It's a rule in television that nothing boosts a long-running series like injecting it with a new twist. Sometimes that twist extends its life successfully while other times it can be the nail in the coffin. A few years back, when ratings for NBC's reality series "The Apprentice" were not as stellar as they once had been, business magnate Donald Trump took the franchise and spun it into "The Celebrity Apprentice." It's no secret that the new version of the series spiked ratings and audiences ate up seeing famous people from all arenas like comedienne Joan Rivers, singer Gene Simmons, football great Herschel Walker, reality show star Khloe Kardashian and figure skater Scott Hamilton try not to be fired by Trump and win money for the charity of their choice. Our Jim Halterman was there recently when Trump and current contestant Bret Michaels talked to the press about the new season, Trump's true feelings on firing people and, for Michaels, how he approached being thrown into this very intense environment.
One thing that Trump shared right off the bat was that he's actually turning celebrities away from the limited spots available on the show. "After the first success and then the Joan Rivers success of those two shows celebrities want to be on the show. So I would say probably six or seven people per spot we were turning down." Of the mix of celebrities from various areas of entertainment this season, Trump explained, "we wanted some athletes, we wanted some actors, actresses, we have models, we have wrestlers, we have a beautiful wrestler and a big wrestler, [Bill] Goldberg and Maria [Kanellis, a WWE Diva]... it's been a very interesting process. But the hardest thing is... we really have some good people that want to go on very badly and I guess maybe we'll save them for the next show because it looks like that's going to happen."
Changes are minimal this season, Trump said when asked what would be different with this season's episodes. "We've had such a success," he proudly stated, "and frankly when you have a success you don't like to do too many changes. And what we do have is there has been a different tone. Now as you know everything has not been shot so I can't tell you how it ends, I don't know myself how it's going to end and of course we're going to have a two or three hour live finale."
One staple that lives on this season is the dreaded boardroom, which Michaels explained was "exactly what I thought it would be like; it's very intense in there." He added that in terms of his spot on this season, "I was very excited first of all to be on the show and for me being a diabetic myself and having lifelong diabetes it was intense in there. I went in to fight for my charity and very personal for me. And when I went in there it was exactly how I saw the other two seasons, very intense." At press time, two of Michaels' fellow contestants, comedienne/writer Carol Leifer and comic Sinbad, had been given their marching orders by Trump thus far.
And while there is always a certain level of theatrics from some of the celebrities, Trump said that there was a good balance this year and he's seeing something different from what he has before. "The cast has been very interesting. They've been very tough, very nasty but there's also a lot of fun and funniness with respect to what happens, which I don't think we had in the last one with Joan [Rivers] as an example and with Piers [Morgan, from season one]. It was really nasty people really hating each other. These people hate each other but it's also funny; there's something funny about it that I didn't have in the first two so I think that might be the biggest differentiation in terms of the three casts."
In terms of strategy, Michaels said that when as he went into the series, he did have some expectations of how he wanted to play and of some of the other players. "I went in there with one intent and that was to win. And when I went in there with that attitude I know one thing that I felt was extremely important for me was to deliver myself to each task. And what I found is I thought there was going to be some quitters. You know, when I watched the other two seasons I immediately felt that I knew who was going to walk off the show or not last. And most of it turned out to be true, right. On this one there was no quitters and I think that's what made this coming season the most intense because no one was giving up the battle."
Trump used Michaels as a reference point when talking about his sometimes missing the mark when it comes to making predictions in the series. "I'll say this one is going to be a star, let's say Bret, he's going to be a star; he's going to be great and then he turns out to be a dud. I'm not saying that happened and frankly it didn't happen, okay. But you never really know. I mean, oftentimes you'll see somebody and you'll say 'Oh, this person's going to do great' especially with the celebrity because you've known these celebrities at least through reading about them for so many years. And a lot of times you're really disappointed and a lot of times somebody that you don't think of so highly turns out to be a star. So it's very, very tough. You don't know what happens and, you know, with pressure and the heat of battle you just don't know what happens. So I'll have a preconceived notion, yes, always. A lot of times that turns out to be not necessarily correct."
Michaels acknowledged the big personalities and toughness of his competitors but, instead of being intimidated, those larger than life types only makes him work harder. "Knowing that they're smart, knowing that you're up there in front of Mr. Trump, in front of Sharon [Osbourne], in front of [baseball great Darryl] Strawberry, in front of [wrestler Bill]Goldberg, all these people it really makes you up your game. And I think that what people forget about all this is when you go in there how intense and hard of work this is. You go onto a show and if you don't deliver yourself for the real fact that this is real; you are out there in the streets working hard. I forgot about anything that was going on around me other than delivering to the task. And knowing I'm going up against some smart people it made me even up my game more."
Trump also explained that he deals with different people in different ways. "I deal with Goldberg differently than I deal with the Governor [Rod Blagojevich]... like Joan Rivers last time I dealt with her much differently than some of the other contestants. Certainly if you look at Dennis Rodman and Joan you deal with people differently. And you have to be able to have that ability because frankly you deal with some people in a certain fashion and you have to know how to deal and other people in a totally different fashion."
And when it comes to the final moment of the episodes where Trump fires someone and their time on the show is cut short, does the hardcore businessman ever feel remorse? "I always feel bad... no, not always... sometimes I don't like people. And, you know, it doesn't bother me. The hard ones are when you really like somebody, really respect somebody and they make a mistake. Like as an example Scott Hamilton, how can you not like Scott Hamilton from the last season? And I had to let Scott go. And I'm a great fan of Scott, he won Olympic gold medals, he's a great champion and everything else. And he understood he made a mistake on the show and I really had no choice. And I felt very badly about that because I considered him to be just a great person and I still do. But I have to do what's right. And there are many other examples... I fire people that win gold medals, great champions, everything else, and it's not easy. "
"The Celebrity Apprentice" airs every Sunday at 9:00/8:00c on NBC.