From Liz Smith’s March 19, 2004 Newsday.com column:
Sly’s definitely a ‘Contender’
JEALOUSY, ENVY, hurt pride, hurt feelings – sounds like the recipe for a soap opera or a love affair, doesn’t it? But, no, it’s big business. Big movie business.
For years, Sylvester Stallone has been trying to talk his original “Rocky” producer, Irwin Winkler, and the owners of the “Rocky” franchise, MGM, into another film about the indefatigable boxing hero. Sly sat down on more than one occasion and wrote an unpaid-for original screenplay for what would be the sixth round of the Philadelphia- based classic. The last one he titled “Puncher’s Chance,” giving himself a role in it as a boxing veteran.
So, some months ago, I ran into the gifted Winkler at the theater and, during the intermission, put my two cents in that the world will always be ready to welcome another “Rocky” movie, and why didn’t he get moving? (The original won the Oscar back in 1976; its theme music became a classic, and there have already been four sequels, all of them successful. The “Rocky” idea has earned at least $1.5 billion.)
While I didn’t give myself credit for actually pushing Winkler, it began to look as if he and MGM would finally move on the project. Little did I realize that behind the scenes, MGM’s head man Alex Yemenidjian, who had been saying the “Rocky” idea was passe, suddenly decided that MGM would distribute such a movie, only if the money was raised elsewhere to make it. This reluctance and lack of faith seemed a bit odd since “Rocky” is MGM’s second-largest asset after the James Bond movies.
In the meantime, Stallone, who has waited and waited while MGM and Winkler dragged their feet, was convinced by “Survivor” producer Mark Burnett and DreamWorks’ Jeffrey Katzenberg to star in their coming reality TV show about aspiring young boxers. “The Contender” could bow as early as November and will show us youngsters getting to live out their boxing dreams. Stallone will play a kind of Donald Trump figure; he’ll be the one to say “You’re down for the count” or “Count 10; you’re out!” Stallone will not only star, he’ll be executive producer, and he owns this show with Katzenberg and Burnett for NBC.
Since “The Contender” announcement, MGM and Winkler have both been galvanized and have exploded in fury at their old friend Stallone. Yemenidjian is quoted as saying that, as a result of the planned television series, “Now we, MGM, will do the real Rocky!” Stallone, who created his fame and movie career when he wrote and starred in the original against all odds, is reported saying, with some justification in my view – “They are looking for the real Rocky; he’ll be on NBC in ‘The Contender.'”
Thinking on all of this and the unfortunate circumstance of the severing of the Stallone-Winkler friendship, a thought occurs to me. If “The Contender” is a big hit, as everyone expects since it sold for one of the highest prices ever in tube history, doesn’t this make another “Rocky” feature a hotter idea than ever? Just asking! Of course, I can’t imagine a “Rocky” sequel without Stallone in some guise or other. So everybody ought to kiss and make up.