Judge nixes restraining order, sets expedited hearing

The Rumble in the Jungle has nothing on the intensifying bout between DreamWorks Television and Fox.

A California judge refused Wednesday to issue an emergency restraining order stopping Fox from premiering its new reality boxing show “The Next Great Champ.”

But the judge did not deliver a knockout punch to Jeffrey Katzenberg and Mark Burnett, who filed suit against Fox Tuesday. They are co-producing their own reality boxing series, NBC’s “The Contender.” While ruling that prior restraint wasn’t warranted, Superior Court Judge Linda Lefkowitz said she would hold another hearing Sept. 8 to determine whether an injunction should be issued against “Champ” based on the violation of California state boxing laws.

That’s only two days before Fox plans to premiere the show, which headlines Oscar De La Hoya.

“Such hearing shall give all parties a full opportunity to be heard upon the constitutional issues present in the request for injunctive relief,” Lefkowitz wrote.

Late Wednesday, Chris Mears, acting chairman of the California State Athletic Commission, which governs boxing, said the body will hold its own hearing Sept. 3 on the “Champ” allegations.

Burnett and Katzenberg allege in their suit that Fox and “Champ” producers Endemol USA and Lock & Key willfully violated state laws in order to rush “Champ” onto the air for the sole purpose of beating “Contender,” which won’t be ready until November. They also claim Fox stole the idea for the series from them.

Fox said it considered Tuesday’s ruling denying the restraining order a “significant victory,” declaring Burnett and Katzenberg were trying to impede the network’s First Amendment rights.

“This is yet another in a series of never-ending attempts by ‘The Contender’s’ producers to stifle competition,” Fox said in a statement.

Pocket protector?

“In an effort to protect themselves from fair competition, it is particularly disingenuous that they are using the guise of ‘protecting the public,’ when in fact they are really attempting to protect their pocketbook,” Fox said.

But Katzenberg and Burnett, through their Contender Partners banner, said, “We love competition — it’s the American way. But Fox seems afraid of a fair competition in which all sides play by the same rules. … The rules that Fox has violated in its attempts to rush its show onto the air are important regulations designed for the protection of athletes in a sport notorious for corruption. If ‘victory’ to Fox means being the focus of a 150-page investigative report, which cites numerous criminal violations, and a superior court hearing to consider those violations, then they have a very different set of standards than we do.”

DreamWorks said the decision to expedite the hearing indicates “how seriously the court views” the issues raised in the lawsuit.

DreamWorks and Burnett allege that Endemol and Lock & Key didn’t follow the law in staging bouts for the “Champ” and dodged an inquiry by the California State Athletic Commission.

Insiders say Endemol and Lock & Key may have been the ones to cut checks for the first bout, even though they weren’t licensed boxing promoters. For all other bouts taped for “Champ,” De La Hoya’s Goldenboy Enterprises apparently was working for the show in organizing the fights.

Goldenboy, one of the largest promoters of boxing in California, enjoys a good working relationship with the Athletic Commission.

Cooperating

“Champ” producers have insisted they were upfront with the commission’s inquiry. Furthermore, they say, any oversights in organizing boxing matches for the show don’t warrant banning “Champ” from competing in the competitive reality ring.

The status of the commission’s inquiry into “Champ” is unclear. Lawsuit filed by Katzenberg and Burnett was based on a report prepared by former Athletic Commission chair Sanford Michelman, whose term expired before he could call a vote. He left the commission around the beginning of August.

That report — sent out by Michelman after he left the commission — condemned “Champ.” But whether the rest of the commission will agree and ask the California State Attorney General’s Office to intervene and enjoin “Champ” is unclear.

It’s possible the commission could call a meeting to discuss Michelman’s report before “Champ” bows, particularly with the attention brought to the issue this week by the lawsuit.

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