Martha Stewart, Out of the Can And Into the Tank

Six aspiring employees work on their updated fairy tale during Wednesday night's debut of
Six aspiring employees work on their updated fairy tale during Wednesday night's debut of "The Apprentice: Martha Stewart," which drew only about 7 million to the domestic diva's table. (Nbc Universal)
By Lisa de Moraes
Friday, September 23, 2005

Blood ran in the streets of the Land of TV yesterday morning.

The blood was blue.

The blue was Martha.

NBC's "The Apprentice," starring that diva of domesticity Martha Stewart, was DOA Wednesday night, when slightly more than 7 million tuned in.

Word of the much-ballyhooed debut's toes-up performance sent the Reporters Who Cover Television scurrying to their computers to pound out "Sorry, Martha, you just don't fit in" leads for today's columns.

"You just don't fit in" is Martha's equivalent of "You're fired!," the line Donald Trump uses in his version of "The Apprentice" when he boots the latest contestant.

Martha officially unveiled her catchphrase Wednesday night -- the climax of the premiere episode in which two teams of would-be Martha employees -- Matchstick: The Start of Something Big and Primarius -- competed to win the approval of a bunch of first-graders for their updated book adaptations of fairy tale classics.

A "Jack and the Beanstalk" in which the beanstalk grows down into the ocean beat out a remake of the Hansel and Gretel story in which the siblings so hate their names that they change them and leave home without their parents' permission.

In her conference room, Martha told members of the losing Matchstick: The Start of Something Big team that, as a parent, she was surprised and not in a good way by the whole name-change and leaving-home-without-asking-Mom-and-Dad thing in their book because, Martha said, Hansel and Gretel was one of her fave Grimm's fairy tales.

(In the Brothers Grimm version, the stepmother orders Dad to leave H&G in the forest where the wild animals will get them, but the enterprising tots make their way to the edible house of a witch who tries to kill, cook and eat them, only they kill her instead, take some fab bling out of her house and then make their way home to find that Stepmom is dead -- hooray. Still wondering which part of change-their-names-and-leave-home-

wthout-parents'-permission was worse for Martha than the original she so loves.)

How bad was Martha's prime-time series debut?

· The opening of "The Apprentice: Martha Stewart" didn't do much better than the premiere of NBC's "I Want to Be a Hilton" starring Mrs. Paris's Mom, which logged 6.8 million viewers in June.

· Martha's audience is the smallest crowd ever to watch an original episode of "The Apprentice." Before Martha bombed on Wednesday, the worst-ever turnout for an original episode (the Donald Trump-hosted version opened its fourth edition last night) was 10.8 million viewers.

· On Sept. 1, 2004, when NBC launched "Hawaii" in the same Wednesday 8 p.m. time slot, nearly 11 million tuned in. And, 10.7 million caught "Ed" as it kicked off its last season in the same berth.

· Martha barely beat -- by 10,000 viewers -- CBS's performance in the 8 p.m. hour with season debuts of two of its signature male-pattern-optimism sitcoms -- you know, the ones in which unattractive loser guys are married to attractive women -- "Still Standing" and "Yes, Dear."

Over at ABC, where they were doing the Happy Dance yesterday afternoon:

Three nights after taking the Primetime Emmy Award for best drama series, the second season debut of "Lost" bagged 23.5 million viewers -- the show's biggest audience ever. It beat last season's premiere by nearly 5 million.

This is ABC's biggest fall drama-series debut since 1995.

Right before the "Lost" kickoff, a "Lost" clip show whomped "The Apprentice: Martha" with an audience of more than 15 million.

Following "Lost" at 10, the debut of ABC's aliens are among us drama "Invasion" snared 16.4 million viewers, beating NBC's season debut of "Law & Order" by 3.4 million viewers, and among 18- to 49-year-olds by 70 percent.

"Invasion" produced ABC's strongest numbers in that time period since December 2003, when it ran the wedding of that "Bachelorette" chick Trista to that poor guy Ryan.

The 9 p.m. "Lost" kickoff and CBS's rerun of last May's Quentin Tarantino-directed "CSI" season finale proved too much for even Jerry Bruckheimer. His new NBC Pentagon drama "E-Ring" opened with a puny 9.1 million viewers, giving "Lost" an advantage of more than 14 million viewers and the "CSI" rerun a much smaller, 300,000-viewer lead.

"E-Ring" replaced NBC's faded "The West Wing" in the Wednesday 9 p.m. hour, which, in late October 2004, nabbed more than 12 million viewers for its season debut.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company