After three years of playing host to rockers, actors, playmates, wrestlers and disgraced politicians, Donald Trump is going to focus on something much more serious: the recession.
In the new season of The Apprentice, the 16 individuals competing to be Trump's new right-hand man have been hit hard by the economy.
"The original Apprentice was in high-flying times where it was about earning more, making more. Now it's about survival. It's about people who really realize only one is getting that job with Trump," executive producer Mark Burnett said on a recent conference call.
This season, the 10th in the Apprentice franchise, marks a return to the show's original concept. The ratings show the show badly needs a boost. The first season finale drew more than 28 million viewers in the spring 2004. Just 7.94 million tuned in for the Season 6 conclusion. Celebrity Apprentice has since taken over, most recently with Bret Michaels winning the title in May.
Although Burnett says there had been discussions with NBC about how to redo the original Apprentice, the network initially ordered a fourth celebrity edition.
"[NBC] came to us at the last moment and said we're getting so many requests for a regular [Apprentice]," Trump said. "There were just so many people that wanted to see the regular Apprentice."
Both Burnett and Trump agreed the current recession felt like the perfect time to bring back the original framework.
"I think it's the best Apprentice that we've done since Season 1," Trump said. "It's a better plot in terms of bad times versus good times. When you're in good times, it's less urgent, it's less important."
Nothing illustrates this urgency better than the competitors themselves, including a recent Stanford graduate unable to find work and a former CPA forced to sell some of his family's possessions to get by.
"They've got children to feed, they've got mortgages to try and pay, they've had to sell their possessions, and here they are really trying to get themselves back and going," Burnett said. "They're standing up and fighting back harder than ever."
Despite the backdrop of hard times, don't expect The Apprentice to become touchy-feely, Burnett said.
"The actual core of the show is the same," he said. "It's not a show where Donald Trump suddenly gives them a hug every five minutes and a pat on the back."
The new season of The Apprentice premieres Thursday at 9/8c on NBC.