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Reality Boxing and Bochco's New Beat

By John Maynard
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 6, 2005; Page Y02

Two big names in television roll out new shows this week. Steven Bochco delivers -- surprise! -- a cop drama, and Mark Burnett introduces -- double surprise! -- a reality show. Do these two proven winners come through again?

'Blind Justice'

Tuesdays at 10 p.m. on ABC

The tagline you'll never see: "NYPD Blind"

The basics: Detective Jim Dunbar (Ron Eldard) can't see a thing, but that's not stopping him from chasing bad guys in New York. We meet Dunbar on his first day back as a homicide detective after being blinded in a shootout a year earlier (a scene graphically depicted as the show opens with a bang -- or several bangs).

His new colleagues are less than thrilled to have him join their ranks. Some are downright rude, probably not so keen on sharing their space with Dunbar and his guide dog, Hank (a German shepherd who's cute as a button). But this detective is a crafty one, despite his disability, as (predictably) his hearing and sense of smell help him crack cases with his reluctant partner, detective Karen Bettancourt, the impressive Marisol Nichols.

The lowdown: Just a week after "NYPD Blue" called it a series, the network is letting creator Steven Bochco fill the same time slot with another cop show. Bochco's name is associated with some great shows, "Hill Street Blues" and "L.A. Law" to name two, but what has he done for us lately? (Anyone remember "Philly" or "City of Angels"?)

Reality check: Would New York City actually let a blind cop have a gun? Could that officer handle a hostage situation, as Dunbar faces in the first episode? Get past that, however, and you have a fairly solid cop show. And with so many police shows clogging the airwaves, a major twist -- no matter how absurd -- may be necessary to catch viewers' attention. Eldard is a strong lead, possessing the same stoicism that made David Caruso so popular on "NYPD Blue" before he bailed for a movie career.

'The Contender'

Previews Monday at 9:30 p.m. and Thursday at 10 p.m. on NBC; regular slot Sundays at 8 p.m. starting March 13

The tagline you'll never see: "I coulda been a contender. Instead, I'm a bore."

The basics: Sixteen boxers beat each other's brains out each week, with the last man standing pocketing a cool million dollars. Mark Burnett, creator of "The Apprentice" and "Survivor," is behind this one (don't you ever rest, man?) with faux boxer Sylvester Stallone and real-life former boxer Sugar Ray Leonard awkwardly serving as hosts.

Just like "Survivor," two teams of contestants face a weekly competition. In the first episode, it's a silly log-hauling challenge through the hills of Hollywood. The winning team pits one of its boxers against the fighter of its choice from the losing team.

In a ploy to lure non-boxing fans, the series also tells the life stories of the 16 contestants, most of whom, naturally, have overcome major obstacles.

The lowdown: Before it even debuted, two ominous notes clouded the future of "The Contender." In February, 23-year-old contestant Najai Turpin committed suicide outside a Philadelphia gym where he trained. NBC quickly announced that the show would go on and that an episode would be dedicated to Turpin. And last fall, Fox beat NBC to the punch with its own boxing show "The Next Great Champ," a show that was down for the count after just four episodes.

Reality check: Despite heartwarming stories and some "Survivor"-like intrigue, you've really gotta love boxing to wrap your arms around "The Contender." For an hour, you're treated to seeing the dudes working out, spewing cliches like they're going out of style and leering angrily at one another before two face off in a gritty boxing bout. In short, this is one Mark Burnett reality series that won't knock you out.

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