A California judge refused to deliver a knock-out punch to one of two boxing "reality" shows vying to be first on U.S. television, but set the stage for a second and perhaps more decisive round in the

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) -- A California judge refused to deliver a knock-out punch to one of two boxing "reality" shows vying to be first on U.S. television, but set the stage for a second and perhaps more decisive round in their fight.

The latest bout in the increasingly competitive arena of unscripted prime-time entertainment pits NBC's forthcoming "The Contender," from DreamWorks Television and reality TV titan Mark Burnett, against the Rupert Murdoch-owned Fox network and producers of its arch-rival series "The Next Great Champion."

Both shows center on a group of real-life aspiring pugilists slugging it out for a large cash prize and a shot at boxing fame. "Contender" co-stars five-time world boxing champion Sugar Ray Leonard and "Rocky" star Sylvester Stallone, while boxing great Oscar De La Hoya is featured on "Champ."

DreamWorks and Burnett, creator of hit shows "Survivor" and "The Apprentice," sued Fox and "Champ" producers WHEN , claiming they violated state boxing laws "to rush their ersatz copycat show to air" on Sept. 10, about two months ahead of "Contender."

They sought a temporary restraining order against "Champ" on grounds that producers -- Endemol USA and Lock & Key Productions -- gained an unfair advantage over "Contender" by engaging in unlawful business practices.

Getting to the airwaves first would likely give "Champ" a tremendous leg up in ratings and advertising appeal over "Contender," for which NBC, according to sources, has agreed to pay about $2 million per episode. It was not immediately known how much Fox has spent on "Champ."

Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Linda Lefkowitz denied DreamWorks' and Burnett's initial bid for a restraining order, but left open the possibility of blocking the "Champ" in the near future, according to court papers.

She set a Sept. 8 hearing on a motion for a preliminary injunction against the show and ordered an expedited exchange of documents between the parties to the lawsuit.

Before the hearing, California boxing regulators will decide on separate recommendations urging state action against the show, which could mean fines or perhaps their own injunction stopping the program. The California State Athletic Commission meets on Sept. 3 to take up those recommendations, issued by the agency's former chairman, Sanford Michelman, following his investigation of "Champ."

Michelman's 18-page report, cited in the lawsuit, accuses producers of numerous violations of state boxing rules and urged a crackdown by the commission and the state Attorney General's Office. It specifically alleges that Endemol illegally promoted boxing matches without a license to do so.

Deputy Attorney General Karen Chappelle told Reuters her office would only act on the report if adopted by the commission.

The legal bout over the two boxing shows represents a new tack in the high-stakes reality TV wars, in which courts have thrown out previous cases based on claims that networks or producers stole ideas for similar programs from one other.

Neither NBC nor boxing great Oscar De La Hoya's Golden Boy Promotions, a producing partner on "Champ," are parties to the litigation.

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