Here's a look at "The Contender," (search) NBC's new multi-million-dollar baby.
The boxing reality show, co-created by and starring Sylvester Stallone (search), begins March 9 — pitting 16 professional boxers against each other and culminating in a live, $1 million prizefight slated for May.
"We put every penny back into the production," co-executive producer Mark Burnett (search) told The Post. "This was really a labor of love."
NBC is paying slightly more than $2 million per episode for the show to producers Stallone, reality guru Burnett ("Survivor") and Dreamworks chief Jeffrey Katzenberg — making "The Contender" the most expensive first-year reality show ever made.
Burnett says over $1 million was spent on casting alone.
"Boxing was once the greatest sport on the planet," he says. "It was the one sport that transcended every country, but today if you were to ask [a stranger] who the heavyweight champion of the world is, no one would know."
"The Contender" hopes to change all that, taking a narrative approach.
For starters, the fighters' journey to the title bout is told through the perspective of their families — much the same way that Stallone says he wrote "Rocky" (search) to be told through the eyes of Adrian, the wife of the famously scrappy fighter.
In the show's first episode, Stallone and boxing great Sugar Ray Leonard (search) play hosts while the boxers are split into two teams — East Coast vs. West Coast — and move into a luxurious house to live together (their families live nearby in a slew of less-cushy houses rented by the producers).
The teams go head-to-head in a relay race up a mountain near the Hollywood sign while dragging heavy logs on a 100-degree day. The winners get to pick who among them will fight someone of their choice from the losing team.
The resulting brawl has a surprising twist — and is one of the best-filmed boxing scenes since Stallone made a "Rocky" movie.
"The Contender" was originally slated to debut earlier — but Katzenberg and Burnett say they wanted to take their time with the project.
Fox rushed a similar project onto the air last year, and "The Next Great Champ," (search) hosted by Oscar De La Hoya, quickly flopped.
"Steven Spielberg is one of the greatest filmmakers ever," says Katzenberg of his Dreamworks production partner, alluding to Fox's show.
"If he had been asked to make 'Indiana Jones' in seven days, it would have come out terribly."
With that in mind, "The Contender" production team has spent the last few weeks watching Clint Eastwood's Oscar-nominated film, "Million Dollar Baby," (search) top the box office.
They've also watched as Ken Burns' documentary about turn-of-the-century boxing champ Jack Johnson, "Unforgivable Blackness," has drawn raves.
Now they hope the time might be right for "The Contender" to land its own body blow.