NBC's 'Apprentice' rehired, sources say

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NBC and producers of "The Apprentice" will bring Donald Trump's reality TV show back from the brink of cancellation for at least one more season, industry sources said Friday.

The sources told Reuters on condition of anonymity that NBC plans to announce a renewal at an annual summer presentation to television critics July 16, about two months after the show had appeared on the verge of primetime extinction.

There was no official word on a deal from NBC, the Trump organization or executive producer Mark Burnett, but all three parties have acknowledged in recent weeks that negotiations on a possible return of the show were continuing.

One person familiar with the negotiations said "The Apprentice" would be renewed for two more years. Another said NBC and producers were close to a deal to bring the show back for a seventh season with an option to renew it for an eighth installment.

"The Apprentice," which turned Trump into a television star and popularized his catchphrase "You're fired," was sliding in the ratings and appeared headed for oblivion when it was omitted from the 2007-08 primetime programming schedule NBC unveiled in mid-May.

Network executives refused then to rule out a possible reprieve for Trump. But the real estate tycoon seemed to seal the show's fate when he issued a statement days later saying he was "moving on" to other TV ventures.

Prospects for the show rebounded again in late May when NBC, under newly installed chief programmer Ben Silverman, asked Trump and Burnett to extend the network's option to renew the series, and they agreed to talks.

"The Apprentice" debuted in 2004 as a hit show featuring young, aggressive entrepreneurs competing in a weekly game of elimination for a real-life job in Trump's business empire.

But the series steadily declined in the ratings in successive years, losing nearly two-thirds of its original audience by the time it wrapped up its sixth installment in April.

If the current option on a renewal for a seventh season were to expire without a deal, producers would be free to shop the series to another network, and Trump has said "numerous networks" have expressed an interest in picking up the show.

The show is important for Trump's growing branding effort, which banks on the businessman's brash image to market products including water, vodka and steaks.

Trump and NBC still remain in the beauty pageant business together. The two announced in March a renewal deal to keep annual broadcasts of the Miss USA and Miss Universe pageants, which Trump co-owns, on the General Electric Co.-controlled network through 2010.
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