'Champ' ruling due today
Foes enter the ring in a Beverly Hills court today, in the latest round to stop Fox from bowing “The Next Great Champ” on Sept. 7.Most observers expect California Superior Court Judge Lisa Hart Cole to rule in an afternoon hearing that it would be unconstitutional to enjoin Fox and “Champ” producers Endemol USA and Lock & Key from airing their boxing reality series. If that happens, Burnett and Katzenberg would seem to have lost their legal bid to stop “Champ” from bowing. DreamWorks’ Jeffrey Katzenberg and reality maven Mark Burnett claim “Champ” producers broke numerous state boxing laws in order to rush the show onto the air before Katzenberg and Burnett were able to premiere their boxing reality series “The Contender” on NBC. Today’s hearing is part of a multipronged court action set off last week when Burnett and Katzenberg filed suit against “Champ” producers. They are steamed, saying Fox ripped off the idea from them. “Contender” still isn’t ready for air, giving Fox a key advantage. Courts generally have refused to enjoin broadcast television shows, saying the First Amendment issues involved are almost impossible to surmount. And Fox says such a drastic action would violate its First Amendment rights. However, if Cole rules that Fox’s First Amendment rights wouldn’t necessarily be violated, Hart then will hold another hearing Sept. 7 — the day of “Champ’s” premiere — to consider issuing a preliminary injunction stopping the show. Lawsuit filed by Katzenberg and Burnett is based on a report prepared by former California State Athletic Commission chair Sanford Michelman, who determined that “Champ” producers willfully violated the rules and regs governing the sport of boxing. But the commission didn’t have a chance to act on the report before Michelman’s term expired in early August. It has scheduled and then canceled several meetings on the issue due to a lack of quorum, including a Sept. 3 session. Acting Athletic Commission chair Chris Mears, an Orange County attorney, said Tuesday that he’s now trying to hold a meeting Sept. 7 or Sept. 17 to consider whether to refer Michelman’s report to the California Attorney General’s Office for investigation and possible action. He said, however, that the commission wouldn’t consider the issue of whether to stop “Champ” from being broadcast. “It’s not our proper role to get involved in whether Endemol should be allowed to move forward. That’s not our charge. The commission won’t be converted into some sort of kangaroo court that times its actions and motivations to an outside lawsuit,” Mears said. Mears said Endemol and Lock & Key could face substantial fines if it’s determined by the commission and then the attorney general that they violated boxing regs. Originally, the court set a Sept. 8 hearing date on the request for a preliminary injunction, but that date was moved up when Fox announced it would preem “Champ” on Sept. 7 instead of Sept. 10 for competitive reasons.