Sixteen guys enter the accommodations in which they'll eat, sleep and eye one another with suspicion for the next six weeks, knowing only one can emerge victorious. This time it's not the beautiful bachelorette at the end of the rivalry rainbow but a $1 million purse. With The Contender-- NBC's new series that begins on March 7, then airs on Wednesdays at 8 p.m., concluding in May with a live fight at Caesars Palace--the man who brought you Survivor, Mark Burnett, brings boxing to reality TV. Sylvester Stallone and Sugar Ray Leonard host; George Foreman shows up with a few tips and invites everyone to a barbecue. Each episode ends with a five-round fight, with the loser eliminated. No, it doesn't provide the gritty, sweaty intimacy of Million Dollar Baby--camera swoops from the Las Vegas sky signal predictably slick production values--but by the end of the first show it's hard not to root for the guys. (You may also find yourself rooting for more Sugar Ray and less Stallone.) In a tragic postscript to the series, filmed last summer, fighter Najai Turpin, who is described in the opening as a tough street kid from Philadelphia fighting for a better life for his family, committed suicide on Feb. 14. NBC plans to dedicate one of the episodes to him.
-- Nancy Ramsey