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Byline: David Kronke

``The Contender''

(NBC Channel 4; 9:30 tonight and 10 p.m. Thursday; thereafter 8 p.m. Sundays)

Logline: A dream team of talent - ``Survivor'' creator Mark Burnett, host Sylvester Stallone, boxing trainer Sugar Ray Leonard and executive producer Jeffrey Katzenberg - look to knock out the memory of Fox's failed boxing series. This reality competition pits 16 aspiring pugilists against one another for a chance at a live match for $1 million in Las Vegas.

Pros: After attending a taping, it's apparent that live matches are far more visceral, powerful experiences than TV can usually present them. But Burnett has found a way to portray bouts more compellingly (editing helps immensely). The contestants are more articulate - and their stories more empathetic - than one might expect. After ``Survivor'' and ``The Apprentice,'' this is Burnett's first production that actually pauses to focus on his participants' lives and psyches ...

Cons: ... though, unfortunately, not enough. They hardly foresaw the recent suicide of 23-year-old contestant Najai Turpin of Philadelphia, which casts an irrevocable pall over the proceedings. (The year's other show from executive producer Katzenberg, the animated comedy ``Father of the Pride,'' was also touched by tragedy when magician Roy Horn was mauled by a tiger when the show was in production - call it the Katzenberg Curse.) Goofy,``Survivor''-style challenges don't seem to have much to do with the overall concept. And this was initially conceived as competition for ``American Idol''; NBC has obviously backpedaled from that ambition exponentially. Stallone (who offers homilies such as ``Life is a fight'') and Leonard (whose advice rarely deviates from ``Go for it'') are mere window-dressing. A faux ``press conference'' inviting confrontation feels utterly phony.

In a nutshell: Juxtaposing the sensitivity of the boxers' personal stories with the brutality of the ring could actually prove addictive in portraying these New-Age men as willing to absorb this much punishment in order to create better lives for their families. The rest of us - accountants, middle-managers, tech-support phone guys - look pretty wimpy by comparison.

Our rating: Three stars

``Fat Actress''

(Showtime; 10 and 11 tonight; 10 p.m. Friday)

Logline: Kirstie Alley stars as an ample-bodied actress trying to find happiness in Hollywood via a comeback role and weight loss (aka, herself).

Pros: Alley's certainly not afraid of making herself look and sound terrible, playing a needy, neurotic, self-centered lunatic, suggesting that merely noting her wretched existence is more important than recognizing any other achievements (no publicity is bad publicity, no matter how horrid you are, in other words). The advice she receives on purging from her diet coach (Kelly Preston) is pretty funny tonight, much less so next week. The brazen way her assistants (Rachel Harris, Bryan Callen) routinely lie to mollify her is pretty amusing.

Cons: Pampered stars' bad behavior is old news, and it's never been proven that TV viewers outside of Brentwood care, anyway (let's count how many viewers are impressed that Carmen Electra and NBC executive Jeff Zucker parody themselves). And how many times can the line, ``She is so fat!'' be a punch line, anyway? Next week, her goal is to diddle Kid Rock, but instead, she's mistaken for pregnant and winds up engaging in coarse poop jokes - that are funny, apparently, because she's so damn fat. It's nice, one supposes, that Alley is working out lingering issues, but so was Hunter S. Thompson.

In a nutshell: Naturally, the show addresses a worthwhile topic: how Hollywood images influence women's body-image issues. ``She is the Michelin woman,'' one executive declares. In two episodes available for review, Alley vaguely triumphs in both, an odd way to ask audiences to sympathize with an inveterate whiner. In ``The Larry Sanders Show,'' Larry's kvetching was mitigated by the fact that the Hollywood machinery frequently dashed his hopes and aspirations. In not-so-distant future, Harris will likely be dumping on ``Fat Actress'' in VH1's ``I Love the 2000s.''

Our rating: Two stars

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(1 -- color) no caption (``The Contender'')

(2 -- color) no caption (``Fat Actress'')
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Mar 7, 2005
Words:669
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