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NBC to air "supersized" 'Apprentice' episodes versus final minutes of 'Survivor: All Stars'

By Reality TV World staff, 01/29/2004 

In the latest example that "gentlemen's agreements" are only worth the paper that they (aren't) printed upon, NBC has recently revealed that as part of its recent decision to move its new The Apprentice reailty series to Thursdays at 9PM ET/PT, it also will be "supersizing" the February 5 and 12 episodes of the program -- and placing the show in direct competition with the first two regular Thursday broadcasts of the All-Star edition of CBS' Survivor, which Apprentice executive producer Mark Burnett also produces.

As reported previously, it was widely believed that, as part of signing his Apprentice agreement with NBC, Survivor and Apprentice executive producer Mark Burnett received a non-compete clause from NBC that forbid the network from airing Apprentice against Survivor. A rather standard practice among Hollywood's select power brokers whom produce shows for multiple Big 4 networks (a small group of producers of which Burnett is probably the only reality genre member), the existence of such an agreement was demonstrated when the network announced its plan to move the show to Thursdays at 9PM ET/PT directly versus top-rated CSI rather than the inherently less risky move to return it to its already previously enormously successful post-Friends 8:30-9:30 PM ET/PT slot.

What wasn't known publicly at the time however, was that Burnett's non-compete agreement apparently wasn't a written clause within his production contract, but instead, according to Variety, simply a "gentlemen's agreement." In the meantime, anticipating Survivor: All Stars addition to the CBS' Thursday lineup beginning February 5 as well as Apprentice still airing on Wednesday evenings, NBC had long-since commited itself to airing supersized 45-minute episodes of Friends during the February sweeps. The Friends plan would have worked fine if the network was still going to be airing slightly extended versions of NBC's Will & Grace and Scrubs sitcoms in the remaining 8:45-10:00 PM ET/PT block, however with Apprentice suddenly moved to 9-10 PM ET/PT, network schedulers were faced with fifteen minutes of dead air to fill -- and suddenly being forced to choose between honoring the spirit of their gentlemen's agreement or scrambling to find other programming -- the network opted to violate the spirit of the agreement and require Burnett to supply extended Apprentice episodes to fill the 8:45-10:00 PM ET/PT time block.

NBC insiders told Variety that while Burnett was overseas at the time of the network's decision, he was "briefed on the plan" and "understood the reasoning behind the move," however one can't help but assume he's naturally upset about the idea of his second potential reality cash cow looking to steal viewers from the exciting final minutes of his current CBS reality cash cow. Nor can he be thrilled with the idea of the additionally stress that the move might potentially put on -- thanks in part to Donald Trump's ongoing critical public comments about CBS President Les Moonves -- Burnett's increasingly strained relationship with CBS.

Variety also reported that while there's been speculation that the additional Apprentice content might simply be extended recaps of previous episodes, the same NBC insiders insisted that the episodes will feature "original content," but also stressed to the trade paper that viewers whom follow Survivor until the broadcast shows a castaway's torch being snuffed will have "no problem" jumping into Apprentice at 9PM ET/PT.

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