Martha Stewart's 'The Apprentice' Is No Perennial

By Lisa de Moraes
Tuesday, November 15, 2005

The Reporters Who Cover Television have got NBC's undies in a very big bunch by writing, five weeks before the final episode of "The Apprentice: Martha Stewart," that the network will not do a second edition of the reality series starring the ice queen domestic diva.

Really, did anybody think this show would be back for a second season? It's averaging only 6.7 million viewers a week. It's third from the bottom on the list of NBC shows this season when it comes to audience size, ahead only of "Inconceivable" -- which already has been canceled -- and the Saturday movie, which is just another way of saying "burn off that movie inventory."

Martha was quoted recently in Fortune magazine as saying she thought the numbers on her Wednesday edition of the reality series franchise were a Good Thing. (Actually, she said "damn good.")

Which, once again, just goes to show you how very different the parameters are for success in various businesses.

Nearly 7 million people is huge for a woman whose Martha Stewart Living had a paid circulation of 1.93 million in the six months ending June 30; however, an average of nearly 7 million viewers for a prime-time series on a major broadcast network generally spells cancellation.

But NBC insists that "The Apprentice: Martha Stewart" was not canceled and that the plan from the get-go was to produce just one round starring the queen of domesticity. In fact the NBC rep was very aggressive about that yesterday.

This would seem to fly in the face of Stewart's quote to Fortune in which she said that when she was offered a starring role in "The Apprentice," "I thought I was replacing The Donald," and that it was only shortly before she "got home" from her five months in the pen that she learned Trump's version of the NBC reality show would stay on the air.

"The plan from the very beginning was always to produce only one cycle of 'The Apprentice: Martha Stewart,' " the network rep said. "We look forward to the remaining five episodes and Martha's choice for her apprentice during the December 21 finale," the rep said, reading a prepared statement in a shameless attempt to turn a response to a serious journalistic inquiry into a free plug for the finale in this newspaper. Wait a minute -- it worked. Hate when that happens.

Then NBC put "Apprentice" executive producer Mark Burnett on the phone. Love when that happens.

"They're wrong," Burnett told The TV Column regarding news reports that NBC had decided not to bring back Martha and her Finishing School Smile.

He, Jeff Gaspin, president of NBC Universal Cable Entertainment, Digital Content & Cross-Network, and NBC Entertainment President Kevin Reilly "sat down before the first episode and jokingly talked about how . . . if it did 'Desperate Housewives' numbers it would be a little embarrassing because there won't be a Season 2," Burnett said.

When he first talked to Stewart about headlining "The Apprentice," he said, there was talk about doing more than one edition, but once he and NBC Universal signed her to a daytime syndicated talk show there was no way she could do both on an ongoing basis.

This is probably news to Tyra Banks. She created and executive-produces and stars in UPN's "America's Next Top Model" and stars in a syndicated daytime talk show and still finds time to strut her stuff down the runway at the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show.

But Martha's no Tyra, for which we are thankful.

In a statement -- which I'd like to mention was neither gracious nor sent on sumptuous linen stationery -- Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia said, "From the time we knew we would be producing a live daily TV show with Martha as the star, it was clear that we could only do one round of 'The Apprentice.' "

The show, Burnett explained, isn't as a big a financial gain to Stewart's public company. Her daytime show "is a profit-making enterprise that transacts product for her public company."

"The Apprentice," he said, was "really more a reintroduction, more of a marketing and publicity tool" for Martha.

"In the very beginning we thought about doing more than one, but the minute it was decided to do the daytime show it was never ever on the table."

The Martha Stewart edition of "The Apprentice" was shot over 7 1/2 weeks of 16-hour days, according to a source familiar with the production, which is pretty grueling -- not that Martha is on air all that much.

Her syndicated daytime show is scheduled to give her a 2 1/2 -month hiatus over the summer, which, if she did do another edition of "The Apprentice" would leave her no time to make velvet ribbon mirror frames or hone her mirror-grouping skills: "Paint your selections an acrylic hue that complements the color of your wall. Start by laying the frames out on the floor and fiddling with their positioning until the arrangement is to your liking."

While Trump's "Apprentice" is doing better than Martha's, it's still not doing as well as last year's fall version. It's down to about 10.5 million viewers each week, compared with about 15.5 million viewers at the same point in the competition last year.

Trump has been quoted recently as saying he was never a fan of the Stewart version, on which he's listed as an exec producer, and that it has hurt the numbers on his.

In retrospect, Burnett told The TV Column, a Wednesday "Apprentice" followed by a Thursday "Apprentice," with more than three dozen players involved between the two, was "a little too much to ask" of viewers.

"They probably split viewership," he said.

* * *

Nighty-night, "Night Stalker."

ABC confirmed it has pulled the plug on its things-that-go-bump-in-the-night series, effective immediately.

This week's episode has been replaced with a two-hour "Primetime."

ABC has been planning for a while to air "Finding Nemo" for most of prime time on Thanksgiving, and its pope flick "Have No Fear: The Life of Pope John Paul II" on Thursday, Dec. 1.

After that, it's a mystery what the network will do in the slot where six episodes of "Night Stalker" have aired this season, averaging a scary 5 million viewers.

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