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Fox Wins Round 1 in Court Fight

Judge won't block the premiere of 'Champ.' Its producers are sparring with DreamWorks over competing series.

August 19, 2004|Scott Collins | Times Staff Writer

In the increasingly vicious brawl over rival boxing "reality" series, chalk up the first round for Fox Broadcasting. But the rumble is far from over.

A Los Angeles County Superior Court judge on Wednesday declined to issue a restraining order to block the Sept. 10 premiere of Fox's "The Next Great Champ," which features boxing star Oscar De La Hoya overseeing 12 fighters squaring off for a shot at a professional title fight.

The restraining order was requested by DreamWorks and unscripted show producer Mark Burnett, the forces behind NBC's boxing series, "The Contender" with Sylvester Stallone.

The "Contender" producers, who've long argued that "Champ" is a rip-off of their show, claim the producers of that show have repeatedly violated state laws governing boxing promotion. Key to their claim is an Aug. 12 California State Athletic Commission memo that alleges violations by "Champ" promoters.

But Superior Court Judge Linda K. Lefkowitz denied the motion by DreamWorks and Burnett, saying that the request amounted to an unacceptable "prior restraint" of Fox and Endemol USA, producer of "Champ." The judge, however, left open a window for "Contender" producers, allowing them to see documents and deal memos related to "Champ" in advance of a Sept. 8 hearing for a preliminary injunction that "Contender" producers still are seeking against the Fox show.

In the wake of the ruling, both sides claimed victory -- and upped the rhetorical ante.

"This is yet another in a series of never-ending attempts by 'The Contender's' producers to stifle competition," Fox said in a statement. "It is particularly disingenuous that they are using the guise of 'protecting the public,' when in fact what they are really attempting to protect is their pocketbook."

Patty Glaser, a veteran Hollywood litigator representing Endemol, said the production company followed all boxing laws and called the claims by DreamWorks and Burnett "desperate and pathetic."

A DreamWorks spokesman said the studio viewed Wednesday's ruling as "a significant victory" because it allowed for an expedited hearing on the injunction request before "Champ" premieres.

In a statement, "Contender" producers said: "We love competition -- it's the American way. But Fox seems afraid of a fair competition in which all sides play by the same rules."

Although some published reports have said the athletic commission memo in the case has been forwarded to the California attorney general's office for review, a spokesman for the office said it was unlikely to get involved.

"I seriously doubt this office will allow itself to get dragged into the middle of a media war," spokesman Tom Dresslar said.

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