New NBC execs reconsider Trump's "The Apprentice"

LOS ANGELES Thu May 31, 2007 8:06pm EDT

Donald Trump waits for an interim WBC welterweight title boxing fight between Shane Mosley of California and Luis Collazo of New York in Las Vegas, Nevada, February 10, 2007. REUTERS/Steve Marcus

Donald Trump waits for an interim WBC welterweight title boxing fight between Shane Mosley of California and Luis Collazo of New York in Las Vegas, Nevada, February 10, 2007.

Credit: Reuters/Steve Marcus

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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Maybe Donald Trump and "The Apprentice" can't get fired.

Just when it seemed that Trump's corporate reality show would never return to NBC, the network's new head of prime-time entertainment is thinking about bringing the real estate tycoon back after all.

The network has asked Trump and fellow executive producer of the show, Mark Burnett, for a one-week extension of NBC's option to renew the series, an NBC spokeswoman told Reuters on Thursday. And they have agreed, according to Trump.

The extension does not guarantee a return of "The Apprentice" to NBC; it merely gives NBC another week, until next Friday, to exercise its rights under its existing deal to air one more installment of the program.

The future of the low-rated show was cast into doubt earlier this month when "The Apprentice" was left off the new prime-time schedule unveiled by NBC. The network refused then to rule out the possibility the program might return.

But Trump himself declared he had decided he was ready to leave the franchise behind.

NBC's move to reconsider marks one of the first decisions by the network's new chief programmer, Ben Silverman, who was named earlier this week with Marc Graboff as a co-chairman of NBC Entertainment and NBC Universal Television Studio.

Silverman replaces Kevin Reilly, who left after three years on the job in a shake-up announced on Tuesday by the beleaguered General Electric Co.-controlled company.

"It's true. Ben is just getting in and getting up to speed, and he did ask for an extension on the ('Apprentice') option for a week," spokeswoman Rebecca Marks said.

Once the option expires, producers are free to shop the series to another network, and Trump said "numerous networks" have expressed interest in picking up the show.

"Mr. Trump and Mr. Burnett have agreed to this one-week extension and have informed the other networks that they cannot discuss 'The Apprentice' with them until this option period expires," a statement issued by the Trump Organization said.

In a separate interview with Reuters earlier in the day, Burnett indicated he favored sticking with NBC, which he said could bring "The Apprentice" back on air by January.

"We've been a good partner with NBC and made them a lot of money," Burnett said. "So when the old regime that we had problems with was gone, then Donald and I decided to try again with the new regime. So 'Apprentice' fans, all is not lost."

"The Apprentice," which turned Trump into a television star and popularized his catch phrase, "You're fired!" features young, aggressive entrepreneurs in a game of elimination as they compete for a real-life job in Trump's business empire.

The show debuted as a hit in 2004, but it sank steadily in the ratings in successive years, losing nearly two-thirds of its original audience by the time it ended its sixth installment last month.

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