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Rough Opening Round for Fox

The 'reality' boxing show 'Champ' premieres in fourth place, raising questions about demand for it and a competitor.

September 09, 2004|Scott Collins | Times Staff Writer

Rival television producers couldn't manage to lay a glove on Fox's "The Next Great Champ," but viewers on Tuesday mopped up the ring with the new boxing "reality" series.

The premiere of "Champ" drew just 5.2 million total viewers for a fourth-place finish, according to early figures from Nielsen Media Research. The Fox show drew less than half as many viewers during the 9 p.m. time slot as CBS' unscripted hit "Big Brother." In addition, women ages 18 to 49, a key demographic for advertisers, tuned out "Champ" in vast numbers.

The show's weak opening raises obvious questions about the audience appetite for "The Contender," NBC's competing boxing show with Sylvester Stallone that's due to air in November. The producers of "Contender," DreamWorks and unscripted show guru Mark Burnett, waged an unsuccessful legal battle last month to knock the Fox series off the air, alleging idea theft and violations of California boxing laws.

"I'm not sure why anyone thought boxing was popular these days, particularly among women," said Steve Sternberg, executive vice president at New York ad firm Magna Global USA. "This probably does not bode well for 'The Contender,' but Sylvester Stallone might be a bigger draw."

Burnett dismissed the notion that the "Champ" ratings had any meaning for his show. He also used the occasion to take another jab at his adversaries, claiming they cut too many corners in their rush to beat "Contender" to air. "You can't make decent, clear, compelling unscripted programming at warp speed," he said. "We're taking our time."

Oscar de la Hoya's Golden Boy Promotions and studio Endemol USA produced "Champ." In a statement, Fox spokesman Scott Grogin said: "After all the commotion surrounding the show, we're disappointed with the initial ratings." But the network hopes word of mouth will build for the remaining nine episodes of the series, he added. Three more Tuesday episodes will air before the series moves to Fridays starting Oct. 22, after postseason baseball.

Although plenty of reality shows have debuted to unimpressive numbers, "Champ" is one of the few premieres to bomb despite the presence of a winner-take-all-style tournament, considered the essential ingredient of such enduring hits as "Survivor" and "American Idol."

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