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NBC, All Fired Up Over Its Martha Stewart Show

By Lisa de Moraes
Thursday, February 3, 2005; Page C01

In another historic TV first, NBC hopes to air the first prime-time series starring someone who is under house arrest.

Domestic diva Martha Stewart, now serving time at Camp Cupcake in West Virginia, will star in an upcoming edition of "The Apprentice," announced a whole slew of men who work for NBC Universal, along with Mark Burnett, the reality series' creator, and Donald Trump, who stars in the flagship series.

Post-prison, Martha Stewart will star in a syndicated daytime show. (Todd Atkinson - CBS)

_____Martha Stewart Coverage_____
Perspective Is Lost in the Face Of Celebrity (The Washington Post, Feb 4, 2005)
Martha's Daughter In for Her Shares (The Washington Post, Feb 3, 2005)
In Web Posting, Martha Stewart Speaks From Prison (The Washington Post, Dec 22, 2004)
Complete Trial Background

"She's really a brave woman; few people could have withstood what she has. She's an amazing woman and will do an amazing job," said Trump, who will be one of the executive producers of the spinoff. He added that he and Martha have been pals for years.

Yesterday's announcement, made during a conference call with a mob of journalists from across the country, is not to be confused with the syndicated live daytime show Stewart signed up to do for NBC Universal. That show already has been sold to TV stations in at least 70 percent of the country, and for rates far higher than those of her old syndicated show, back in the days when Martha was just a caterer turned icy home-ec diva billionaire.

The daytime show is set to launch in September. And, as part of that deal, announced with similar fanfare in December, NBC said Stewart would become a regular, twice-a-month contributor to the "Today" show. That is believed to be the first time a network news division has signed a convicted felon as a regular contributor.

Rumors that Stewart would also become part of the "Apprentice" franchise had been making the rounds for months.

In auditions held in various markets nationwide, producers began looking this week for 16 to 18 contestants willing to be humiliated on national TV for a chance to land a one-year job, and a $250,000 salary, with Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia Inc.

The rush is so that NBC can have the series as a possible player for its fall prime-time lineup.

"The Apprentice: Martha Stewart" might: run concurrently with the fourth edition of "The Apprentice Starring The Donald"; run in lieu of "TASTD" in the fall; warm the midseason bench while The Donald's next edition runs in the fall -- details were hard to come by at yesterday's phone news conference. NBC Universal Television Group President Jeff Zucker insisted no scheduling decision has been made; he'd only say that the two subsequent editions Trump has committed to and the Martha Stewart edition will play out over the next 16 months.

But Burnett noted that there are great cross-promotion possibilities in having contestants booted by Stewart in prime time appear on her syndicated show the next day. Which would be really helpful for the launch of that daytime show. In September.

Mostly the Men of NBC Universal, Donald & Mark wanted reporters to get out the word that Martha is a very brave woman whom they've always admired, that America is fascinated by rags-to-riches-to-jail-to-TV stories and nobody better exemplifies "comeback" than Martha Stewart, that the show will be adapted to Stewart's company and taste, she will not say "you're fired" and Trump may appear on the spinoff. Oh, and that they never, ever, ever, discussed their various business deals with Martha while she's been in prison because that would be breaking the law.

Though NBC suits yesterday would not commit to a fall launch for Martha in prime time, presumably they'd like to get her version of their reality franchise on the lineup as quickly as possible in order to refresh the franchise. The first edition of "The Apprentice" was a big hit, opening in January '04 with an average audience of 18.5 million and wrapping to a crowd of 28 million. The second edition, while still delivering solid numbers and an unusually upscale audience for a reality series, didn't hit those numbers and the first two episodes of the current, third edition look to be continuing that trend.

To have the spinoff ready for a September launch, shooting would have to begin while Stewart is under house arrest. She's scheduled to be released from Alderson Federal Prison Camp early next month and will spend five months under house arrest, wearing an electronic monitoring bracelet. During that time, she may work away from home 40 hours a week, Burnett said; she can also work any amount of time while at home.

Stewart, the original desperate housewife, went to jail in October after being convicted last March of lying to investigators about information pertaining to her sale of ImClone Systems stock right before the biotech firm made an announcement that caused its share price to plunge.

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