Falling for the Celebrity Apprentice Trap

Even though I decided not to watch the newest edition of The Celebrity Apprentice, I ended up thinking about the show today, because the Internet was chattering about it. Apparently, Donald Trump fired contestant Keshia Knight Pulliam when her team lost one of the competitions. That's part of the game, no big deal, but what sparked the cyber-water-cooler discussions was that one of Trump's main reasons for justifying her termination was that she didn't call Bill Cosby to ask him for a donation to help win for charity. Although the episode was filmed months before Cosby's Public Relations crisis exploded, many viewers and Monday morning media analysts were wondering why the producers decided to air that scene the way it was, given the current negativities associated with the mere mention of Cosby.  The answer, of course, is that the producers used that incident as a ratings "gift-horse," expecting the social media buzz.  Why should they edit it out or trim it down if it would cause the public to talk about the show and the media to spotlight the episode?

Many reality shows create faux scandals and controversies in the hope of building interest. Headlines, even negative ones, might convince people to tune in to see what the fuss is all about.  Big Brother does it a lot, and so does Trump's Apprentice.

The Apprentice show began in 2004 as an interesting concept with a nice variation on the competitive "last person standing" genre that Survivor, The Bachelor, The Amazing Race, American Idol, and other programs made so popular. Contestants on The Apprentice competed to win a job for one of Mr. Trump's business ventures.  Its cleverness and glorification of the entrepreneurial spirit soon gave way to reality show tropes -- villains, alliances, back-door betrayals, not to mention an over-abundance of product placements. A Martha Stewart spin-off bombed.

When the format changed to include celebrities, it was at first refreshing.  I enjoyed seeing familiar faces like Piers Morgan, Joan Rivers, Bret Michaels, and Arsenio Hall win money for their charities. It was a guilty pleasure to watch and root for Lou Ferrigno and Gene Simmons.  The more outrageous celebrities like Gary Busey and Dennis Rodman boosted the entertainment factor.

This season though, the celebrities seem more b-list than usual with too many names I didn't recognize, so I didn't care to tune it.  Still, the PR machine did its job and managed to tap into some interest with the pop culture masses.  The question is, what will they do next week?

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