Stallone rings up $2 mil per ep for boxing show. ''The Contender,'' which NBC will air, will be the most expensive reality show ever

By Gary Susman
Updated February 23, 2004 at 05:00 AM EST

Sylvester Stallone is getting back in the ring, this time as a fight promoter. He’s one of the producers of ”The Contender,” a forthcoming reality show that hopes to do for boxing what ”American Idol” has done for pop music. The show, the brainchild of Stallone, Darwinian reality-competition mastermind Mark Burnett (”Survivor,” ”The Apprentice”), and DreamWorks honcho Jeffrey Katzenberg, will give two amateur boxers a shot at Rocky Balboa-like glory on each episode, building up to a championship at the end of 16 episodes. The idea prompted a bidding war, with NBC knocking out its rivals on Friday to offer a deal that makes ”The Contender” the most expensive reality show ever.

According to Variety and The Hollywood Reporter, the Stallone team secured a fee north of $2 million per episode, plus a chunk of the advertising revenue. ”The Contender” may also mean the launch of a new professional boxing league; Burnett has said he wants to return to a time when boxing was less corrupt (or at least seemed so). ”We’re looking to reclaim a part of America that’s been missing,” Burnett told Variety last week. ”We all agree no one can tell who owns what belt.” Boxing, he said, is ”the highest paying sport, yet no one believes in it anymore. What happens when we make it transparent and clean? Once clean, the upside is astronomical.”

Meanwhile, according to the Reporter, champ-turned-grill-pitchman George Foreman is planning to star in his own boxing reality show, a project from sportscaster Jim Lampley. Foreman would live in a house with several young fighters and train them while they spar with each other. ”Boxers are modern-day gladiators, and this series will challenge these contenders — physically, mentally and spiritually — to be the best they can be,” Lampley told the Reporter.