Contender could knock out ‘Champ’

D'Works TV, Burnett eye injunction due to unlawful biz practices

A California Superior Court judge is expected to rule today on whether to grant an emergency injunction locking Fox from launching its boxing skein “The Next Great Champ” on Sept. 10.

DreamWorks TV and reality maven Mark Burnett — the producers behind NBC’s upcoming “The Contender” — asked the court to issue the injunction on the grounds that Fox and “Champ” producers engaged in unlawful business practices.

The request is part of a lawsuit DreamWorks co-founder Jeffrey Katzenberg and Burnett (through their Contender Partners subsid) filed Tuesday accusing Fox and “Champ” exec producer Endemol USA of breaking numerous laws in order to rush “their ersatz copycat” show onto the air before “The Contender” can premiere on NBC.

Peacock, which plans to debut “The Contender” in November, is not a party to the court action. Suit also names Lock & Key Prods., which is producing “Champ” with Endemol.

Via the 11-page complaint, Katzenberg and Burnett contend that Fox grew furious after losing a heated bid between the networks to land the rights to “Contender” and vowed to create its own boxing series that would “destroy” the prospects for “Contender.”

“It would be terribly damaging to the sport, to our show ‘The Contender’ and to all the participants if anyone were to profit from or gain an unfair advantage by breaking the law,” Burnett and Katzenberg said in a separate statement.

During a morning hearing in Santa Monica, lawyers for Katzenberg and Burnett asked Superior Court Judge Linda Lefkowitz to issue a temporary restraining order against “Champ.”

The “Contender” producers based their complaint on an Aug. 12 report by outgoing California State Athletic Commission chair Sanford Michelman, who suggested that the producers of “Champ” broke the rules and regs governing the sport of boxing.

Michelman’s term expired in recent days, however, and the remaining commissioners have not acted upon the report — which, for reasons unknown, did not bear Michelman’s name. A hearing in the matter has been postponed several times due to Michelman’s departure.

A spokesman for the California State Attorney General’s Office said Tuesday that the AG’s staff has considered Michelman’s report and forwarded its recommendations back to the commission. He said those recommendations are protected by attorney-client privilege.

Reps for the Athletic Commission were unavailable for comment.

Producers of “Contender” said they were forced to take matters into their own hands and act as “a private attorney general” since neither the commission nor the AG’s office is able “to move with sufficient speed” to obtain the necessary relief.

“The significance of the chairman’s findings left us with no choice but to ask the court to issue a restraining order to prevent ‘The Next Great Champ’ from using any film of any boxing match that wasn’t lawfully promoted,” Katzenberg and Burnett said in their statement. “These laws regulating boxing promotion are designed to protect the health and safety of the fighters and the sport of boxing.”

Fox spokesman Scott Grogin said Katzenberg and Burnett are trying to “stifle competition” by seeking an inappropriate prior restraint of a broadcast.

Lawsuit against Fox says that “Champ” producers “materially and knowingly violated numerous state boxing laws and regulations” in arranging and promoting the boxing matches featured in the series, which has wrapped production. Suit also alleges that “Champ” producers lied to the Athletic Commission.

Specifically, action states that Endemol and Lock & Key are not licensed to hold or promote boxing matches but did so anyway. They also failed to file certain financial documents with the commission.

But speaking at the Television Critics Assn. press tour, “Champ” producers said everything was done above board in filming the series, which headlines boxer Oscar De La Hoya.

De La Hoya’s promotion company Golden Boy Enterprises is one of the biggest boxing promoters in the state and is helping to produce “Champ.” Golden Boy was not named in the lawsuit.

At the press tour, Golden Boy Enterprises CEO Richard Schaefer said there were two issues — payment of officials and television taxes — that the commission was probing with regard to boxing matches set up for the show.

Schaefer said Golden Boy enjoys a solid track record with the commission.

But Michelman’s memo to the Athletic Commission argued otherwise, maintaining that Golden Boy misrepresented the date in which its contract was signed to serve as a partner with and officially licensed promoter for Endemol and Lock & Key.

Michelman alleged that Endemol and Lock & Key had been producing and promoting fights for “Champ” prior to officially sealing a deal with a licensed promoter such as Golden Boy.

Michelman had also drafted a letter to Golden Boy, Endemol and Lock & Key on July 2, accusing the production of more or less renting out Golden Boy’s license as a promoter and “aiding and abetting Endemol and Lock & Key in the co-promotion of the show’s fights.”

In response, “Champ” attorney Stephen Espinoza sent a letter to Michelman on July 5, arguing that “the coordination and staging of the boxing events for the series have been conducted, and will in the future be conducted, solely by Golden Boy.”