NBC’s The Contender debuts tonight.

NBC’s The Contender debuts tonight.
NBC, Mark Burnett, Sylvester Stallone, Sugar Ray Leonard, Jeffrey Katzenberg all roll the dice tonight as the network debuts The Contender, the $2 million per episode boxing-themed reality TV show. The show kicks off with a 90-minute premiere tonight at 9:30 p.m. ET, and the second episode airs Thursday at 10. A scene from the first episode and the season preview make the series feel very much like The Apprentice; both are set to an epic score, composed by Hans Zimmer. FOX’s cheap knock-off, The Next Great Champ, was knocked out in early rounds last fall, before its competitor even entered the ring. But most critics think it has a fighting chance. (Oh, me and my cute boxing metaphors. Someone get me a job writing lame headlines.) The Hollywood Reporter says it is “slicker and better packaged” than FOX’s show, and “[boasts] all the requisite trappings (human drama, underdogs, competitive fire, driving soundtrack) to make for appointment viewing.” And The New York Times’ writes that “is engrossing, even for those viewers with little interest in” boxing. But The Chicago Tribune’s Maureen Ryan writes, “The best reality shows are about doing, not talking, but there’s far too much boring, aspirational chatter on ‘The Contender.'” And The Washington Post’s Tom Shales says all “it offers is a chance for viewers to give their yawn muscles a really rigorous workout.”

The Sing-Off loses its star

Ben Folds

NBC's super-fun December a capella singing competition The Sing-Off is returning, but without its star judge, Ben Folds, and only as a two-hour special. Those are really depressing changes for a series that proved itself to be a super-fun show when it returned last December.

A film director talks about becoming a reality TV character

Anna Martemucci

What is it like to have your life turned into reality TV? Director Anna Martemucci, one of the two directors featured on Starz' exceptional reality series, talks about that, the competition, and her collaboration with her husband and brother-in-law.

Plus: How the show's producers tried to keep the $250,000 competition fair.

about the writer

Andy Dehnart is a journalist who has covered reality television for more than 15 years and created reality blurred in 2000. A member of the Television Critics Association, his writing and criticism about television, culture, and media has appeared on NPR and in Playboy, Buzzfeed, and many other publications. Andy, 36, also directs the journalism program at Stetson University in Florida, where he teaches creative nonfiction and journalism. He has an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing and literature from Bennington College. More about reality blurred and Andy.