as an unscripted drama that chronicles the struggle of real-life boxers to make a name for themselves rather than as an athletic competition.
There was no official comment from the General Electric Co.-owned network.
But sources close to the negotiations said all four major networks bid on the project, with NBC winning out. NBC, however, negotiated barter terms that would let it potentially recoup nearly half the license fee, the sources said.
Under those terms, producers could buy a certain amount of advertising units for “The Contender” from NBC and sell them to product sponsors, with NBC pocketing a rebate, they said.
The Hollywood trade paper Daily Variety reported earlier this week that Burnett, Katzenberg and Stallone also planned to launch their own independent boxing federation in conjunction with the show. But sources said that aspect of the venture remains in its formative stages and was not part of the NBC deal.