Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Meet the other 'Trumps': They act like the Donald as 'Apprentice' goes global

Excerpt TheStar

By Richard Huff

NEW YORK - Everyone wants to be Donald Trump these days.

Fact is, in a dozen countries right now, a gaggle of men - and women - are practicing to be their homeland's version of Trump on The Apprentice.

See, not only has the show grabbed viewers in the United States, it's become an international phenomenon with 12 countries making versions of the show using the template they bought from Trump and producer Mark Burnett.

"They're studying tapes, studying every move I make," Trump said. "I'm very honored by it."

Since The Apprentice hit big on NBC last season, Mark Burnett Prods, along with international distributor Fremantle Media, has been selling the idea worldwide, with international broadcasters plugging in local bigwigs to lead contestants through challenges and into the boardroom.

For example, in Switzerland, publishing magnate Jurg Marquard, 59, plays The Donald.

Real estate developer Mohamed Ali Alabbar handles the key role in a show airing in Pan Arabia countries.

Sir Alan Sugar, ranked No. 45 on the Sunday Times list of rich people in London, is Trump for the British crowd.

In Norway, Inger Ellen Nicolaisen, founder of a chain of hairdressing salons, is the chairman of the board.

And, as if that weren't enough, more than 40 other countries - ranging from Bulgaria to Kenya, Ecuador and Australia - are airing the American version with the real Trump.

The sales, of course, help further fill Trump's coffers. As an executive producer he splits the revenues with Burnett.

"It's not like I'm in competition with them," Trump said of the international sales of the show. "The better they do, the better I do."

International TV executives are interested in "The Apprentice" because the concept is easily understandable abroad, said Scot Cru, director of international sales for Mark Burnett Prods.

"People identify with these characters," Cru said of the contestants vying for time with Trump. "That's a big dream, a top job with someone like Trump. Those dreams are universal, whether its a kid from Wyoming or somebody in a little village outside Sal Palo, Brazil."

Producers who buy The Apprentice format first spend time in New York watching Burnett's crew film the show so they can capture the feel and focus of the program. Then they incorporate challenges and references appropriate for their own cultures and climates.

"You want it to be relevant to their local viewers," Cru said.

Likewise, the man or woman playing the Trump part also must meet the approval of Burnett & Co.

"We're not looking for carbon copies of Donald Trump, because, honestly, there's only one Trump," Cru said. "We're looking for someone like Donald Trump."

And, like most popular reality shows, The Apprentice has led to unsanctioned copycats. Israel's Keshet Broadcasting has produced The Ambassador, in which 14 players fight for a job in New York. For the record, producers of The Ambassador did shoot a scene at the Daily News.

The appeal of The Apprentice is not universal, though. In Germany, low ratings led to the show being dropped from prime time. Reiner Calmund, formerly the general manager of a soccer club, is the host of the German version, which was criticized for being out of touch with a country that is facing its worst economic problems since World War II.

Conversely, in Brazil, the broadcaster has already ordered a second season after viewership went through the roof.

And, the upcoming version of The Apprentice with Martha Stewart in Trump's shoes has already caught the attention of foreign program buyers looking to air the show when it finally hits U.S. airwaves next season.

"I could sell it in 25 places right now," Cru said. "There's significant interest from the international broadcasting community."

- Copyright © 2005 KRT News Service

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