Sly’s definitely a ‘Contender’

From Liz Smith’s March 19, 2004 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.


NBC in “Contender’s” Corner

NBC in ‘Contender’s’ Corner
Wed Feb 25, 7:36 AM ET
By Nellie Andreeva

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) – On Sylvester Stallone’s home turf — the no-frills L.A. Boxing Club in a gritty part of downtown Los Angeles where he trains — the actor along with producer Mark Burnett officially announced “The Contender,” a new reality boxing series for NBC.

Sitting in front of a kickboxing ring decorated in white, red and blue, the two, who executive produce the project with DreamWorks’ Jeffrey Katzenberg, fielded questions Tuesday from reporters about the series, which will chronicle the lives of 16 aspiring boxers who vie for the top prize, which will include a monetary component as well as a chance at becoming a professional prizefighter.

“I’m going to be Donald Thump,” Stallone quipped when asked to compare his role on the show to that of Donald Trump on Burnett’s hit reality series “The Apprentice” on NBC.

There is an idea about getting such boxing greats as Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier to appear on the DreamWorks TV/Mark Burnett Prods. show, and they may even spar with Stallone.

“Me actually going in the ring with a few of these people and friends, I think that will be kind of fun,” Stallone said.

The winner will not sign with any of the existing professional boxing organizations. Burnett confirmed that the goal is to launch a new federation that will handle the best contenders on the show.

“Right now, the focus is first of all to take 16 fighters and give them a chance,” Burnett said. “But going forward, yes, the intention is to protect these fighters and give them a chance.”

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter

Sly to Produce Reality TV Boxing Series

Sly to Produce Reality TV Boxing Series
Tue Feb 24, 8:31 PM ET
By LYNN ELBER, AP Television Writer

LOS ANGELES – Sylvester Stallone is getting back into boxing — this time finding and grooming young fighters to compete in a reality television show.

The 57-year-old star of the five “Rocky” movies will be executive producer of “The Contender,” working with reality mogul Mark Burnett (“The Apprentice” and “Survivor”) and Jeffrey Katzenberg, a founder of DreamWorks SKG.
Stallone and Burnett, speaking at a news conference at a downtown boxing club Tuesday, said the NBC series will focus on the lives of boxing hopefuls in and outside the ring. NBC executives said the show will likely air in the 2004-05 season.

“‘Rocky’ wasn’t about boxing; it was about the people around him who gave him reason to go on,” said Stallone, who originated the role of hard-luck fighter Rocky Balboa role in the 1976 best-picture Oscar winner.

The idea of the new series was hatched by Katzenberg, the former Disney executive who went on to form his own studio with Steven Spielberg and David Geffen.

The series will follow would-be boxers from training camp through challenges in the ring over 16 episodes, with the winner getting $1 million and the chance to become a professional prize fighter. The boxers will fight one another in a weekly elimination process similar to other reality shows. Producers haven’t decided the weight class of the boxers yet.

Stallone said he will jump into the ring during the series and spar with some of the boxers. He believes the show will give boxers a Rockyesque chance at their dream.

“The door is now wide open again for you to have the opportunity to walk through it,” Stallone said, speaking to potential contestants.

Both he and Burnett expressed disenchantment with professional boxing today, saying the sport is often misrepresented on many fronts and has too many federations.

– Craig Zablo

Sly: Back into the Ring

Sly may step in ‘Contenders’ ring
Tue Feb 24, 7:00 PM ET

(Variety) A “Rocky” boxing match on NBC? Sylvester Stallone (news) hinted he might just suit up and get into the ring himself for the Peacock’s upcoming reality show “The Contender.”

Stallone and Mark Burnett traveled to downtown’s Los Angeles Boxing Club on Tuesday to reveal details behind the boxing-themed series.

According to Burnett, contestants will be put through a variety of challenges, leading up to a fight at the end of each episode — with the loser going home. The ultimate “Contender” will receive a $1 million prize and will likely emerge as the marquee star behind a new boxing federation created especially for the show.

Stallone said he partnered with Burnett and DreamWorks partner Jeffrey Katzenberg to create “The Contender” after getting fed up with the state of pro boxing.

“I think there is a great deal of mismanagement in boxing today,” Stallone said. “I think the finest talent does not rise to the surface. Quite often the compromises that a fighter has to make through his managers to get in a position of competition is not quite worth it for them. So we have been I think, deprived of some new fresh talent.”

Stallone called the system Burnett and Katzenberg worked out “revolutionary.” “We welcome (fighters) to step forward who believe they have not been given a fair shake, who believe they do have the talent,” he said.

Burnett said he planned to cast a wide net for “The Contender,” and would even welcome non-English-speaking contestants. “We’ll use subtitles,” he said. “I think that’s interesting.” The producer said he’d even be willing to include contestants with criminal pasts, as long as they’ve “paid their dues.”

Contestants will also technically become professional boxers by participating in the show, because they will be paid during the show and will be fighting. Also, Burnett and Stallone said the contestants will all come from the same weight class, but the producers haven’t decided whether that will be heavyweight, welterweight or lightweight.

As part of the deal, NBC is giving up six 30-second spots to producers, who will then sell the spots and split any profits with the network. Burnett said he would work closely with NBC’s sales team to market the spots and strike product integration deals, but had no plans to link with a media buyer.

NBC honcho Jeff Zucker introduced the producers; also in attendance was Stallone’s brother Frank, who may also work on the show.

As for hopping into the ring, Stallone said “definitely” – and recounted the time he got into the ring with Joe Frazier. “I would say including the count, the fight was 14 seconds,” he said. “I considered him the hardest puncher in the world.”

Copyright © 2003 Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. Variety is a registered trademark of Reed Elsevier Properties Inc. and used under license. All Rights Reserved.

– Craig Zablo

“The Contender” is Now a Contender

NBC has signed on for The Contender, a boxing reality series developed by “Survivor” creator Mark Burnett, DreamWorks co-founder Jeffrey Katzenburg and Sly Stallone.  NBC reportedly has agreed to pay $2 million an episode for the 16-part series.

Stallone will serve as executive producer with Katzenberg and Burnett, as well as appear as an on-screen mentor to the young fighters.

Now this is good news! – Craig Zablo

Sly Set to Present

SYLVESTER STALLONE will be a presenter at the American Film Institute’s next special, “100 Years – 100 Heroes and Villains,” which will air June 3 on CBS. Others set to present include: HARRISON FORD, JODIE FOSTER, KIRK DOUGLAS, GEENA DAVIS, KATHY BATES, DENNIS HOPPER, CHRISTOPHER REEVE, and others.

– Craig Zablo

Frank Stallone: My Big Fat Greek Life

This Sunday, March 9th, 8 PM ET/PT, FRANK STALLONE will guest star on the new hit series “My Big Fat Greek Life.”

FRANK plays Spiro the intended husband for RITA WILSON [Ariana]. You won’t want to miss this hilarious episode!

Check your local listings for more info.

Thanks to Simon, webmaster of both FRANK and SLY’s Official Sites! – Craig Zablo

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