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Toyota's Real Deal With Boxing Show

December 20, 2004 12:00 AM

In what may well be the highest price ever paid for a product integration/advertising package in a TV series, Toyota has signed to become a major sponsor in NBC/Mark Burnett Productions' upcoming boxing-reality show "The Contender." The automaker is believed to be paying a whopping $16 million for product placements and ads on the show's first 13 episodes, which begin airing in February. That surpasses sponsorships in CBS's "Survivor" and Fox's "American Idol," both established hits that have had deals in the $10 million to $14 million range. Mark Burnett's "The Apprentice" has overall deals in the $10 million range, according to media buying executives. What makes the Toyota deal especially surprising is that another boxing-themed show on Fox last summer, "The Next Great Champ," had poor ratings and was canceled before its initial order finished airing. Sources said Toyota's reps have seen episodes of "Contender" and believe it will do much better. To make sure it gets its money's worth, Toyota is buying an unusually heavy load of four 30-second spots per episode (two is typical) and is the exclusive car company. At an estimated $200,000 per spot, Toyota is spending $10.4 million in media and more than $6 million in product integration fees. Rich Frank, chairman of The Firm, the entertainment marketing company that put together the deal, wouldn't discuss specifics but said: "The car category is a very competitive-especially for Mark Burnett shows. But that's where we come in-we can move very fast." Toyota will place cars in the show and have its name on the boxing ring corner pads and in other elements in each episode. -WAYNE FRIEDMAN

'Wickedly' Good

CBS's televised hunt for the next domestic diva, the upcoming reality show "Wickedly Perfect," brought in some Type A personalities when it came to cooking and entertaining. But as happens on most reality shows, once contestants were voted off, they were sequestered in a hotel until the final diva was left. With all that boundless domestic energy, the rejected Martha Stewart wannabes channeled their frustrations into preparing five-course meals. "Wickedly Perfect" executive producer Eric Schotz said the contestants turned their hotel rooms into make-do kitchens with toaster ovens and hot plates. "They were doing soups and seared ahi tuna," he said. "Every day it became about the meal. I was so blown away when I went there. I thought, what's wrong with you people?" But Mr. Schotz knew he was dealing with much more fastidious reality show contestants than usual. "This is the only show since `Boot Camp' where everybody made their beds," he said. "This is a fun little group of people. It's `Desperate Reality,' if you will." "Wickedly Perfect" premieres Jan. 6. -CHRISTOPHER LISOTTA

Loesch Carded

It would seem that greeting cards play a special role in the professional life of Margaret Loesch. Some three years after her sudden departure as founding president and CEO of Hallmark Channel parent Crown Media, Ms. Loesch finds herself teaming with Hallmark's chief rival, American Greetings. The No. 2 greeting card company behind Hallmark, American Greetings last Friday said it was making a significant investment to become a co-owner of The Hatchery, the entertainment company Ms. Loesch founded with marketing exec Bruce Stein 18 months ago. The greeting card giant will use the stake as a launchpad to expand into the entertainment business. Under the terms of the partnership, whose financial details were not disclosed, The Hatchery would continue to develop its own stable of entertainment properties-which include direct-to-video feature films based on the books by author R.L. Stine-while also mining American Greetings-owned properties such as Maryoku Yummy and Twisted Whiskers. -JAY SHERMAN