'Contender' suicide catches AXN off guard

MUMBAI: The omens are not good for NBC's upcoming boxing based reality show The Contender. It has lost a participant several weeks before its take off.

In what could turn out to be a public relations disaster as far as ratings are concerned Najai "Nitro" Turpin, a 23-year-old contestant committed suicide in Philadelphia. Police say that he apparently shot himself in the head while sitting in a parked car with his girlfriend outside his gym at about 4 am on Monday.

The show, which has been given a starting date of 7 March, had been delayed a few times already this year. However NBC officials insist that the show will go on. Reality TV guru Mark Burnett who is making the show says,"The episode in which he was most depicted will stand as a wonderful testament to who he was. It will not be changed."

AXN caught off guard: One person who is clearly unhappy with the delay in starting the show is Sony assistant VP marketing Rohit Bhandari who looks after the action oriented AXN in India. AXN will air the show in India with a two hour delay after the US broadcast. There will then be a primetime repeat the same day at 9 or 10 pm.

Speaking to Bhandari said, "Each time marketing activities have had to be scrapped. I am now waiting for a final confirmation on the show. We will be using hoardings in a big way for the show. This is a tactic that we are currently employing for the AXN Extreme India versus Pakistan Challenge. The ratings for the first two episodes were not that good at 0.1 and 0.2 but we expect things to pick up."

AXN is also doing a contest around the India Pakistan Challenge. For this purpose it has tied up with Red FM. Bhandari claims that each week the contest has been getting a few thousand entries. All this is a part of its Big thrills TV campaign. The tagline for the India versus Pakistan Extreme campaign is 'Will you not support India'?

As far as The Contender is concerned Bhandari is hopeful that the suicide will not have a negative effect. " A lot will depend on how the show is packaged and the spirit. Mark Burnett has made reality hits in the past and there is every reason to believe that he will repeat his success." Bhandari added that a new block that the channel has introduced is the Platinum Showcase. This will cater to the intellectual audience that wants high brow stuff.

The first show that is airing in this block is the science fiction themed 4400 which airs on Tuesday at 10 pm. Bhandari explains that this is aimed at clearly segment the audience which will benefit the advertiser. " We now have three clear bands. The X-Zone has The Amazing Race, Fear Factor . This caters to a mass audience. The Contender clearly belongs to this category.

"Then we have Prime Zone which caters to those who want sophisticated fare like 24. Finally there is the Platinum Showcase. Our acquisition team in Singapore has already identified titles that fit into this third block."

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