Tough competition

Burnett skeins in brief sweeps face-off

After facing off against “American Idol” and “CSI,” Mark Burnett’s new reality hit “The Apprentice” is about to take on its toughest competish yet: Mark Burnett’s “Survivor.”

On Feb. 5 and 12, NBC plans to supersize “Apprentice,” airing the Donald Trump starrer from roughly 8:45 p.m. until 10 p.m. both weeks. That means the first 15 minutes of “Apprentice” will go head-to-head with the all-important final 15 minutes of “Survivor: All-Stars,” when viewers find out who’s getting kicked off the island.

Why would NBC deliberately take on another Burnett show?

Peacock had long ago committed to airing supersize 45-minute episodes of “Friends” during the February sweeps. When “Will & Grace” and “Scrubs” were still together on Thursday nights, supersizing “Friends” was no problem; all NBC schedulers needed to do was drop “Good Morning Miami.”

But once “Apprentice” moved back to Thursdays (Daily Variety, Jan. 23), NBC found itself with 15 minutes to fill between the end of the supersized “Friends” segs and the start of “Apprentice.” Peacock programmers decided supersizing “Apprentice” was the only solution.

Making things more complicated: NBC and Burnett had a gentleman’s agreement that the Peacock wouldn’t air “Apprentice” opposite “Survivor.” By starting “Apprentice” earlier, NBC is violating the spirit of that deal.

Burnett has been in London lately, but NBC insiders said the producer has been briefed on the plan and understands the reasoning behind the move. As exec producer, Burnett would have to approve any extra content.

There’s been speculation the extra “Apprentice” content might actually be extended recaps of previous episodes, thus making it easy for viewers to skip. NBC insiders, however, said the supersize material will be original content, though one insider noted viewers will have no problem jumping into the show at 9 p.m., should they choose to watch the end of “Survivor.”

Meanwhile, CBS isn’t giving NBC a break on Thursdays. Eye on Monday said it would air a “CSI” repeat this Thursday at 8 p.m. rather than the planned “Cold Case” encore.

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