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This 'Apprentice' Doesn't Do the Job

By Lisa de Moraes
Saturday, December 18, 2004; Page C07

The bloated three-hour finale of NBC's reality series "The Apprentice" got beat Thursday night by a "CSI" rerun.

Over its three hours, an average of 16.9 million viewers watched Donald Trump pick a pretty, bland white guy to be his "apprentice." That number was down 40 percent from the 28 million who watched Trump pick a pretty, bland white guy to be his "apprentice" on the first edition.

Donald Trump picked Kelly Perdew to be his "apprentice" in Thursday night's three-hour finale. (Chris Haston -- NBC)

In fact, the final episode of this edition -- and did I mention it was three hours long? -- did not snag even as many viewers as had an "Apprentice" clip show from the first edition. That show nailed 17.5 million viewers last spring and was the smallest Thursday audience for the show last season.

The most watched program Thursday night was a rerun of CBS's "CSI," in which the gang investigates how bodies came to be in the sewers of Las Vegas after a heavy rain. It averaged 19.5 million viewers.

In that same hour, 19.1 million viewers were slogging through the second hour of "The Apprentice" and, no, the winner had not yet been announced by 10 p.m., though, according to Nielsen Media Research, only people who count with their toes still believed at that point that annoying lawyer Jennifer Massey had a chance. The rest of us, in an effort to figure out who really runs the empire, were closely focused on the Kelly Perdew testimonials being delivered by various high-ranking Trump employees.

It wasn't until a few minutes after 10 that Trump finally announced that, though he had grave reservations about Perdew's ability to lead, he had determined over the course of the 15-week job audition that Perdew went to West Point and Massey went to Princeton, for which he fired Massey and "hired" Perdew as the next apprentice.

To the surprise of no one, Deborah Norville, host of MSNBC's ratings-starved "Deborah Norville Tonight," is leaving the cable news network's prime-time lineup after about one year on the job.

"After careful thought, Deborah Norville has informed me that she can no longer continue her superhuman balancing act of hosting two daily television programs," MSNBC chief Rick Kaplan said of Norville, who anchors King World's syndicated "Inside Edition" by day.

"Time constraints prevented me from being able to book guests and research segments to my own high standards," Norville said in her message to staffers, adding, "unless someone invents a time-stretching machine, that likely won't change."

Neither, in their cleverly worded missives, made mention of the really lousy ratings scored by "Deborah Norville Tonight." This year it's averaging 267,000 viewers; MSNBC prime-time shows hosted by Chris Matthews, Keith Olbermann and Joe Scarborough are pulling in numbers in the low to high 400,000s.

"When MSNBC came to me one year ago, it was an unexpected opportunity to do the longer, more in-depth interviews that television needs more of and a chance to reconnect with former colleagues from my old broadcast home," Norville said in her correspondence.

"Deborah Norville Tonight" was her second go-round at NBC News. In the '90s she served as anchor of "NBC News at Sunrise" and news reader on the "Today" show before briefly becoming That Younger Woman Who Replaced That Nice Jane Pauley as co-host of "Today." When that didn't work out well, Norville was dumped in favor of America's Sweetheart Katie Couric. She got a book out of it, anyway, called "Back on Track: How to Straighten Out Your Life When It Throws You a Curve."

Norville said she has been assured her departure will result in no loss of employment for anyone involved with her show.

And Kaplan says he's developing something new for the time slot.

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