Fierce fight ahead

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NBC's "The Contender" wasn't much of one in its first two outings. The highly touted, much-hyped boxing reality series from Mark Burnett twice failed to win its time slot, damping hopes it could help NBC salvage a tough season.

On its first outing March 7, "The Contender" turned in a modest 8.4 million viewers, 4.1 rating and a 10 share in adults 18-49 over its 90-minute time period. It struggled against CBS's "CSI:Miami," and Fox's "24," though it won the hour in men 18-34 and beat ABC's "Boss Swap" and "Super Nanny." One media buyer who bought the show said NBC was guaranteeing a 5 rating.

On March 10, "The Contender" occupied prize NBC real estate in the 10 p.m. "ER" slot and while the show saw a 20% improvement in overall viewer numbers to a 9.2 million, 4.8 rating, 13 share in adults aged 18-49, it came in behind CBS's, "Without a Trace," according to preliminary numbers from Nielsen Media Research. While some say that's not a bad performance for a new show; in its regular Sunday slot, "The Contender" will face-off against ABC's "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition." NBC is paying $2 million per episode.

"For me, the biggest indicator will be what it does on Sunday night in its regular slot," said veteran TV researcher Shari Anne Brill, VP-director of programming, Aegis Group's Carat.

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