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Created: February 3, 2005
Latest Update: February 3, 2005
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February 2, 2005
Stewart to Star in Trump Spinoff
By RANDY KENNEDY
The final words will probably be a little more decorous than "you're fired," but Martha Stewart will soon join Donald Trump in crowning a new generation of young moguls on her own version of "The Apprentice," NBC officials announced yesterday.
The show, which will begin production sometime after Ms. Stewart is released from prison in West Virginia in March and while she remains under house arrest, will feature Ms. Stewart as a less brusque but equally imperious business legend in search of an assistant to help run part of her company, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia. As on Mr. Trump's show, the winner will be awarded a one-year job with a salary of $250,000.
Mark Burnett, the creator of "The Apprentice" and the producer of a new morning show for Ms. Stewart scheduled to make its debut next fall, said that he had discussed the idea extensively with her before she went to prison in October and that both he and Mr. Trump, his partner in the "Apprentice" franchise, considered her a perfect counterpart to expand the show.
While Ms. Stewart is known for her household advice and cooking skills, the show will focus much more on the business and marketing acumen she used to build a multibillion-dollar company and will try to reveal a side of her that was not a prominent part of her previous television persona. Its contestants - probably 18 a season - will not be baking cakes or making wreaths but competing in tasks much like those on Mr. Trump's show, except in the business of lifestyle, not real estate.
"She's a businessperson, and this is a business show," said Mr. Burnett, who has visited Ms. Stewart once a month since her imprisonment and talked often yesterday about her dogged work ethic, displayed even as an inmate in her zeal in cleaning the prison's floor-waxing machines.
But he added that the show, which he compared to expansions of the successful "CSI" and "Law & Order" franchises, would have a markedly different style from Mr. Trump's and would probably attract a completely different type of competitor. "Martha has her own empire, which is a different look and feel," he said, adding of the show, "It will be what feels natural to Martha."
Ms. Stewart, who was convicted of lying to federal investigators and is not allowed to conduct business while in prison, made no comment about the decision yesterday. In a conference call with reporters, Mr. Trump said that he had long been a friend of Ms. Stewart's and had no hesitations about creating a show for her despite her legal troubles and recent notoriety. "Very few people could have withstood what she's withstood," he said. "It was an easy decision for us and one we believe will really give great added value to our franchise."
Mr. Trump added that he did not know what Ms. Stewart would say to contestants booted from the show but that he was pretty sure his phrase would not suit her. "She's probably going to use a different expression, and she's got a different way of doing things than I do," he said.
Speculation about a possible reality show starring a post-prison Ms. Stewart had been rampant since last September, when Mr. Burnett said he had signed an agreement to create a prime-time show for her. In December, at an elegant news conference at Omnimedia's Manhattan headquarters, he announced the creation of a new morning show for Ms. Stewart, to be taped in front of a live audience.
Jeff Zucker, president of the NBC Universal Television Group, said yesterday that the announcement of the new show, to be called "The Apprentice: Martha Stewart," had been held until now because the network did not want attention for the spinoff to detract from the second season of "The Apprentice" and also because he did not want it to interfere with Mr. Trump and Melania Knauss's wedding last month. He declined to comment on how the two shows would be scheduled but said that he was very aware of the dangers of overexposure, which hurt "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire."
"We do not intend to make that mistake," he said. But he added that local NBC affiliates had already shown great interest in Ms. Stewart's new morning show - 70 percent have bought it so far - and that he believed that her recent troubles had only increased her appeal with American viewers who love comeback stories.
"I think that is part of what the tremendous interest in her will be," he said.
Susan Lyne, president and chief executive of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, said in an interview yesterday that she would not be playing an on-air role on Ms. Stewart's show like the ones played by George Ross, executive vice president and senior counsel of the Trump Organization, and Carolyn Kepcher, another executive vice president.
But there is a possibility that other company executives could play themselves on the show. "I imagine that would be feasible, but we haven't had the discussion yet," she said, adding that because most of the plans for the show were made only in outline before Ms. Stewart went to prison, many things are still to be determined.
The level of the job that the winner of the show will receive is also still unclear and to a large extent depends on the talents of the winner, Ms. Lyne said, adding that the company was seeking to expand in several areas, including its presence on the Internet.
"It would be limiting right now to say they'd play this or that role," she said, "but we are looking for someone who can create some new business for us instead of just moving into an ongoing role."
Of Ms. Stewart, whom she has also visited in prison, Ms. Lyne said, "I think she's excited to be able to get on with her life, and that includes a certain form of getting back to work."
Mr. Burnett was asked repeatedly during the conference call yesterday whether he had discussed business with Ms. Stewart during his visits. He insisted he had not and laughed when asked whether he might have employed code words like "celery" or "lettuce" to refer to money or other aspects of the show.
"I'm not good enough in the kitchen to do that," he said.
Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company