Why 'Celebrity Apprentice' Said "You're Hired!" to Arnold Schwarzenegger

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Arnold Schwarzenegger

NBC's reliance on unscripted shows (it's canceled over a dozen scripted series) meant hitting the reset button on the established franchise.

This story first appeared in the Sept. 25 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

NBC president of late-night and alternative programming Paul Telegdy couldn't have said it any better: "The Celebrity Apprentice … will be back!" Two months after the network's acrimonious split from longtime host and presidential candidate Donald Trump, it announced Sept. 14 that Arnold Schwarzenegger (CAA, Bloom Hergott) will take the reins for season eight (the 15th cycle of the overall Apprentice franchise).

The Terminator star quietly met with NBC executives in early September, according to an insider, after which talks "moved really fast." The network was itching to press the reset button for several reasons: Celebrity Apprentice continues to be an important part of NBC's primetime schedule, as the network has canceled more than a dozen scripted programs this season and has come to rely more and more on unscripted fare, including Neil Patrick Harris' new variety show Best Time Ever and stalwarts such as The Voice and America's Got Talent. Another long-running reality competition, The Biggest Loser, took a hit with host Alison Sweeney's departure in August after 13 seasons. (The network has tapped fan-favorite trainer Bob Harper to replace her.)

Although NBC Entertainment chairman Bob Greenblatt said at TCA in August that his team had been "overwhelmed by a number of really exciting people who have come forward," the prolonged vacancy has pushed the new Celebrity Apprentice back to the 2016-17 sea­son — the second delay in two years for the series. The most recent season, which averaged a 2.4 rating among adults 18-to-49, waited nearly a year before its January premiere. (Leeza Gibbons was declared the winner.)

It remains to be seen who will join Schwarzenegger, 68, in the show's boardroom. Three of Trump's children — Donald Trump Jr., Ivanka Trump and Eric Trump — served as advisers on the Mark Burnett-produced series; none will return, which means it will take time and a further talent overhaul for NBC to fully remove Trump's imprint from the show, which he had hosted since its 2005 debut.

Despite his unceremonious exit, Trump gave his successor the thumbs-up. "Congrats to my friend," the Republican frontrunner tweeted shortly after the news broke. "He'll be great and will raise lots of money for charity."

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