For Fox, it was a rumble in the ratings jungle.
The network's Celebrity Boxing special hooked some of the biggest numbers of the season for Fox, attacting about 15.5 million viewers Wednesday night.
The show was so successful that Fox executives are now planning to go the distance with the concept. Already talk has begun about putting on future fights featuring the formerly famous (and infamous), with the next bout possibly coming as soon as May sweeps. The network may also repeat Wednesday's bout during prime-time next week.
"We're really happy with the success of Celebrity Boxing," says network spokesman Scott Grogin. "In a year when Fox has had so many critically acclaimed shows, it's nice to know the audience showed up."
And how. Celebrity Boxing tied the post-Super Bowl episode of Malcolm in the Middle for the most-watched entertainment program on the network this season.
Only Fox's coverage of the Super Bowl and the World Series, and the TV premiere of Star Wars: Episode I--The Phantom Menace pulled in a bigger audience for the network this season.
Among the advertiser-coveted male 18-49 demo, Celebrity Boxing thumped all other Wednesday night shows, including CBS' Survivor (the latter did pull in more overall viewers, however). Fox says advertisers like Chevrolet and McDonald's jumped at the chance to sponsor the special, which featured Danny "Danny Partridge" Bonaduce kicking Barry "Greg Brady" Williams, former Diff'rent Strokes star Todd Bridges icing ex-rapper Vanilla Ice and, in the main event, disgraced skater Tonya Harding pummeling alleged Bill Clinton gal-pal Paula Jones (a last-minute substitue for Long Island Lolita Amy Fisher, who was barred from participating by her parole board).
Of the three bouts, the Harding-Jones contest was the most watched, if not the most competitive. As Nancy Kerrigan might have predicted, Harding thrashed Jones, who appeared to be overly protective of her surgically trimmed nose. The fight was over by the second round, a TKO win for the former ice queen, who didn't even need a lead pipe.
Sure, there was some pre-fight controversy--in addition to Fisher's withdrawal, pundits spilled plenty of ink decrying the tastelessness of the show--but Fox is a battle-proven veteran when it comes to making salacious reality shows ratings hits (see: Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire? and the original Temptation Island).
Fox is now reportedly brainstorming future matches between pugilistic has-beens (we're hoping to see Kirk Cameron and Jason Bateman finally settle the score). Officially, though, the network will only say its exploring its options.
"We're looking at all the opportunities," says Grogin. "But whether or not it would ultimately be a franchise, we have not made a decision."