The premiere of "The Celebrity Apprentice" is behind us and you're likely wondering the same thing as many other people: On what planet is Omarosa Manigault Stallworth a celebrity?
Another thing many TV fans are wondering is how on Earth a show that has lost viewers at a faster rate than any other in recent memory is still on the air?
But the biggest question that remains to be answered is whether a celebrity version of the show that once promised an aspiring business mind a job in the vaunted Trump organization can re-energize it, kill it for good, or simply provide for a sendoff that's more fun and interesting than last season, when whatshername took the prize.
The introduction of 14 celebrities — and the term is used lightly, considering that Omarosa is a former “Apprentice” contestant, Piers Morgan is a judge on a different NBC reality show, and Nely Galán now works for NBC-Universal developing English-language “telenovelas” — hints at desperation.
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The “Apprentice” franchise clearly isn't what it used to be. In six seasons, it experienced a free fall in ratings, dropping from nearly 21 million viewers per week in its debut season to 7.5 million last year. The future was so bleak for the show that former NBC Entertainment President Kevin Reilly left it off the schedule at the May upfront presentations. It wasn't until new co-chairmen Ben Silverman and Marc Graboff secured a new deal that the show was brought back to NBC's schedule — with a significant caveat.
For the first time, NBC is getting a share of the money that companies pay the show for pimping their products during challenges. (Surprise! Those teams weren't creating new Burger King chicken sandwiches, Domino's pizzas and brochures for Pontiac sports cars by accident.)
That money, upwards of $2-3 million per episode, was previously split between Donald Trump and Mark Burnett Productions, according to The Hollywood Reporter. That's a significant change because, regardless of whether anyone wants to admit it publicly, NBC's collection of some guaranteed money no matter what the ratings are is likely what kept the show going for what is more than likely a final run.
All that said, it should be entertaining.
A $5,000 hot dog
The new celebrity aspect of the show changes it completely. Viewers once watched a group of Trump proteges of varying intelligence and ability vying for a job, and now they're watching a group of celebrities playing a game for charity. Think of it as "The Surreal Life" with a heart. But there's something uproariously amusing about watching Gene Simmons of Kiss flip open his cell phone, dial up a friend and ask him to buy a hot dog for $5,000.
NBC promises that the celebrity contestants will be encouraged to use their status as a way to win challenges. In fact, the first fired “Apprentice,” 2005's Playboy Playmate of the Year Tiffany Fallon, was canned partly because she didn't call on Hugh Hefner to purchase a high-priced frank.
Other changes that will make the new season more appealing and probably should have been made sooner, celebrities or not, include a longer boardroom (it took up nearly the entire second half of the season premiere), less time focusing on the contestants living together at the Trump Hotel, and the twist that allows the winning team to watch part of the boardroom arguments.
Also, it was revealed in the season premiere that the project manager for the winning team will get all the money raised during each challenge for the charity of his or her choice. That puts a nice, feel-good flavor on the whole thing that was once a purely cutthroat affair.
“The Apprentice” will eventually go down as a reality contest that had tremendous promise and fizzled for a variety of reasons. Unlike Burnett's greatest success, “Survivor,” “The Apprentice” hitched itself to a personality rather than a true social experiment. Even though it started as “the ultimate job interview,” it quickly became a competition to see who could think and act most like Donald Trump, and it's clear that the public is growing tired of Trump's schtick. That's a big reason why “Survivor” enjoyed a tremendous 15th season and remains a Top 15 show, “The Apprentice” is barely hanging on for its seventh season and was ranked 75th last season.
Countless other mistakes along the way, including the ill-fated Martha Stewart spinoff, the “change of scenery” move to Los Angeles and the seemingly ego-driven firing of Carolyn Kepcher, have contributed to the show's undoing.
Despite all those bad decisions along the way, “The Apprentice” is one of the more enjoyable reality shows to watch, it's well shot and edited — and that'll be a bonus as the networks will soon flood screens with every reality idea they can grab — it's back in New York City where it should be and the table is set for people to start talking about it again.
It's too soon to know whether viewers will take to the new approach, but the writers' strike is keeping new episodes of many fan favorites off the air indefinitely, which makes now the perfect time for a one-time hit to sneak back into the mix — at least for one more season.
Victor Balta lives in Philadelphia and is a regular contributor to msnbc.com.