What do you do when your long-running, hit reality show loses its celebrity host? If you’re NBC and the show is Celebrity Apprentice, you rebrand it as The New Celebrity Apprentice and carry on—and you hope viewers don’t notice.
Did you happen to spot what’s so “new” about The New Celebrity Apprentice? If your answer was, “it seems much more boring,” then you are correct.
With Donald Trump on hiatus from the show to run the country for the next four years, mega-producer Mark Burnett took time off from butchering the remakes of beloved films like Ben-Hur to invite his pal, Arnold Schwarzenegger, to take the helm of the Celebrity Apprentice franchise.
For Americans of a certain age—those old enough to have witnessed his meteoric rise to both cinematic stardom and the governor’s mansion in Sacramento, CA—Schwarzenegger remains an endearing symbol of the opportunity this country, more than any other, offers to immigrants from around the globe. Personal scandals and improper diction aside, Arnold Schwarzenegger is a (generally) beloved American success story who has entertained millions of people for more than three decades.
But the first episode of The New Celebrity Apprentice’s first season accomplished something few ever thought possible: It made us miss Donald Trump.
Saddled with an especially lackluster lineup of C-List celebrities, Schwarzenegger muddled his way through sixty minutes of uninspired quips, quotes and gimmicks. The first task given to the Guys vs. Girls teams was to find an interesting, compelling way to sell super model Tyra Banks’ new line of beauty products. The “big twist” turned out to be that the Guys’ team included notorious beauty product abuser Boy George as its fearless leader, and the men triumphed over the ladies.
They must have had Aaron Sorkin and a team of Oscar-nominated writers locked in a room for weeks to have come up with such a counterintuitive yet politically correct story arc.
But it wasn’t just the convoluted contest requirements that made the show seem dull by comparison to its earlier seasons. It was what was missing: Donald Trump. Swapping out an undeniably real (albeit flawed) person like Trump for an actor best known for playing muscular cyborgs just doesn’t work in the world of reality television.
Arnold Schwarzenegger has read lines written by other people while pretending to be other people for his entire adult life. And we loved him for it. He was great at it. In a movie, he’s believable, whether he’s playing a Terminator or a Kindergarten Cop.
Donald Trump cannot be anyone other than himself. You may despise the man, but you cannot look away when he’s onscreen—mainly because you never know what he’s going to say or do. Yes, reality television is “scripted” and wildly over-produced, but those known factors make Trump’s ability to come off as thoroughly (if not insanely) genuine all the more remarkable.
Somewhere in here lies a metaphor that speaks to his recent election victory, but I’ll leave the parsing of such things to political commentators.
But I know engaging television when I see it, and The New Celebrity Apprentice is neither. Although half the country (and most of Hollywood) is unhappy that The Donald is now in the White House, some of us are also unhappy that he’s no longer goading and encouraging contestants in our favorite reality television boardroom, and wondering if we can survive four (or eight) years with Arnold.