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Frank Franklin Ii  /  AP file
Martha Stewart fans don't want to see her become a watered-down version or a Donald Trump clone.
msnbc.com contributor
updated 9/6/2005 5:36:53 PM ET 2005-09-06T21:36:53

Martha Stewart's new "Apprentice" debuts in just over three weeks. A spin-off of Donald Trump's "Apprentice," the series will use the formula but adapt everything to Martha's businesses and personality, or so we've been told. And as the countdown to Martha's public reemergence continues, Martha, show producers, and NBC have increasingly revealed more about the show.

In fact, so much has been announced publicly that the first episode might have only one or two surprises. It's as if viewers are being conditioned to become familiar with the series before it debuts so that we'll not only watch, but feel like we already know the show.

"The Apprentice: Martha Stewart" will open with "Sweet Dreams" by the Eurythmics. "I love Annie Lennox," Martha Stewart said at a press conference, and thus Annie replaces the O'Jays and their "For the Love of Money."

The 16 contestants that will compete to work side-by-side with Martha are 10 women and six men who range in age from 22 to 42.

They include a chef and a news anchor, and their first task will be to rewrite and update a classic fairy tale.

That task will be sponsored by Random House, and just like in Donald Trump's version, there will be plenty of product placement. Martha's tasks and series will feature paid appearances by companies such as GM's Buick, Westin Hotels, Song airlines, and Kraft's Tassimo coffee makers.

The contestants will live in a "loft," not a Trump-like "suite," and be dismissed in a "conference room," not a "boardroom." Supervising them and serving as Martha's right and left hands will be her daughter and chairman of the board. Alexis Stewart will fill the Carolyn role, while Martha Stewart Omnimedia's Charles Koppelman will serve as the new show's George.

Phrase is no ‘The tribe has spoken’
The one thing that producers and Martha wouldn't tell us is her dismissal catchphrase. Executive producer and "Apprentice" creator Mark Burnett blandly said at a press conference, "There's a wonderful commonality at the end of every show that Martha came up with ... and it is a totally fresh look and something you will definitely remember." But neither he nor Martha would say any more.

Still, their best efforts to keep it a secret have apparently failed, as the gossip hounds at Page Six reported today what Martha will tell evicted contestants. She'll say, "You just don't fit in."

If that's correct — and it's yet to be confirmed — we now know why it was being kept secret: It's the lamest catchphrase in reality television's history.

"You just don't fit in?" This is "The Apprentice," not a commune, club, or clique. Telling someone they don't fit in might hurt their feelings a little, but it doesn't seem to work for an elimination-based show. Saying "You just don't fit in" doesn't even really suggest that they should leave the room.

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Slideshow: Celebrity Sightings If the goal was to be kinder, what about, "Please leave my house"  or "I no longer wish to look at your lovely face"? Even the two options that Martha said she rejected — "You're not a good thing" and "You’re a bad thing" — have more life and humor than the one that was apparently selected.

Mark Burnett's formula, as seen on "Survivor," "The Apprentice," and "The Contender," is effective for both storytelling and game purposes. But perhaps trying to replace Trump-shaped "Apprentice" pieces with Martha-shaped "Apprentice" pieces isn't the best idea.

At a press conference, talking about her secret catchphrase, Martha Stewart joked, "What I really wanted to say is, 'Your ass is grass.'"

That's the Martha we need to see, the Martha we want. We don't want a Trump clone nor a neutered, watered-down version of him who tells people that they've found the wrong group of friends.

We want a prison-hardened entrepreneur who isn't afraid to be who she is, and who isn't afraid to show us who she is. Perhaps all of this will come when "Martha Stewart: The Apprentice" debuts.

But right now, it just doesn't seem to fit.

Andy Dehnart is a writer and teacher who publishes reality blurred, a daily summary of reality TV news.

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