Will Donald Trump's "You're fired!" have the same impact on someone famous?
The real-estate mogul's NBC series tests familiar players' business sense in "The Celebrity Apprentice," premiering Thursday, Jan. 3. After an "Apprentice" season in Los Angeles, the show is back in New York for its seventh round, with 14 competitors from different walks of fame.
The rivals for a $250,000 grand prize for charity include actors Stephen Baldwin, Marilu Henner ("Taxi") and Vincent Pastore ("The Sopranos"); music stars Gene Simmons (of KISS fame) and Trace Adkins; and athletes Nadia Comaneci, Jennie Finch, Lennox Lewis and Tito Ortiz.
Also competing are model-actress Carol Alt; Tiffany Fallon, Playboy's 2005 Playmate of the Year; "America's Got Talent" judge Piers Morgan; media mogul Nely Galan; and, returning to the show, the memorably fierce Omarosa.
Pleased to have "Apprentice" back on Thursdays (where he says the unscripted series "used to beat 'CSI: Crime Scene Investigation' on a regular basis"), Trump admits the casting of the first celebrity edition "took a while. Some people just didn't want to be fired, but others absolutely wanted to be on the show. We ended up getting a cast we're really happy with."
A self-described "Apprentice" devotee, the lively Henner was thrilled to be one of the first celebrities summoned.
"I was the only one, except for Omarosa, who had probably seen every episode from the very beginning," she says. "After this experience, I am not only an even bigger fan of Donald Trump, but also of his kids."
Henner wasn't unnerved by their critiques while taping the boardroom sequences. "I don't know if it was the actress in me, but I just got a kick out of it. All I could think was, 'This is cool!' Also, we were doing it for charity, so it wasn't like we were vying for the same job."
Previous "Apprentice" wannabes went through their challenges in relative anonymity; not so for the celebrity players. "I actually think that makes it better," Trump says, "and it's easier for the show. You're not building up stars. These people already are stars, so there's a following automatically."
Trump didn't hesitate to put Omarosa back in the contest. "She's very smart, she's very tough, and she can be nasty. She's actually tougher on this show than she was the first time." Henner knew who she was going up against, and she says her view of Omarosa "ended up being completely the opposite of what it was at the beginning."
Going in with prior "Apprentice" knowledge can have "pluses and minuses," Henner says. "You might be too reverential, or you might think, "This is how they did it before. Should I do it another way?' I think the biggest adjustment was that we weren't playing 'The Apprentice'; we were playing 'The Celebrity Apprentice,' and you definitely had to get into a groove with that."
Trump hopes involving celebrities will re-energize "The Apprentice" overall. "NBC put on three [editions] one season," he says. "They were trying to capitalize on it, but it was a big mistake. I said I wouldn't do it anymore, but NBC wanted it. I'd had the idea for a 'Celebrity Apprentice' for a while, but the old group at the network didn't want to change anything. I wanted to, and we're already looking at doing another season of it."
Celebrities Risk Getting Trumped on 'Apprentice'