It was not, looking back, a marriage made in Heaven.
The concept of NBC and The Contender coming together, and making sweet music together, came from a good place.
But that network and the show were like Christie Brinkley and, well, whoever she's divorcing this time.
For the undisputed unscripted drama producer Mark Burnett, who dearly wanted the masses to see the uplifting and magnetic elements he sees in boxing, the new home for The Contender, ESPN, figures to be a more suitable pairing than the previous one.
Will the viewers agree?
It seems a smart bet that the preeminent sports network in the universe, which features more boxing on a weekly basis than any other US broadcast outlet, will be a cushy home for the series, which kicks off Tuesday evening at 10 PM (Eastern) with a two-hour premiere.
Producers Burnett, mogul Jeffrey Katzenberg and Sly Stallone hope so.
Sixteen pugilists who have signed on in hopes of furthering their careers agreed to let the cameras film every minute of training and cooperative living.
This time the welterweight class is the featured weight division. Each of the 12 episodes culminates in a five-round face-off, with the winner moving closer to the season finale, a live card from the STAPLES Center in Los Angeles on Sept. 26.
Filming, which took place in LA in January and February, has finished and everything but the final is in the can.
Sugar Ray Leonard will serve as host and mentor, while Stallone counts down the days to the unveiling of his latest Rocky opus, in December.
Quite likely, nobody will miss the asinine contests/product placement orgies that dragged down the first season, wherein the boxers, paired into East/West groupings, engaged in silly trash-sport face-offs which gave the winning team the opportunity to choose a weaker fighter to face a more skilled boxer.
Thankfully, that haunting theme music, which I'm angry that I couldn't find a way to work into my wedding reception last October, is still dropped in artfully throughout the proceedings, alerting the viewer that a heart-tugging moment is about to transpire.
This batch of wannabees, once-weres and likely-won't-bees will look to follow the path of career advancement enjoyed by season one winner Sergio Mora (18-0, 4 KOs), as well as runner-up Peter Manfredo Jr. (25-3). Mora, who snagged a cool mill for his win, has been mentioned as an opponent for Jermain Taylor, the man at middleweight, while the Freddie Roach-tutored Manfredo has grown in skill and stature since the first season wrapped.
The sixteen will do so with less pressure to be a ratings smash; while around seven million viewers watched regularly last time around, and ten million folks tuned in to the finale, ESPN will be pleased with a fraction of that.
It's hard to pinpoint a potential breakout amongst the cast: the range of talent spans a fighter with nine pro fights (Rudy Cisneros from Chitown) to a fighter with an IBF title and 32 bouts on his resume (Steve Forbes).
Michael Clark, a 32-year-old pro from Ohio, emerges in the first episode as a snappy-talking early frontrunner. Trainer Tommy Gallagher, the Queens tough-but-tender father-figure in the house, tells Ray Leonard that Clark (35-3) looks like the total package.
A simmering grudge match coalesces in the first ep, as Clark sizes up Detroit's Cornelius “K9” Bundrage, a 32-year-old pro with a 21-1 mark, as a weak link. Bundrage looks like he might weep when he's the last fighter taken in the playground style choose-em-up that breaks the 16 in two groups.
“I am a canine in the ring, a vicious dog,” Bundrage tells the camera when asked to explain his tag.
True to form, he shows some scrappy instincts in his fight with Clark, who shows his veteran form in a fine scrap that has the assembled crowd on their feet and screaming. No spoiler here, but I will say the loser does shed a tear in the ring after the scheduled 5-rounder finishes.
Another tidbit I'll only tease – one contestant seemingly asks his gal-pal to tie the knot in the most laidback proposal ever recorded for posterity.
Leonard oversees the process, and he looks fit enough to take on and defeat maybe half the crew. He will act as the supreme motivator, and early on tells the cast that he won his titles not by being the most talented pugilist, but by being the most hungry.
The Latin Snake, Mora, shows up and gives the boys a pep talk about the magnitude of this opportunity.
“When I came here on the Contender I was virtually unknown in the world of boxing, my mom was 60 and working in a factory,” he said. “I had nothing, though with the help of these guys (Leonard, Gallagher and trainer Jeremy Williams) I achieved my dream and you guys have the same chance.”
The advance screener sent by Contender PR people pits two Latin fighters in the second showdown of the season, with a seasoned vet taking on a young gun with minimal pro experience.
Overall, the second season looks streamlined, like a fighter that's found the right diet and training regimen and realizes he can drop a weight class. The absence of Stallone is by no means glaring, and may in fact aid the product by giving more time to the striving athletes, and away from the Hollywood icon.
Listen, it's a fact of life that many chicks just don't dig boxing.
It's a wiring thing.
But many who tried Contender in the first season stuck with it, grooving on the “Adrienne/Rocky thing” that Burnett attempted to convey.
This time, there won't be so much pressure to land the ladies, and The Contender should be the better for it. Without constant worry about ratings and shares and lead-ins, the program can simply be what it is: a compelling hour of semi-scripted drama that gives fight fans a deeper insight into what makes fighters tick, and non fight-fans a solid introductory course to the sweet science.