Donald Trump and reality TV: They deserve each other.
Now their time has come. “The Apprentice,” where 16 would-be moguls vie for The Donald’s favor and “the dream job of a lifetime” as his yearlong protege, opens for business on NBC Thursday at 8:30 p.m. ET (before moving to 8 p.m. Wednesdays).
Created by Mark Burnett, who brought “Survivor” to the airwaves, “The Apprentice” trades on a similar survival-of-the-fittest strategy.
“It’s not a game,” Trump insists on the premiere, “it’s a 13-week job interview.”
Actually, it’s a 15-episode game. And let there be no doubt who’s the big winner: Donald Trump, the developer-businessman with a taste for glitzy edifices carrying his name. “The Apprentice” rewards Trump with a welcome new outlet for that name, and for the personality who loves to sing its praises.
“I have mastered the art of the deal and have turned the name ‘Trump’ into the highest-quality brand,” Trump declares (Trump Ice bottled water with Trump’s face on the label?!), then adds, “As the master, I want to pass along my knowledge to someone else.”
Ponder this premiere-show pearl from the master: “I’d much rather have a really smart, talented guy doing a deal in a not-so-good location than an idiot doing a deal at a great location.”
The Donald: Grand deal maker or just publicity hungry?So what’s the deal with Donald Trump?
“He always struck me as a creature who needs and thrives on public attention, of whatever kind, the way the rest of us need food and oxygen and the love of our children,” says writer-editor Kurt Andersen, whose now-defunct Spy magazine used to taunt Trump in countless ways, not least with the nickname “short-fingered vulgarian.”
If the first episode of “The Apprentice” is any sign, viewers looking for something more from Trump will be doomed to disappointment.
But no wonder. Trump has always stayed in character as someone for whom the word “grandiose” just isn’t grand enough. He has never tampered with his image as someone who has everything money can buy and very little it can’t.
Now, after years of TV guest shots (popping up in sitcom cameos or his Miss Universe Pageant telecast) the billionaire developer is starring in a series — in the same role he’s been developing his whole career.
It’s about time. In 1997 I called for the networks to give him a series, arguing that “Trump is TV incarnate — renowned for what he buys, sells, consumes and discards, and for how he promotes himself doing it. Trump is a television natural, because his story is the story TV tells around the clock. It’s the saga of insatiable desires and acquisitions.”
Such is a fitting story for a high-stakes, winner-take-all game show like “The Apprentice,” whose cutthroat capitalists, picked from more than 200,000 applicants, are blessed by Trump as “16 of America’s best and brightest.”
Whatever. The eight young men are a reasonably attractive bunch, identifiable on the spectrum of reality-show hopefuls somewhere between “The Bachelorette” and “Average Joe.”
As for the eight ladies: Each is a babe! Clearly, businesswomen lacking “leggy” on their resumes need not have applied.
Turning lemons into lemonade? Well, not quite
On the premiere, these 16 candidates are ushered into a boardroom with Trump, who, gathering his jowls into his trademark pout, informs them they’ll be split into two competing teams — men vs. women. They face “13 weeks in hell,” he warns, though they’ll be privileged to stay at Trump Tower, “one of the great buildings of the world.”
The next morning, they hit Manhattan streets for their first assignment: to make more money selling lemonade than their opponents.
Then, too soon, the losing team will be back in the boardroom for the “Apprentice” version of a tribal council: One member will be fired by Trump.
But perhaps the episode’s most telling interlude is when Trump treats the winners to a tour of his Trump Tower penthouse — “the nicest apartment in New York” — where Melania Knauss, his supermodel-girlfriend, serves as hostess.
“If you’re REALLY successful,” Trump tells his guests, “you’ll all live just like this.”
Which, dear viewer, is the moment of truth for “The Apprentice”: As you behold Trump’s digs, with its overblown extravagance, are you dumbstruck with amazement, even envy? Or are you seized by an urge to burst out laughing at this spectacle?
To put it another way: Will you really care who wins “The Apprentice”? A year working for Trump — to some viewers, this may seem more like a sentence than a prize.