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'The Apprentice' has its work cut out for it in L.A.

January 07, 2007|Martin Miller | Times Staff Writer

RELOCATING from his show's New York base for the first time, Donald Trump free associates in tonight's opening episode about the new home for the sixth season of "The Apprentice," Los Angeles.

L.A. is sex, movies and cars, Trump tells his 18 would-be proteges -- another stellar collection of Harvard grads, real estate developers and Internet entrepreneurs, who are largely beautiful, sycophantic and backbiting. None of the aspiring Donalds argue with their new boss' take on the city picked to renew interest in the slumping franchise.

Notably, the quintessential New Yorker left television off his top three City of Angels list -- though, clearly, a forceful case could have been made that sex and cars are better represented in other American cities. And given his penchant for bluntness, it's somewhat surprising that smog, traffic and earthquakes didn't crack his list either.

Maybe if his show regains its blockbuster status, the feat would remind The Donald to at least mention the medium that has probably made him as famous as his real estate or his hair. But even with the West Coast bling and glare, the show faces an uphill struggle to regain its former ratings glory.

In its first-season finale, "The Apprentice" drew an audience of about 28 million. In steady decline since then, the show attracted just over 11 million viewers with its Season 5 finale in June.

But any time Trump is in the game, it's hard to count out the captain of industry and self-promotion. Just in time for this season's inaugural show, Trump came out from under his hair to free associate -- in this instance with Rosie O'Donnell. Some descriptors for the co-host of "The View" that struck Trump were "fat," "loser" and "disgusting."

In a media blitz of the entertainment news outlets, Trump blasted O'Donnell for claiming he'd gone bankrupt, was worth millions, not billions, and had somehow been bailed out of trouble by his father's considerable fortune. Trump's wealth, which he won't divulge, is a touchy subject.

"I'm going to sue Rosie, and it's going to be fun," Trump told a news crew, adding: "Rosie is very lucky to have her girlfriend and she better be careful or I'll send one of my friends over to pick up her girlfriend."

That's the way The Donald rolls.

The public Trump-O'Donnell spat is meant to crank up the buzz around the show, which after changing nights for the third time, could use it. Tonight's 90-minute episode begins at 9:30, but thereafter the show will return to its usual time slot at 9 p.m.

The show's new time on Sundays pits it against the formidable "Desperate Housewives," which like "The Apprentice" scores some of its best ratings in the coveted 18-49 demographic.

As ever, Trump, in a phone interview, remained confident. "I'm not worried about the 'Housewives,' " he said. "Our audience is young, smart kids of great ambition. We'll be fine."

Trump admitted his show was hurt by "The Apprentice: Martha Stewart," which aired in fall 2005. The Stewart spinoff performed poorly in the ratings and was not renewed, though network officials maintained it was intended only as a one-season installment anyway.

"I was never in favor of Martha, but being the wonderful team player I am, I said, 'OK,' " said Trump. "People were so angry that such a piece of garbage would get the name of 'The Apprentice.' That show was a real disaster."

If Trump's feud with O'Donnell brings viewers into the tent, his show's new twists are meant to keep them there. As if the carrot of a job with Trump weren't enough, the show has a new stick with which to beat its contestants -- sleeping in tents.

A team loss in one of Trump's appointed sales tasks means being banished to the backyard, where the losers must use outdoor showers, portable toilets and tents. Meanwhile, the winning team enjoys the luxury of a mansion off Mulholland Drive.

"It's so brutal," said Trump. "They are lying out there in the grass, then it rains. It gets real sloppy. Let me tell you after five weeks, it's disgusting and you really want to get into the mansion."

Far from the backyard muck will be Trump's children, Donald Jr. and Ivanka, who will again be employed by their father. Both Trump progeny attended the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and will make appearances in the dreaded board room where they'll advise their dad when to say, "You're fired."

But don't get too attached to L.A., said Trump. The show will relocate again, probably to Miami, Las Vegas or Chicago -- cities that are rumored to hold their own with L.A., at least in the sex and cars department.

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