Donald Trump Returns to 'Apprentice' Boardroom

Donald Trump Returns to 'Apprentice' Boardroom

By FRAZIER MOORE
AP Television Writer
NEW YORK
There is something Donald Trump says he doesn’t know.

Trump has welcomed a reporter to his 26th-floor corner office in Trump Tower to talk about “All-Star Celebrity Apprentice.” And here in person, this one-of-a-kind TV star, billionaire businessman, ubiquitous brand mogul and media maestro strikes a softer pose than he has typically practiced in his decades on public display.

Relaxed behind a broad desk whose mirror sheen is mostly hidden by stacks of paper that suggest work is actually done there, Trump is pleasant, even chummy, with a my-time-is-your-time easiness greeting his guest.

He even contradicts his status as a legendary know-it-all with this surprising admission: There’s a corner of the universe he doesn’t understand.

The ratings woes of NBC, which airs his show, are on Trump’s mind at the moment, and as he hastens to voice confidence in the network’s powers-that-be (“They will absolutely get it right”), he marvels at the mysteries of the entertainment world.

He loves to recall the iffy prospects for “The Apprentice” when it debuted in January 2004. With show biz, he declares, “You NEVER know what’s gonna happen.”

Except, of course, when you do.

So maybe he does know it all. In any case, lots of people wanted “The Apprentice.” In its first season, it averaged nearly 21 million viewers each week.

And it gave Trump a signature TV platform that clinched his image as corporate royalty. He presided in a mood-lit stagecraft boardroom where celebrity subjects addressed him as “Mr. Trump” and shrank at that dismissive flick of his wrist and dreaded catchphrase, “You’re fired.”

The two-hour premiere of “All-Star Celebrity Apprentice” (Sunday at 9 p.m. EST) starts by rallying its 14 veteran contenders in the even more evocative setting of the 2,000-year-old Egyptian Temple of Dendur at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

There, grandly, Trump receives such returning players as Gary Busey, Stephen Baldwin, LaToya Jackson and reality mean queen Omarosa.

Soon, teammates are chosen by team leaders Bret Michaels and Trace Adkins. Their first assignment: concoct a winning recipe for meatballs, then sell more of them than the rival team.

This is the 13th edition of the “Apprentice” franchise, which has now slipped to less than one-third its original viewership, according to Nielsen Co. figures. But even an audience matching last season’s 6.26 million viewers would be pleasant news for NBC, which has recently fallen to fifth place in prime time, behind even Spanish-language Univision.

Years before “The Apprentice,” Trump had hit on a winning formula for himself: Supercharge his business success with relentless self-promotion, putting a human face _ his! _ on the capitalist system, and embedding his persona in a feedback loop of performance and fame.

Since then, he has ruled as America’s larger-than-life tycoon and its patron saint of material success. Which raises the question: Does he play a souped-up version of himself for his audience as Donald Trump, a character bigger and broader than its real-life inspiration?

He laughs, flashing something like a you-got-me smile.

It began as early as 1987, when his first book, “Trump: The Art of the Deal,” became a huge best-seller.

And even without a regular showcase, he was no stranger to TV. For instance, in the span of just 10 days in May 1997, Trump not only was seen on his “Miss Universe Pageant” telecast on CBS, but also made sitcom cameo appearances as himself on NBC’s “Suddenly Susan” and ABC’s “Drew Carey Show.”

Meanwhile, as a frequent talk-show guest then (as now), he publicized his projects and pushed his brand.

No one has ever accused Trump of hiding his light under a bushel. But his promotional drive (or naked craving for attention) has taken him to extremes that conventional wisdom warns against: saying and doing things that might hurt your bottom line.

Item: Trump’s noisy, even race-baiting challenge to President Barack Obama to prove his American citizenship. This crusade has earned Trump the title from one editorialist as “birther blowhard.”

For an industrialist and entertainer, where’s the profit in voicing political views that could tick off a segment of your market or your audience?

But isn’t he being divisive with some of his pronouncements?

The publicity he got from his political activism reached a fever pitch during his months-long, media-blitzed flirtation with running for president that seemed conveniently to dovetail with the Spring 2011 season of his TV show.

That May, he announced he would not run. For some, it was the final scene of nothing more than political theatrics.

He says he has no designs on this year’s race for mayor of New York. But his politicizing continues apace. In his Twitter feed, with 2 million followers, he continues to bash China and rant about Washington. He phones in to Fox News Channel’s “Fox & Friends” each Monday morning to vent his spleen.

Last summer saw the opening in Aberdeen, Scotland, of Trump International Golf Links after a bitter, yearslong fight waged by environmentalists and local residents against government leaders and, of course, Trump.

A man for whom it seems no publicity is bad publicity, Trump insists the controversy helped the project.

Trump even seems to profit from the harsh attention focused on his hair.

To prove it, Trump does a remarkable thing: He lifts the flaxen locks that flop above his forehead to reveal, plain as day, a normal hairline.

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Online:

www.nbc.com

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Frazier Moore is a national television columnist for The Associated Press. He can be reached at fmoore(at)ap.org and at http://www.twitter.com/tvfrazier


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