The Apprentice comes to BBC Knowledge

BBC Knowledge is finally bringing the UK version of The Apprentice to Hong Kong (Mondays at 9.20 pm starting tonight).  I have mentioned this version of the show once or twice before (notably here), and I have to say that I prefer it to the Trump original (much more on The Apprentice here).  The US version got carried away with its initial success, and the 3 hour live special at the end of series two (or three?) was a sign that all was not well.  It got cancelled (no, no, of course what I meant to say was that Trump quit) and then they changed their minds and did a 7th series, with, er, celebrities.  I believe that is coming to TVB Pearl soon.  I can hardly wait.

The UK version is more solid and (so far at least) free from gimmicks.  It benefits from a total lack of Donald Trump, his bad-taste apartment, his business chums and his idiot children. 

Alan Sugar is also annoying, but in a different way.  He started out as a market trader, and made his fortune in consumer electronics, mainly by finding ways to make "hi-fi" equipment as cheaply as possible.     

Amstrad (Alan Michael Sugar Trading) was also one of the early manufacturers of home computers, but whilst the likes of Sinclair and Acorn were being innovative, they created ingenious products such as the PCW8256, which was basically a dedicated word processor (with a printer attached), using obscure 3" floppy disks that Sugar apparently got on the cheap.     

I can understand someone wanting to work for Donald Trump, but why anyone would want a job working for Alan Sugar is a bit harder to comprehend.  The "six figure salary" is actually a job for one year on a salary of £100,000.  Not bad, but not exactly life-changing - though giving up a high-paid job to be on the show might just be. 

Anyway, the first task for the two teams is to buy £500 worth of flowers at a wholesale market, and then sell them in a street market (or door-to-door).  The problem at the beginning is that there are so many contestants - and generally the ones who stand out do so for all the wrong reasons, what with being idiots and all that.  We shall see. 

Do you take Sugar with that?

The UK version of The Apprentice gave the impression that Amstrad (run by Sir Alan Sugar) was a large successful company.  It was once, but not any more.  Now Sugar has sold the company to BSkyB for £125m (of which he will personally get £34.5m).  Not bad, but at one time the company was supposed to be worth £1.2bn.

For BSkyB the deal will bring one of its main set-top box suppliers in-house and should speed up the development of new products as it seeks to stay ahead in the increasingly competitive pay-TV market.

Brentwood-based Amstrad supplies a third of Sky's set-top boxes and the broadcaster accounts for the lion's share of revenues at Sir Alan's company.

Until now, Sky's developers had come up with product specifications in-house then gone to potential suppliers asking them to come up with detailed designs. Making Amstrad a sub-division, to be run by Sir Alan, cuts out much of the costs for Sky and speeds up the process.

Sky chief James Murdoch said the deal built on a "long and positive relationship" with Amstrad. "The acquisition accelerates supply chain improvement and will help us to drive innovation and efficiency for the benefit of our customers."

Amstrad will keep its Essex offices and a smaller set-top box contract with Sky Italia, a broadcaster wholly owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp.

The idea of Sugar as an employee (with the much younger James Murdoch as his boss) seems totally at odds with his image as a successful businessman.  However, to be fair, he also owns 73% of Viglen and has his own property company:

A lot of Sir Alan's wealth - which is estimated at £830m, placing him as the 84th richest man in the UK - is tied up in property, and is controlled by the Amsprop investment company run by his son Daniel.

He also owns the aviation firm Amsair, which charters planes for businesses and private travellers.

The winner of the most recent series of The Apprentice went to work on a golf club project owned by Amsprop, rather than for Amstrad.  Everyone seems keen to reassure us that he will continue to work on the TV show:

Spokespeople at Amstrad and The Apprentice's production company TalkbackThames were quick to issue reassurances that there would be no changes at the business reality TV show. Sir Alan's "eyes and ears", Margaret Mountford and Nick Hewer, "are continuing as Sir Alan's sidekicks", said one.

One problem with the show has always been that working for Amstrad did not seem like a very attractive option.  In future, the job on offer will presumably be with one of his other companies, which ought to help.

Everyone changes their mind

A few weeks ago, Donald Trump announced that he was quitting The Apprentice, apparently in response to NBC's reluctance to go-ahead with a new series.

Now it seems (Reuters) that both Trump and NBC have changed their minds.  NBC (which never formally cancelled the show) wants to go-ahead with season 7 (and possibly season 8 as well), and Trump is happy to go along with this - and why not when he gets paid handsomely for promoting himself and his companies. 

The story seems to be that the old boss of NBC wanted to cancel the show, but new chairman Ben Silverman has a different view.  Although the ratings have fallen, the people who do watch it appear to be an attractive audience for advertisers.  Or maybe NBC just don't have anything better to put into their schedule!

I just hope that someone will take a long hard look at what made the show popular in the first place and stop messing about with it.  Bring back George Ross.  No more gimmicks such as the losing team sleeping in the garden or the winning project manager going to the boardroom to decide who gets fired from the losing team.  No more Donald Trump jr.           

Not so stupid

The third season of the UK version of The Apprentice has come to an end, accompanied by a fair degree of controversy.  Naughty old Sir Alan picked the wrong candidate - allegedly. 

It's clear that Donald Trump regarded the original US version of the show as a way of promoting himself and his companies, whereas Alan Sugar does appear to be more interested in hiring someone who is suitable for his company.  Which is why his decision to hire Simon the upper-class twit rather than 'hard as nails' Kristina is not as stupid as some people seem to think. 

The point is that Simon should have been fired in week 10 after his abject performance in the TV shopping task, and so when he survived it could only be because Sugar wanted to hire him. 

Continue reading "Not so stupid" »

Now I can see why it was cancelled

Oh dear. Oh dear. Oh dear.  I just watched the final ever episode of The Apprentice.

How could it go so wrong?

Well, just for starters there were too many gimmicks, they "fixed" things that weren't broken, and they ended up making it into just another reality show.

There was not much wrong with having a "final 2" and giving each of them an event to run, was there?  So why change it?  This time there were 4 "finalists" and I had thought that at least they were going to make it more interesting by giving each of them their own event to run. No. Instead we had two teams, and a task that was as dull as dull can be (and, hey, I know a thing or two about that). 

Then at the end of that final task, they had a boardroom where no-one was fired, so there were theoretically 4 contestants still standing at the start of the live finale. Except that we all knew that Nicole and Frank were just there to make up the numbers.

Thankfully the finale was only a single hour rather than the bloated 2 or 3 hours we have had to suffer in the past. And you know something's not quite right when the "special" guest is, er, George Ross, the Trump sidekick who had appeared almost every week in the first 5 series - before being axed in favour of the idiot children.  

Sure enough, Nicole and Frank were despatched fairly quickly, and we were left with James and Stefani.  The problem was that these two had been working together as a team for the last two tasks, and as James had taken the leading role he seemed to have a clear advantage.  On top of that, Trump had asked James for his advice on who to fire in earlier weeks, and so it seemed clear what was going to happen. 

Bizzarely, there was a sting in the tale, and Trump chose Stefani, apparently because of something that James had said.  The only logical explanation would be that Trump thought that James didn't really want the job, whereas Stefani both knew about property development and was happy to move wherevever Trump wanted (which would not be so easy for James with his two young children). 

Amusingly, the first two winners of The Apprentice UK each lasted only a short time working for Alan Sugar before moving on to make their fortunes elsewhere, and perhaps Trump was worried that the same thing would happen to him if he chose James. 

Maybe it was even the right decision for Trump, but it made for a very flat ending to what turned out to be the final episode of the show.   In case you missed the news, NBC didn't include the show in their Autumn schedule, and Trump quit before he could be fired.  Well, at least there was one good decision he made.    

He is a quitter after all

Donald Trump was not impressed when one contestant on Series 6 announced that he wanted to quit rather than hang around and probably get fired.  Apparently Trump doesn't like quitters.

Except that when NBC's Autumn schedule was announced and The Apprentice was nowhere to be seen, Donald Trump quit the show before he could be fired. 

The move to Los Angeles always looked like a desperate attempt to boost the ratings, but apparently it didn't come off - though NBC say that no final decision had been made, and they might have added the show to the schedule later.

Continue reading "He is a quitter after all" »

Top Trumps

Just for a change, I've been watching the UK version of The Apprentice.

Undoubtedly the biggest difference between the two is that Trump is a natural showman and seems to be totally comfortable doing "his" show, whereas Alan Sugar is a "hired hand" who is playing a role.  Trump relishes the power he has, and the boardroom is frequently more about who says the right thing rather than performance on the task.  Sugar appears somewhat uncomfortable in the boardroom, and the exchanges are therefore somewhat stilted and the verdicts delivered without the flourish that Trump provides.   

Secondly, as this is a BBC show we don't get the overwhelming volume of product placement that the NBC original manages to pack in to every show.  It also means we are spared the horrendous puff pieces where Trump babbles on about his great friends in Company X and then asks them their names.   

Structurally, the BBC haven't changed very much at all.  They have added a narrator to tell us what is happening, and the teams are in a house in Notting Hill rather than in Trump Tower.  That's about it, and everything else seems very much the same - I read one review that said that the UK version was better because we see the teams on the task, but clearly that also happens in the US original, though we do get to see more of the tasks because a 1 hour slot on the BBC is significantly longer than on American TV (and less time is devoted to the reward).

Continue reading "Top Trumps" »

You're so vain

The problem with the final task in The Apprentice is that by this stage we (normally) already know who's going to win, and it's quite a challenge for that person to make such a big mess that it makes any difference. Tana did manage it in series three - she looked the most likely winner but chose the final task to demonstrate that she was terrible at man management - but that's the only time it's happened.

This time around it was obvious that Sean was the stronger candidate, and he knew that all he had to do was to avoid stupid mistakes. So he made sure everything was under control, and he greeted Trump when he arrived, and that was enough.  Lee had a few problems (not surprising with the team he choose), but somehow everything turned out OK in the end. 

To the boardroom, and Lee proved once again that he is good in this environment. He tried to convince Trump that his youth made him a 'true apprentice' and that he deserved credit for "stepping up" 4 times to be project manager. Nice try, but Sean was obviously a stronger candidate, and Lee was really admitting that by arguing that he had more potential. 

Here's the strange thing. Each week in the boardroom they analyze the performance of the teams and particularly the members of the losing team. In previous years the same thing happened in the final task. Yet this time (at least in what was broadcast) there was nothing specific about the merits of the two candidates apart from stuff about their education (which seemed to be a tie). Nothing about the mistakes that they had made or what they had done well. Nothing about the success of the events or how much money was raised. I suppose that both teams had done equally well, or maybe Lee did slightly better and that didn't fit in with the script? 

Then Trump asked his children for their opinions, but they had nothing to say. In fact, the only person willing to venture an opinion was Caroline, who praised both candidates but clearly favoured Sean. They also had an online poll, which was apparently strongly in favour of Sean though the actual figures were not announced. 

Trump asked the two of them which of the two adverts for Trump properties jobs they preferred. Sean chose New York to be with Tammy Mr Trump, and Lee said that as a New Yorker he also had to make the same choice. It's possible that if Lee had chosen Hawaii he might have been hired as well (I doubt that Sean would have objected). Never mind, because Trump hired Sean on the night, and Lee a few days later (though not for the Hawaii project). 

All very dull, really. Well, except for a few things that amused me. 

  • The doors in The Apprentice have fascinated me for some time. For the "live finale", the fired contestants trooped out on to the stage through a doorway. Amazingly, as each one came out they had to hold the door open for the next person (or not, when Tammy let the door slam in Allie's face). Did they do a rehearsal? Didn't they realize how clunky it was?
  • The woman from the charity for Lee's task was pretty scary, and there seemed to be a real chance that he would just fall apart under her withering assault. Disappointingly, at the end she seemed to be very happy with the event, though we never really found out how things turned out that way.
  • Lee somehow managed not to meet Trump when he arrived at his event, though he did eventually find him and lead him to seat - and, er,  give him a can of Diet Coke. Such a basic mistake to make.
  • Then there's Lenny, of course. It's hard to imagine a worse person to look after the celebrities (well, OK, maybe Brent). Anyway, Jamie Pressley was not happy with Lenny and called him a "little apprentice boy".
  • Oh, and Sean sneaking off for some hair gel in the shopping mall - and all the nonsense with Tammy.

"Pepi, you're fired". Did I say that?

The fifth season of The Apprentice has now finished its run on TVB Pearl.  As usual, the final task was split over two shows (though thankfully this time the second part was only 90 minutes).   

First, though, there was week 13, in which Roxanne and Allie were both fired for their hopeless performance. 

The key to the task (designing uniforms for a hotel) was understanding the requirements and resisting the temptation to be too clever. Sean and Lee listened to the staff and came up with sensible, practical, designs. Allie & Roxanne clearly didn't listen, and came up with some ridiculous ideas. There was never any doubt about who would win (especially not if you had seen the trailer - thanks TVB), so the only issue was who would be fired.

Trump decided both of them should go, because they were so disloyal to each other.  True enough - they went in as friends but ended up screaming at each other, but I don't know what he expected them to do, given that they were fighting to win.  Regardless of what was said in the boardroom, Allie deserved to be fired (because she was the project manager), and Roxanne had contributed very little and so it would hardly have been fair for her to survive.      

Strangely, the same thing happened at the equivalent stage of series 4, when Ulla and Felisha were both fired and Randal and Rebecca became the final two.  That time, Trump went to the suite to tell them the good news, but this time Lee and Sean were summoned down to the boardroom to find out what was going on.  When they returned to the suite, all the fired contestants were waiting for them.  Call me cynical if you must, but unless they have all the contestants hidden away in cupboards in Trump Towers I think there must have been an interval of a day or two between the week 13 boardroom and everyone turning up in the suite.   

Yes, it was time to pick the teams for the final task.  For the first three series, a selection of contestants were delivered to the boardroom and the two finalists had to pick from the chosen few. It seemed to be a deliberate attempt to see how the finalists could cope with difficult employees - in the first series poor old Kwame had big problems with Omarosa, and in the third series Tana was less than delighted with her team.      

Things got easier in series four.  After Trump had left, Randal and Rebecca were shown having dinner and discussing who they would choose, and that was the end of it. This time, they took it a stage further, and Lee and Sean were able to talk to all the others contestants to decide who they wanted.  Presumanly this filled the gap left that had previously been occupied with the formal interviews for the final 3 or 4 contestants.  Has that been dropped?  Or did they have to be abandon it when Trump fired two people? 

Lee surprised no-one by picking Lenny as his right-hand man, and then allowed him to choose the rest of the team - Roxanne and Pepi. Bad choices. What about Allie or Bryce or Dan? Or anyone, really. Lenny was obviously chosen as one of the "characters" that the producers feel they need in the show, Pepi was fired in week 2, and Roxanne's speciality is doing as little as possible and then bitching about decisions other people have made. 

Sean admitted that he picked Tammy because he was besotted with her, but even so it was a better choice than any of Lee's. His other choices were Andrea and Tarek, both quite strong players, though personally I felt Tarek was lucky to survive as long as he did. 

Hey, no-one picked Brent. 

When they went back to see Trump to find out their assignments, he came out with the usual platitudes about two strong teams. However, after the contestants had left, Carolyn started giggling as she asked who was the big guy on Lee's team. Trump consulted his notes and discovered it was Pepi, but none of them remembered him, and Trump was obviously puzzled - "'Pepi, you're fired.' Did I say that?". 

To be continued...


It never ceases to amaze me the way that contestants on The Apprentice "over-think" the tasks they are given. The classic example was when they were asked to promote a product in a sports store and one team put on a great event but actually reduced the sales of the product compared to a normal day!!

Another thing to watch for is when an all-male team is given a "guy task" and they are sure that it's going to be easy for them. There have been a few of this, notably one with a sports car in an earlier series, and you just know that it will all go wrong.

So it was that three men (Sean, Michael & Lee) were very happy that they were leaving the hair salon behind and heading for a football game where they could do guy things (selling steaks from Outback Steak House). And they were sure to win. We saw them secure an exclusive arrangement for the cheerleaders to perform next to their tent, give out fliers to lots of people, and generally look as if they were on top of things. 

The girls also wanted the cheerleaders, and dopey Michael nearly let them have some of them, but once that distraction was out of the way they got on with selling more food at a higher price, and delivering it (so they could take larger orders). Sure, the guys had the cheerleaders, and an eating contest, and a "money pit", and lots of fun, but they didn't sell enough food (or possibly their prices were too low). So they lost. 

In the boardroom, Lee and Sean focused on Michael's willingness to let the girls have some of the cheerleaders rather than insisting on the exclusivity they had negotiated. Carolyn felt that this proved that he wasn't tough enough to run one of Trump's companies, and I'm sure she was correct.

However, that doesn't mean that it was correct to fire Michael rather than Lee. The reality is that there are probably only a few of the candidates who could actually do the job for which they are competing, and Trump fires usually some of them at an early stage for making a small mistake or saying the wrong thing in the Boardroom. Then there are the contestants who can only have been chosen for entertainment value, but whom Trump would never be crazy enough to hire. Which leaves us with the contestants who are neither one thing nor the other, including both Lee and Michael.  Lee seems too inexperienced to win, but is a good enough politician to survive countless visits to the Boardroom, Roxanne seems competent without being outstanding, Allie has been inconsistent, and I really have no idea how Michael has survived this long.

So, if you ask me, Lee doesn't deserve to win, but this is hardly an outstanding group of candidates and somebody has to get the job, so I suppose anything is possible. I saw one suggestion that Trump should fire the lot of them and hire Rebecca instead.  Hey, that works for me. 

Anyway, the reason that Gold Rush lost was because Lee did a terrible job as Project Manager, so he should have been fired. That's how it works, isn't it?  Yes, Michael is dopey, but it would seem perverse to fire him for being willing to let Synergy have some of the cheerleaders when that clearly wasn't the reason why they lost.  They either needed more people to sell the food, or higher prices, and they would have won.  Lee got the strategy wrong and should have paid the penalty. However, Trump agreed with Carolyn that Michael had demonstrated his unsuitablity for the job, and so he fired him.  Another lucky escape for Lee, I feel.

Continue reading "KISS" »