NBC Slaps 'Apprentice' Into January Sitcom Space

NBC is sending another signal about its counter-programming intentions, given the "Hollywood" writers' strike and concerns that the work stoppage could continue into next year. The network said Monday that the celebrity version of one-time hit "The Apprentice" will debut Jan. 3 in the Thursday time slot occupied by comedies "The Office" and "Scrubs."

Known as "The Celebrity Apprentice," it will feature 14 celebrities, from Lennox Lewis to Trace Adkins, competing to win money for charity.

For the Donald Trump-fronted show, it's a return to the Thursday at 9 p.m. time period, where it helped keep NBC's Thursday momentum going when it was a first-season hit in spring 2004. Since then, ratings have steadily plummeted--and some complain it has become overly commercialized, often characterizing the first half-hour of each show as doubling as a quasi-infomercial for a particular marketer.

The series looked to be canceled until new NBC programming chief Ben Silverman reportedly resuscitated it. At a pre-upfront news conference last spring, his predecessor, NBC entertainment head Kevin Reilly, bobbed and weaved when asked if the show had run its course-- saying the network had an interest in being in business with Trump, but not offering any details about the show's future. Silverman reportedly decided to bring it back when he took over.



The new season--except for the celebrities--apparently won't differ much from previous go-rounds, with Trump presiding over boardroom sessions.

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