Ratings drop dogs the Donald

Several factors blamed, including lackluster casts and Stewart version

This was the year that Donald Trump finally got humbled.

No, Trump isn’t getting soft, but the ratings for his reality skein, “The Apprentice” — tapped the last two years in the reality-competition category — are. After initially scoring big with the show in 2004, NBC has seen the audience for “The Apprentice” trail off in recent editions. Going into its final two episodes of the season, the fifth edition of “The Apprentice” was averaging 9.7 million viewers and a 4.0 rating/9 share among adults 18-49.

That’s a dramatic slide from last spring, when the third “Apprentice” attracted 14 million viewers and a 6.4/16 in the demo.

The contrast becomes even more stark when you compare the recent perfs to the stellar numbers of the first season (20.7 million viewers, 10.1/25 with young adults).

Several factors have been blamed, including lackluster casts and the ill-fated attempt to add a second version, featuring Martha Stewart, last fall.

Trump even publicly denounced the Stewart edition — which he produced along with “Apprentice” exec producer Mark Burnett — in a letter to the domestic doyenne: “I knew it would fail as soon as I first saw it,” he wrote. “Putting your show on the air was a mistake for everybody — especially NBC.”

Release of the harsh letter, of course, was conveniently timed to the launch of Trump’s most recent “Apprentice,” which nonetheless didn’t make much noise in its new Monday slot. As a result, “The Apprentice” didn’t make it onto NBC’s fall 2006 sked.

By holding “The Apprentice” for midseason, NBC hopes to rest the show and build anticipation for its return.

“It’s just settled in from being a phenomenon to being a success,” says NBC Entertainment prexy Kevin Reilly. “We’d rather have it on once a year and be an event. There are few unscripted shows that can play back-to-back like that. And ‘Martha’ didn’t help last season either.”

Trump and Burnett will also mix things up next season by moving the show to Los Angeles (from Manhattan) for the first time.

A change of scenery made sense for Trump, who has increased his real estate holdings in Southern California. It could also help finally shake things up on “The Apprentice,” which was definitely due for a makeover.

“It was time for a little twist,” Reilly says. “That’s why we went to L.A. It has a different tone to it.”

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