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Mark Burnett on How Trump, Politics Hurt ‘Celebrity Apprentice’ Revival With Schwarzenegger

Variety logo Variety 7/12/2017 Cynthia Littleton
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The bitterness of the nation’s post-election political and cultural divide doomed the revival earlier this year of NBC’s “Celebrity Apprentice” with Arnold Schwarzenegger replacing Donald Trump at the helm. That’s the view of series creator Mark Burnett, who predicts the show will be back on the air in the U.S. in some form in the not too distant future — perhaps with a woman at the helm.

“ ‘The Apprentice’ is a great format,” Burnett told Variety during a wide-ranging interview last month. “Formats are hard to come by. It continues to be one of the top shows in the U.K. I believe we’ll carry on (in the U.S.) for many years to come. I’m sure sometime in the next year we’ll look at it again and figure out what we do now.”

The attention that the revival generated because of its past association with Trump put a burden on the Schwarzenegger edition that was hard to overcome. The outcry over Trump and allegations about his behavior toward women and minorities cast a cloud over the franchise that had given Trump the national profile boost that set the stage for his White House run. The fact that the Schwarzenegger rendition, dubbed “The New Celebrity Apprentice,” still carried Trump’s name as an executive producer was another flashpoint.

Burnett said the show also suffered because of its timing — it debuted Jan. 2, following Trump’s decision to enter the 2016 presidential race. “It came on at a time in our country when there’s a big divide,” Burnett said. “That didn’t help the show. Many people couldn’t look at it purely on the merits of the fun of the show. That certainly didn’t help.”

Burnett was quick to add that he thought the Schwarzenegger edition was “really well made” despite its modest viewership. “New Celebrity Apprentice” averaged less than 4 million viewers for its seven-episode run, a double-digit drop from the last Trump-hosted season. Schwarzenegger announced after the finale in February that he would not return to the show.

Burnett said it might be time to return to a non-celebrity format, as it was when “Apprentice” premiered in 2004. The U.K. has a successful version of the show with teenage contenders that could be a possibility. So is the prospect of having a woman run the boardroom for the first time since “The Apprentice: Martha Stewart” went one season and out on NBC in 2005.

Trump remains connected to “The Apprentice” franchise as a profit participant who owns a piece of the show. Trump was publicly critical via Twitter of the Schwarzenegger version, but Burnett maintains the two have not discussed the future of the show.

“I’m sure he’s got more things on his mind,” Burnett said. “We’ve had zero discussion about what to do with ‘The Apprentice.’ ”

(Pictured: Mark Burnett, Arnold Schwarzenegger)

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