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Suit Seeks to Knock Out Rival Boxing TV Show

DreamWorks says Fox flouted state laws. The network says claims have no merit.

August 18, 2004|Scott Collins | Times Staff Writer

Rival boxing "reality" series will hit network TV this fall, but it's unclear whether the action on-screen will top the lively punches being swapped in the courthouse.

DreamWorks and Mark Burnett, the reality guru behind the mega-hits "Survivor" and "The Apprentice," sued Fox Broadcasting Co. in Los Angeles County Superior Court on Tuesday, alleging that the network and its partner, production company Endemol USA, flouted state boxing laws in a dash to get their series, "The Next Great Champ," on the air.

Burnett and DreamWorks want a restraining order to block the telecast of "Champ," which aims to find prizefighters in a field of young hopefuls and is slated for a Sept. 10 premiere.

The plaintiffs are interested in more than just the sanctity of boxing: They are producing a similar, competing series, "The Contender," which will bow on NBC -- but not until November. In the cutthroat world of reality TV, getting there first may be half the battle.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday August 20, 2004 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 47 words Type of Material: Correction
Boxing show lawsuit -- An article in Wednesday's Business section about a lawsuit filed by the producers of NBC's "The Contender" against Fox's "The Next Great Champ" said that Golden Boy Promotions was a defendant. The defendants are Fox Broadcasting, Endemol USA and Lock & Key Productions.

Burnett and executives at NBC have alleged for months that "Champ," featuring boxing great Oscar de la Hoya, is a blatant rip-off of "Contender," which will be hosted by "Rocky" star Sylvester Stallone. De la Hoya's company, Golden Boy Promotions, is named as a defendant in the suit.

The suit says that after Fox lost out in the bidding for "Contender" in February, an unnamed senior Fox executive angrily vowed that the network "would develop and produce a competing" show "that would be broadcast prior to and would 'destroy' the prospects" for "Contender."

Fox denied the charges. "We believe these claims are without merit. This is an effort to stifle competition by seeking an inappropriate prior restraint of a broadcast," the network said in a statement. A spokesperson at Endemol referred questions to Fox. Roy Englebrecht, chief operating officer of Golden Boy, said he hadn't read the suit and couldn't comment.

Other network rivals have accused Fox of coming up with suspiciously familiar notions for its reality programming. Stephen McPherson, chief of prime-time entertainment at ABC, last month attacked Fox for allegedly ripping off ABC's fall reality series "Wife Swap" with a summer series, "Trading Spouses: Meet Your New Mommy." Even worse for ABC, "Trading Spouses" has drawn big audiences.

Copycat entertainment cases often face steep legal challenges. CBS, for instance, failed to block ABC's reality show "I'm a Celebrity ... Get Me Out of Here!" which it claimed was a "Survivor" clone. But the DreamWorks-Burnett action has an unusual element, courtesy of the intricate world of boxing regulation.

In fact, DreamWorks and Burnett may have found a powerful ally in the California State Athletic Commission, which regulates boxing and harshly criticized Endemol and Golden Boy in an Aug. 12 memo offered as an exhibit in the lawsuit.

The memo alleges that "Champ" violated boxing laws repeatedly because Endemol, which isn't a licensed boxing promoter, played a large role in organizing and promoting fights. Moreover, the memo says "Champ" organizers didn't pay the appropriate state taxes. The memo recommends fines for Golden Boy and urges that one "Champ" promoter, Don Chargin, have his license suspended. Chargin didn't return a phone message left with his office.

In a statement Tuesday, Burnett and DreamWorks Chief Executive Jeffrey Katzenberg said, "It would be terribly damaging to the sport, to our show 'The Contender' and to all the participants, if anyone were to profit from or gain an unfair advantage by breaking the law."

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