Confirming earlier reports that NBC would be the network to land Mark Burnett's previously announced Martha Stewart The Apprentice-like reality show, NBC announced today that it had indeed signed a deal to air the series -- and that not only will the series be like The Apprentice, it will in fact be The Apprentice.

Entitled The Apprentice: Martha Stewart, the new Apprentice version will feature Stewart taking over Donald Trump's hosting responsibilities in a move that The Donald termed the first "domestic expansion" of "The Apprentice franchise."

While The Apprentice: Martha Stewart will retain the general format of The Apprentice's original series (including its weekly eliminations), the style and feel of the new show will be "tailored to reflect Stewart's personality and brand identity." According to NBC, Stewart will bring "her own sensibilities and creativity to the elimination process," with the show's tasks focusing on Stewart's "areas of expertise in media, home renovation, entertaining, design, merchandising, technology and style."

Like the current Apprentice editions, Burnett and Trump (who is an equal partner with Burnett in the series) will serve as executive producers for The Apprentice spin-off -- an international television "franchise" that a very Trump-sounding Burnett compared to Law & Order and CSI.

Similar to The Apprentice's current editions, the winner of Stewart's Apprentice edition will be awarded a position with her publicly traded Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia corporation. However, unlike the current edition's well publicized $250,000 position within The Trump Organization, the prize that Stewart's winner will receive is less clear, with Burnett telling reporters attending the announcement's telephone conference that "the winner becomes Martha's apprentice" and "welcomes this person into the Martha Stewart Omnimedia family."

Martha Stewart Omnimedia was similarly vague in its own press release, with MSO president and CEO Susan Lyne stating "we will welcome the winner of The Apprentice search to the MSO family in this dynamic period for the company." If Lyne's name sounds familiar to long-time reality viewers, it should -- she's the (fired) former ABC executive responsible for broadcasting such embarrassing reality disasters as Are You Hot? and All-American Girl, a reality resume she no doubt hopes Burnett can improve upon.

"NBC is delighted to be working with an iconic, self-made, business woman such as Martha Stewart, a true entrepreneur who transformed a small catering business into a world-renowned empire," gushed NBC president Jeff Zucker in the network's press release.

"I am thrilled to be able to offer my good friend Martha the opportunity to join me in the success of The Apprentice," said Trump. "As an executive producer, I'll be rooting for amazing ratings but most of all, I hope she has as much fun as I do with this venture," he added, ensuring no one forgot about the 50% ownership stake he negotiated with Burnett as part of his agreement to participate in The Apprentice's initial season.

"Martha Stewart is an American icon and was the world's first self-made female billionaire," said Burnett. "While both Donald and Martha are incredible business icons, they're in very different businesses," Burnett said. "This allows each version of The Apprentice to have a very different look and feel while operating within the same format."

Despite Burnett's acknowledgement that Martha's Apprentice edition will be seeking a "very different type of applicant," NBC announced that as a result of today's announcement, the Apprentice nationwide casting call that the network had announced last week has now been expanded to include applicants for Stewart's edition of the show. According to Burnett, prospective applicants will now be asked which billionaire they'd prefer to work for as part of the application process.

Although its expected that Stewart's applicant pool will be heavily female, the cast appearing on Stewart's show (which will "probably" feature 18 contestants) will still be equally divided by gender. "I won't allow that," Burnett responded when asked about the possibility of a female-skewing group of contestants.

While repeatedly refusing to reveal when the production of Martha's show would start -- "I don't want people snooping around when we're shooting" -- Burnett did note that Stewart is expected to be released from jail in March, after which she will begin a five month house arrest sentence during which she'll be able to work. "Under house arrest, Martha is entitled to make a living [and] this falls into the television part of what she does," Burnett said during the conference call. "She is entitled to work over 40 hours a week, so while under house arrest, there will be no problem with her working on the second [Apprentice] version."

Burnett did reveal that The Apprentice: Martha Stewart won't film in or around any of the existing show's Trump Tower locations. Instead, Stewart's show will center around the Connecticut and New York City locations of Stewart's businesses and feature a "very different look and feel." "I don't know that there even will be a boardroom specifically, that may not be how Martha conducts her business. It will be what will feels natural to Martha and how she says things... it has to be believable," explained Burnett. "She's not going to say 'you're fired,' she's going to use a different expression. She has her own style," added Trump.
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NBC was similarly tight lipped about exactly how the broadcast schedule for the already announced The Apprentice 4 and The Apprentice 5 sequels and The Apprentice: Martha Stewart would shake out, with Zucker refusing to confirm any broadcast timeframe until the network unveils its 2005-2006 primetime schedule in May. "We do not intent to make that mistake on scheduling...we've announced that Donald will do two more cycles and that Martha will do a cycle. All those cycles will play out over the next sixteen months," was all Zucker would say during the conference call.

The network was somewhat more forthcoming later in the day however, with an NBC spokesperson later telling Reality TV World that Stewart's Apprentice edition will not air as summer programming nor will last week's previously announced Fall 2005 and Winter 2006 broadcast plans for Apprentice 4 and Apprentice 5 change as a result of today's announcement.

Burnett became increasingly agitated when asked about how The Apprentice: Martha Stewart might compare to the similarly-themed and lowly-rated Wickedly Perfect "domestic diva search" reality series that CBS is currently airing. "It's going be nothing at all like Wickedly Perfect -- the first difference will be this will be a success," he boasted, taking a Trump-like jab at the struggling CBS series that failed to carry the Thursday night torch in between editions of Burnett's Survivor series.

"The second difference [is] that's a parody attempt at comedy which failed. This is an intelligent franchise that deals with real workplace business problems that's totally 'aspirational' for millions of people in America who want to make it." "What Donald offered the people was [the] opportunity [that] 'you could be in the big leagues' and everyone on Donald's show... has done better as a result of the experience."

Attempting to draw a connection between Burnett's launching of a Martha Stewart series and his well-publicized legal actions against what the reality uber-producer feels has been the unlawful theft of his reality concepts by copycat series airing on other networks, Zucker was asked if NBC was worried about CBS or Wickedly Perfect's production company taking any legal action against the network. "The only thing that we're copying here is the format of The Apprentice." he replied. "This is The Apprentice: Martha Stewart so I don't think there's anything that's borrowed from anything other than Mark Burnett's The Apprentice and I don't think that Wickedly Perfect was in any way close to The Apprentice so I don't think there's any comparison that can be made at all."

Audibly frustrated with being asked yet another question regarding how the two shows would compare, Burnett took yet another shot at the CBS show. "I think [this] is probably the most interest in that show that there ever was," he snapped, "Wickedly Perfect was a parody and there shouldn't be any comparison."

Burnett also strenuously denied suggestions that he had negotiated any part of Stewart's Apprentice deal during Stewart's four month incarceration. While admitting that he has made lengthy monthly visits to Stewart during her imprisonment, Burnett denied that he and Stewart had violated any of her sentencing restrictions by conducting business during her visits. According to Burnett, Martha was a long-time friend of his and he was simply keeping a pre-sentencing promise that he would visit her monthly for the duration of her West Virginia incarceration.

"I have never discussed any business with Martha while in prison," Burnett said, adding that the possibility was simply not feasible because he was sitting "shoulder to shoulder with other people [visiting inmates] with no glass in between."

Instead, according to Burnett, the deal was "finalized prior to [her] incarceration" -- an event that the show won't play up, but neither will it ignore. "It won't be avoided," said Burnett. "She may mention it in passing."

Asked why they waited so long to formally announce the new Stewart show if a deal had already been completed in the fall, Zucker explained there were several reasons. "There are a couple of reasons. One, we really didn't want to interfere with the third cycle of The Apprentice and confuse that." "Quite frankly we didn't want to step on Melania's lovely wedding and thirdly, casting of this cycle wasn't going to begin [until] now so there was no reason to do [it] until we were ready to do the casting." "The combination of all three things drew us toward this timing."

Later, Zucker also mentioned an attempt to avoid confusion with December's announcement of the revival of the Martha Stewart daily syndicated show (which Burnett will also produce and NBC Enterprises will distribute) as another reason for the delay in The Apprentice announcement.

As for Trump, he says that the announcement of a Stewart-hosted version of The Apprentice should not be interpreted as a sign that he'll be leaving the show at the conclusion of his recently announced two edition commitment. "As long as I'm enjoying it, we'll keep doing it," he stated, noting that he doesn't see that changing anytime soon.