Dispatches From the Couch: The Long, Slow Death Of A Franchise

Let’s face facts: The last time THE APPRENTICE actually captured our attention was when NBC canceled the show in 2007 and Donald Trump basically responded with, “You can’t fire me! I quit!”

That was probably the smartest thing the walking combover had done since hiring reality-star-in-the-making Omarosa several seasons earlier. But the moment NBC came back to Trump and asked that he return to the boardroom, Trump folded like a cheap suit. In a desperate attempt to revive the failing franchise, it was announced that the new edition would feature the Trumpmeister firing celebs.

And that’s when things went tragically awry.

Already, the series had been showing a serious lack of creativity during the previous season, in which it was decided that the show could “re-invent” itself by relocating from New York City to Southern California. The only other major twist involved having each week’s losing team sleep in tents outside the mansion in which their winning rivals were living it up. Worse, the weekly tasks began to feel both repetitive and more like commercials than challenges.

The season was a bomb, the show was canceled and then, mysteriously, brought back to life and returned to Trump’s home base, New York City.

Did we mention this season has celebrities?

Sadly, any fire that THE APPRENTICE once had was snuffed out long ago, and this season’s offering can’t hold a flame to such far-superior offerings as SURVIVOR or even the recently returned BIG BROTHER. And the reason it is failing so miserably is due in large part to the celebrity twist.

Week after week, the celebs (and when one of your names is a former telemundo exec, that might be stretching the term to its limits) are given boring tasks which mainly involve them calling friends and asking for money. This week’s challenge, for example, revolved around the two teams vying to raise the most money by selling carriage rides through Central Park. Again, this isn’t a particularly revolutionary concept on THE APPRENTICE, which has beaten this particular horse to death. But where in past seasons the no-name contestants actually had to use their brains and, on occasion, wiles to lure in customers, the celebs instead rely on the power of their rolodex, giving whole new meaning to the phrase “phoning it in.”

Worse, Trump is treating the celebs with kid gloves and allowing boardroom decisions to be obviously dictated by outside factors. For example, Omarosa and Piers Morgan spent the entirety of this week’s task bickering (with him branding her a slut and her nastily dragging his children into the matter) in one of the most childish displays of immature behavior to hit reality television in quite some time. In the end, the team headed by Piers won the task, forcing The Donald to decide who to fire from the opposing team, made up entirely of stars who got along and worked well together. Rather than fire one of the folks who played well with others, Trump decided that he wasn’t going to fire anyone at all.

Which on the surface, seems almost fair, especially to believers in karma.

But here’s the thing: When it was suggested by the losing team that Trump should fire either Omarossa, Piers or both, he blinked, falling back on the excuse that he couldn’t because that wouldn’t be playing by “the rules.” Of course, no where in those established rules was “don’t fire anybody” ever made an option, either.

Obviously, Trump could — and should — have fired Piers and Omarosa. So why didn’t he?

Because they’re good television.

In fact, that’s why he bent over backwards to rearrange the teams so that the Bickersons would wind up having to work together. Let’s face it, in the real world, no business exec would take two people who obviously despised one another and force them to head up a project. No, this was blatant manipulation on the part of Donald and his fellow producers, having less to do with playing a game by the established rules and everything to do with creating “good television.”

Too bad they failed to succeed on either level.

Based on the horrific ratings, one can only assume that NBC will soon be canceling THE APPRENTICE again in the very near future. Here’s hoping this time, it sticks.

For all the latest TV news and reviews