Friday, March 31, 2006

The Apprentice

NBC, weekly, several series since 2004

The Donald Trump and producer Mike Burnet started this sensational reality series in early 2004, and now Trump has it in a fourth (if I count right) series. This is a thirteen-to-sixteen week job interview for a single job running one of Donald Trump’s
operating (usually real estate) companies, based on the rank-and-yank principle. Every week, there are two teams that compete; the losing team is called into The Boardroom (actually constructed for the show), and Trump (with two other executives) decides whom to let go. We all know his favorite phrase, “You’re Fired.”

Most of the tasks involve a team working together to sell something to the public. In almost all episodes, Trump works with another business in New York City or the nearby burbs to build a task. Sometimes the winner is defined by a numerical competition (who makes the most project); less often the task is to design a commercial, and executives from the client company pick the best commercial.

Some of the tasks have been mundane indeed. In fact, on the very first episode, Trump called everyone together in the New York Stock Exchange to announce that they would be selling lemonade. The commercials have involved some real filmmaking. It is interesting that executives generally want simple, visual, clear, non-verbose commercials. In a contest for Pepsi Cola, the losing team had designed a bottle with a map of the globe, and executives thought that this was a boring geography lesson.

The episodes show the contestants living together in one of Trump’s buildings. Typically there is a lot of politicking centering around the Boardroom, and there are a lot of catfights. Younger male contestants have often stayed out of these, and tended to last a long time in the competition as a result, even if they are not old enough to run a traditional company in a traditional way. The criticisms of the contestants do offer jobseekers some ideas as to what real-world employers may expect of them.

One series was “street smarts” (people without degrees) vs. “book smarts.” In season 1, one contestant, Troy McClain, went quite far, and Donald offered to pay for his college education. In one episode, Troy underwent the humiliation of having his legs waxed on television, “for the team.” (That task was about “negotiation.”) There is plenty of anecdotal evidence that some persons who did not win the contest (or even people who applied but did not get onto the show) have been hired for some positions in the organization or even associated with the show.

Martha Stewart had one series of “The Apprentice” in the fall of 2005, and it seemed much weaker. She could not use the phrase “You’re Fired!” and instead just said “asked to leave.” She would handwrite a consolation letter to each contestant that was eliminated.

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