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NBC replaces Trump with Schwarzenegger on 'Celebrity Apprentice'

 NBC replaces Trump with Schwarzenegger on 'Celebrity Apprentice'
Arnold Schwarzenegger on "The New Celebrity Apprentice." He said when people found out Donald Trump was still receiving money from the show, audiences began boycotting. (Tommy Baynard / Mark Burnett Productions)

NBC has a couple words for Arnold Schwarzenegger: You're hired.

In a singularly strange mash-up of politics and entertainment, the former governor of California will take over as host of "Celebrity Apprentice," the business-themed reality competition show that will return to the NBC lineup during the 2016-17 TV season. Schwarzenegger will replace real estate mogul Donald Trump, who had a stormy exit from the series as his White House bid heated up this summer.

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"I have always been a huge fan of 'The Celebrity Apprentice' and the way it showcases the challenges and triumphs of business and teamwork," the 68-year-old Schwarzenegger said in a statement provided by NBC. "I am thrilled to bring my experience to the boardroom and continue to raise millions for charity," he added, referring to the fact that celebrity contestants play for their favorite philanthropy. "Let's get started!"

Calling Schwarzenegger "my friend," Trump, 69, shed the pugnacious style voters have gotten to know on the campaign trail and congratulated the action-movie hero, who served as California governor from 2003 to 2011.

"He'll be great & will raise lots of $ for charity," Trump tweeted about the Austrian-born movie star to his followers.

An NBC spokeswoman said neither Schwarzenegger nor any executives at the network would comment beyond a news release, and they did not say when the first episode with the new host would be broadcast.

For NBC and executive producer Mark Burnett, whose production company controls the "Apprentice" format, the Schwarzenegger move could amount to a good way to reinvigorate a signature show after a period of turmoil.

"Celebrity Apprentice" had "seemed to be waning both in terms of ratings and cultural impact," said Tom Nunan, a film and TV producer who teaches at UCLA's School of Theater, Film and Television. With Schwarzenegger, the network "not only got a vital and dynamic new host but a new reason for viewers to tune in. This is a win all the way around for NBC."

"The Apprentice," the predecessor program that enlisted ambitious young people vying to become a Trump lieutenant, was a smash hit after its January 2004 premiere. Trump's send-off to failed contestants — "You're fired!" — became a national catchphrase and brought him a new level of fame.

After six seasons, NBC transformed the program into "Celebrity Apprentice," a more campy spinoff that had Trump staring down the likes of comic Gilbert Gottfried, actor Gary Busey and the late Joan Rivers.

Like much of network TV, "Celebrity Apprentice" has seen its audience diminish in recent years. But last winter's version, which crowned TV personality Leeza Gibbons the winner, still drew a respectable 7.6 million viewers, according to Nielsen.

Relations between Trump and the network soured after the tycoon announced his White House bid this year. In June, NBC said it was cutting its business ties to Trump, including his role on "Celebrity Apprentice" as well as the telecast of his Miss USA and Miss Universe pageants. The network cited his "derogatory statements" about Mexican immigrants, many of whom he claimed are "rapists" who are "bringing drugs [and] bringing crime."

Trump's camp insists that he was not fired from "Celebrity Apprentice" but, rather, quit voluntarily to run for president. The mogul, who has claimed a net worth of $10 billion, reported in July that over 14 seasons he had earned $213,606,575 on "Apprentice" and its spinoff.

As for the beauty pageants, Trump — after initially threatening to sue NBC — bought out the 51% stake formerly owned by NBC Universal. On Monday, Trump announced that he sold the pageants to talent powerhouse WME/IMG for an undisclosed sum.

With Schwarzenegger, NBC will bank on a star with a much more affable persona.

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Catapulting to fame as a champion bodybuilder in the 1970s, Schwarzenegger then became a movie star in the "Conan the Barbarian" and "Terminator" franchises, with his own catchphrases, such as "Hasta la vista, baby" and "I'll be back." He pushed for the 2003 recall of Gov. Gray Davis that led to his own tenure in Sacramento.

NBC is relying on his governorship to enhance his credibility as a corporate boss on "Celebrity Apprentice." But experts are mixed on Schwarzenegger's time as the state's chief executive.

Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, a USC professor and political analyst, said Schwarzenegger, who ran as a Republican, made a more energetic government response to climate change and the environment the cornerstone of his political legacy. But his repeal of a deeply unpopular car-tax hike deepened the state's fiscal hole. And he failed to end the political gridlock and stagnation that had long irked voters.

"He couldn't; he didn't," Jeffe said, adding that state's government is "an incredible bureaucracy."

Schwarzenegger has also personal foibles that have generated gossip headlines. Shortly before the election in 2003, The Times published accounts by six women that the movie star groped them without their consent, including three who claimed he grabbed their breasts. At the time, a Schwarzenegger aide denied that the candidate had engaged in improper behavior and blamed the revelations on political enemies.

In 2011, The Times revealed that Schwarzenegger had years before fathered a child with an employee who worked in the home he shared with then-wife Maria Shriver. Shriver, a TV personality, and Schwarzenegger have since divorced. He later called the split his "biggest failure."

But his past might only make Arnold an even bigger lure on the small screen.

"Advertisers love Arnold," Nunan said. "He's known as a 'four-quadrant celebrity' — meaning that he appeals to … all key demographics: families, single people, young folks and older people.

"He's a legitimate movie star and an internationally known brand. I predict he could significantly improve the ratings, if he's uninhibited and allowed to truly be himself."

Twitter: @scottcollinsLAT

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