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Donald Trump: 'The Celebrity Apprentice' best one we've ever done


By Christopher Rocchio, 12/26/2007 

The Celebrity Apprentice apparently could have had many more participants if some were willing to overcome a very important aspect of the show -- hearing Donald Trump tell them, "You're fired!"

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"I think it's important to say for every person we took on, we turned down five.  I never knew there were so many celebrities, to be honest with you," Trump told reporters during a recent conference call. 

"There are many, many people more than what we have that wanted to be on the show.  We turned them down strongly. Now there were a few that really wanted to be on the show but they didn't want to be fired. I mean, I could name a couple that are really good... They loved it. They wanted to do it. They loved the show, but they didn't want to be fired. They just said they can't handle that, and, you know, frankly I fully understand that.  The fact is that we turned down five for every person that accepted."

Luckily for The Donald there were 14 D-List celebrities who didn't mind being criticized for The Apprentice's seventh season, which is scheduled to premiere Thursday, January 3 at 9PM ET/PT on NBC.

"What really surprised me was the fact that I wasn't exactly sure what I was getting. These are people that are successful celebrities, some unbelievably successful," gushed Trump during the call.  "And we've really had an amazing crop of people.  I didn't know whether or not they were going to take it that seriously. I didn't know whether or not they were going to be as competitive as kids getting out of Harvard and Yale, and Wharton, and all the different schools who, you know, were fighting for their lives.  It turned out to be, I think, the best Apprentice we've done and that includes Apprentice Number One which actually became, for many weeks, the number one show on television."

The Celebrity Apprentice's cast consists of country artist Trace Adkins; supermodel Carol Alt; actor and frequent celebrity reality show participant Stephen Baldwin; former Olympic gymnast Nadia Comaneci; 2005 Playboy Playmate of the Year Tiffany Fallon; Olympic softball player Jennie Finch; former The Swan creator and television producer Nely Galan; actress Marilu Henner; professional boxer Lennox Lewis; America's Got Talent judge Piers Morgan; mixed martial arts fighter Tito Ortiz; former The Sopranos actor and Dancing with the Stars dropout Vincent Pastore; KISS frontman and Gene Simmons Family Jewels star Gene Simmons; and The Apprentice first-season contestant and reality show retread Omarosa Manigault-Stallworth.

"I really, in some cases in particular, had a hard time firing some of these people because I've known them not necessarily personally, but I've known their achievements," said Trump.  "It's much more difficult. And that was, to me, the biggest difference between this and firing some young kid from Harvard who did a bad job. That was not hard for me, but firing somebody that I, in many ways, grew up with or watched over the last 25 years or 5 years or 2 years, was much more difficult because they're people of great achievement.  And it's hard for me to fire people of great achievement. But they deserved it and they got fired."

One person Trump said he wouldn't have a hard time firing should come as no surprise -- Rosie O'Donnell, his 2007 verbal-sparring partner.

"I would say she'd be fired in the first evening," he said.  "And that would be easy. Oh no, that would be easy."

In addition to having a hard time firing celebrities, Trump said he also found dealing with the show's cast to be "more difficult" due to the "level of confidence" most of the participants had.

"Some surprised me how good they were and how different from their image they were. Others were a little bit more disappointing and that's quite exciting in itself," he explained.  "I mean, there were one or two that I thought would be superstars that weren't. There were others that I wasn't so sure of and they were phenomenal. So it's very interesting television."

Despite Trump's disappointment with a few, Henner said she feels the entire cast was "going for their personal best" -- including herself.

"I myself love the show. I'm a huge fan of the shows. I wanted to do it as soon as I heard they were doing a Celebrity Apprentice," said Henner, who also participated in the conference call. 

"I thought, 'I want to see what it's like to get out there, work as hard as I know that they have to work and see what happens.' And I think every single person rose to the occasion and there was never any kind of down time so nobody could sit on their laurels even for a dinner or whatever.  It was just go, go, go and I think everybody had the, you know, the spirit and the thrill of the hunt inside of them, and it was great to see everybody in action that way."

At first, Trump said he had a hard time putting his finger on why The Celebrity Apprentice's "level of the spirit and viciousness was just unbelievable," but he eventually realized where it came from.

"Each one of these folks has a big reputation to protect and a big brand to protect," he explained.  "It was amazing. There was no game playing. There was no fooling around. There was no laziness. There was just a degree that I would never have thought possible."

Simmons -- who also participated in the conference call -- decided to jump onboard despite his reputation as a tongue-wagging, demonic-face-painted rocker and reality patriarch.

"I went to a restaurant and I saw the powerful, attractive and world-famous Donald Trump there," recounted Simmons.  "And on the way out, we exchanged pleasantries and it was sort of, 'Hey, you want to do the show?' kind of thing.  It was very fast and I went to myself, 'Well I got a lot of stuff, KISS is going back out on tour. I got to, you know, I got to tie my shoe and - wait a minute. That's an interesting idea.'"

After giving it some thought, Simmons said he realized he's "lucky enough -- blessed -- to be the king of my own domain" and was eager to learn if that would still be the case if he was taken from his comfort zone.

"The question is if the rug is pulled out from under you and you don't have your support system, your staff, your infrastructure, how good are you really?" he wondered aloud to reporters.  "The other thing is the entrepreneurs, it seems to me, by and large are self motivators, self starters. They'd rather do it themselves and sort of outsource and use somebody else's infrastructure to get to where they want to go...  The question is how's Gene Simmons in a situation where you've got other people? In other words, in a team situation. So it's a totally different model and I was curious how good I was.  I'm the rat that knew the maze to get to the cheese. But how good am I in a brand new maze?"

Simmons apparently handled the maze well, according to Trump, who said the Family Jewels star was "true to himself" during the competition and "made some tough decisions."  While The Donald was proud of most of the mice running through his maze, he said some of them did bump heads.

"There's some unbelievable hatred among people on this show as the show goes along -- beyond anything that I've seen, beyond anything in Apprentice 1 or 2 where there's some unbelievable feuds also," he said.  "There are some feuds here that are not even describable. You wouldn't believe it."

Quick to admit there's "a lot of hate" on the show, Trump added a good deal of it does come from a familiar face with The Apprentice aficionados: Omarosa.

"She's gotten meaner... If anything, she's gotten a little bit more ornery," said Trump, adding the first-season contestant had "no advantages" her second time around.  "She's just very smart, very tough and she did very well. She's a very capable person. She is a tough, smart person. Some people liked her. Some people hated her beyond anything I've ever seen, and she did, you know, very well."

The Celebrity Apprentice was announced after a two-month public feud that began with NBC leaving the one-time smash-hit but now ratings-challenged reality series off its 2007-2008 schedule and Trump responding by publicly proclaiming that he was "moving on" and quitting the show.

Following Trump's statement, NBC reiterated it was undecided on what do with The Apprentice, at least until Ben Silverman -- a reality television producer who had previously worked with Mark Burnett on NBC's The Restaurant in 2003 -- was suddenly named NBC's new programming chief. 

Shortly after taking NBC's programming reigns, Silverman asked Trump and Burnett for a one-week extension on the network's option to renew The Apprentice for a seventh season.  Trump and Burnett agreed to give NBC an additional week, and while the new deadline had passed without a formal announcement, the parties eventually announced plans for a celebrity The Apprentice edition.

"NBC wanted the -- and by the way, the old regime of NBC also, you know, they were going to -- they wanted to do The Apprentice again," explained Trump. "When Ben Silverman came in, he loved the idea of Celebrity Apprentice. He loved it right from the beginning.  So I would say it was a combination of Ben and Mark Burnett and myself, as an idea. But it was renewed prior - but it was going to be a regular iteration and Ben loved the idea of Celebrity as opposed to the regular."

Even though celebrities are participating in the show, Trump said the format is basically the same.

"You don't want to change too much of the formula because it's been so successful and it's got, you know, the highest demographic. It's done really well," said Trump.   "You want to make little changes, but you don't want to change too much. And we made some little changes actually. I mean, I think that the best change of all is the boardroom is going to be much longer than in the past because that's what everybody liked."

The Donald said the boardroom "becomes more of a focus than it's ever been" and added it's "just as hard core" as in past The Apprentice installments.

"We don't do the little rewards at the end where you'll go for a dinner or you'll get a, you know, jewelry from Harry Winston, or you'll do this or that.  We didn't do that because frankly I never found it that interesting where it - the cameras would follow them to a reward dinner or something.  We don't do that. We do something that's really interesting," explained Trump.

"During the firing and the grilling, the team that wins goes into another room. We'll call it the War Room and they watch. And the cameras are on them as they're watching. And that's far more fascinating than having that team go out and, you know, go to dinner. So we're having them watch almost up to the firing - not the firing itself, but almost up to the firing and getting the reaction. And it's an amazing reaction."

Henner said going to the boardroom sans rewards "was never easy."

"The biggest difference is that with the other Apprentice, you know, how you see people win a task and then they have a nice little dinner where they all go out?  Forget it. We didn't have that," she said.  "We just kept going, going, going and it was fine. You know, you literally woke up and started all over again. And you could see the people who fed on that and the people who didn't."

However she added that watching boardroom sessions from the War Room was helpful because it allowed participants "to learn other people's strengths and weaknesses."

"Sometimes the boardroom was really interesting. I can see why people like it the most because that's where everything comes out," she explained.  "It's kind of like a group therapy session and all of a sudden things are being said that you knew were sort of people's hidden thoughts and agendas, and now all of a sudden they're completely out in the open... Donald had to definitely throw the questions to certain people. And when he would do that, you'd hear certain things come out and then things had to be sort of tampered down... It was really interesting. It was like being in a big, dysfunctional family with a therapist, but you all had to continue working together just like in a family. So it was - I think it's definitely the most interesting part of the show."

All of the celebrities' performances will still be judged in the boardroom by Trump; his two children Donald Jr. and Ivanka; as well as The Apprentice advisor George Ross. 

In addition, the boardroom will include a "rotating seat" that will be filled by various leaders in the business community. Trump said the "rotating seat" will be filled by "some great entrepreneurs," including Macy's, Inc. CEO Terry Lundgren; fashion designer Vera Wang; CNBC Mad Money host Jim Cramer; and CNBC business news anchor Erin Burnett.

The 14 contestants will live together in a Trump Hotel in New York City -- the site of The Apprentice's first five editions before the show's Spring 2007 sixth installment filmed in Los Angeles.  In addition, the cast was also divided into two teams at the onset of the competition.

"From my standpoint, it was really a question of competence. And we had a lot of competent people and highly competent," said Trump, explaining how the teams were divided.  "But from my standpoint, it was really a question of competence, who did the best job, who did the best job not only at that task, but in the previous weeks... In that sense, it didn't change that much. It's all about competence."

Instead of vying for a job with The Donald, each of the 14 celebrities will be competing to raise over $1 million in funds for their favorite charities by participating in various business-centered tasks. 

"Millions of dollars by some of them was raised for their charities," said Trump.  "I think that's another reason why they were so competitive. But in a number of cases -- individual cases -- millions of dollars was raised for their individual charity."

Although several of the cast members were spotted executing a hot dog vending task in late October, filming for The Celebrity Apprentice has "just been completed," according to Trump, except for the show's finale.

"They want [the finale] to be live. We haven't determined," he said.  "But we haven't -- it has not been -- the final episode has not completed... So nobody really knows who won."

While he's been asked to be on a "number" of other reality shows, Trump said "it wouldn't be appropriate" as long as he's residing over The Apprentice, a gig he apparently has no interest in relinquishing to a successor.

"Well we tried to let it be [Martha Stewart], but when nobody watched the show they realized that didn't work... I guess they just don't want to change a very successful formula," boasted Trump.  "You sort of have a team that works and so they don't want to change that.  But we did give Martha a shot. And, you know, it's interesting. There have been 15 versions of The Apprentice. Mark Cuban tried and failed. Tommy Hilfiger... and Richard Branson tried. You know, they all tried... Every one of them failed miserably. They were, you know, thrown off the air in each case. And The Apprentice is now in its seventh season, so they really don't want to change that formula."

Trump was mum on whether The Apprentice will be back for an eighth installment -- however he hinted that if The Celebrity Apprentice is well-received by viewers, including celebrity participants could become a permanent feature on the show.

"If people really like this, we could do another - conceivably, another celebrity one as opposed to going back to the regular," he said.  "I believe that if this is as successful as I think it will be based on what's been done and said, I think, you know, there's a possibility we might do another Celebrity Apprentice... Because if you look, Dancing With the Stars is celebrities every season, so we may very well do that."

(Photo credit Justin Stephens/NBC)

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