After putting a “Law & Order” on every other corner, NBC was perhaps understandably emboldened to try franchising “The Apprentice.” Yet the new edition fronted by an amiable, wisdom-dispensing Martha Stewart brings too little that’s fresh to a format already exhibiting signs of wear and tear. The series won’t face a “Lost” recap show every week, but its tepid start Wednesday suggests that the net has tried one mentor too many, with the question now being whether Stewart’s presence further dilutes the value of Trump’s Thursday real estate.
The producers did themselves no favors by essentially devoting the premiere’s first eight minutes to an infomercial for the host and Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, as if they all had stock in the company or something. Then again, as Stewart mildly scolded David Letterman on Monday, best not to go there.
Stewart is dynamite when it comes to teaching the good life on her daytime show, if you’re into that sort of thing, but the changes made in tailoring the original “Apprentice” to her are cosmetic at best. Telling contestants they’ll be “asked to leave” instead of “fired,” writing farewell notes upon informing them “You just don’t fit in,” it all feels more like a cotillion than an extended job interview.
As for the competition portion, the strings show there as well. Producer Mark Burnett’s handsome trappings remain in evidence, but the offscreen magicians seem to be working a little too frantically to create drama. The editing, for example, left little doubt regarding who was going to be booted, contestants mugged more self-consciously for the cameras, and the music swelled to bombastic crescendos at the drop of a hat.
Flanked by MSLO chairman Charles Koppelman, who wore a frozen smile, and her daughter Alexis, Stewart is the one calming influence here. That said, she’s been almost ubiquitous in recent weeks, and it was a tad nauseating when she said that becoming a billionaire “felt really good” or promised her pledges, “Money can’t buy what you’re going to learn here.” Can’t buy this exposure, more like it.
Burnett is rightly regarded as the Rolls-Royce of reality, but beyond the enduring popularity of “Survivor,” some creases are showing in that molded chassis. Perhaps Burnett is being spread too thin as networks clamor for his services; this second “Apprentice” lacks the special flair that Stewart would demand before inviting guests in — especially after a summer replete with “Apprentice” knockoffs.
Stewart’s daytime show will likely enjoy a good long run. As for this enterprise, either Burnett hasn’t dipped far enough into his bag of tricks or he needs Stewart to crochet him a larger bag to accommodate a few new ones.