Trump's TV Gamble

Reality TV just got interesting again.

The Donald -- Donald Trump, the ultimate entrepreneur with a Q rating high enough to register with the masses -- sits in his boardroom ready to make heads roll. Facing him are 16 brainy and attractive (hey, this is not radio folks!) contestants chosen from 215,000 "job applicants" competing for a one-year apprenticeship with Trump at a $250,000 salary.

The Apprentice is one reality show that stock analysts just might watch. Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts (NYSE:DJT) is meandering in the $2 range. (We Fools shorted the stock in 1997, and were summoned for a one-hour-and-six-minute talkin'-to with The Donald, which David Gardner recounted on these pages.)

Behind the camera of NBC's latest reality show offering is Mark Burnett -- the man who hatched Survivor -- who shares executive producer credits with Trump. (We imagine that the art of that deal would make for some interesting footage.)

So, of course, there's the requisite reality TV stuff: Short skirts, in-fighting, odd personalities (witness one contestant crawling around on his hands and knees in Trump's waiting room). With the contestants sharing a huge suite in Trump Tower, there will surely be some money shots a la "Temptation Island."

As the tagline promises: "It's not personal. It's just business." The prize is merely a job. The real payoff is camera time -- for both contestants and The Donald. The squirm factor is the show's biggest selling point. Watching contestants fawn over Trump by quoting passages from his book, The Art of the Deal, is almost as uncomfortable as watching Trump show off his wares -- including his helicopter, stretch limos, and his gorgeous gilded girlfriend.

On the first episode contestants were divided into teams -- men, who named themselves "Versacorp," vs. women, "Protégé Corp.," because hey, it worked on Survivor -- given $250 in seed money and told to sell lemonade on the streets of New York until 7 p.m. Protégé Corp. kicked butt, returning a 400% profit to The Donald. The men merely doubled their money.

The winners got a private tour of Trump's own apartment -- where there was gilding on the gild. The losers faced Trump and his two henchmen, where one was summarily fired and followed to the street where he hailed a cab to go to rest up for his Today Show appearance, no doubt.

In coming weeks contestants will be put through a variety of entrepreneurial tasks: staging a rock concert, creating an ad campaign, renovating and renting apartments.

I'll admit it. I'm already hooked. I'll be watching the tape, as well as the ticker.


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