The Celebrity Apprentice

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9 p.m. Thursdays
NBC

You could probably make a pretty good argument that of all the projects to benefit from the WGA strike, this one has to be close to the top of the list.

"The Apprentice" franchise appeared to be more or less toast, poised on the brink of being "fired" itself. But with original TV content now at a premium, it will take more than merely lousy ratings to spell this concept's demise. When Donald Trump turns out to be the de facto beneficiary in a labor stoppage, you know God has to have a pretty wicked sense of humor.

And so now "The Apprentice" is back, albeit looking every ounce like the debutante who has lingered several hours too long at the ball. The addition of the word "celebrity" to the mix pretty much says it all. It's the reality TV equivalent of the sitcom that -- with interest waning during its sixth season -- decides to shake things up by introducing a new baby, or a hot love interest or a cancer story line. And I mean, were they hoping we simply wouldn't notice that the title "Celebrity Apprentice" is itself an oxymoron? It's rather similar to referring to someone as a "professional amateur." Do I need to counsel these network dweebs on every lousy semantics issue?

So whatever. The deal here is that 14 celebrities (and we use that term here rather loosely) gather together in Manhattan at the behest of the Donald to compete for favorite charities rather than a Trump Tower executive post. Roughly a million bucks will be distributed throughout the season. (NBC must be feeling especially generous these days, temporarily freed as it is from the tyranny of paying out writer residuals.)

The 14 players include country star Trace Adkins, one-time supermodel Carol Alt, Stephen Baldwin, former gymnastics champ Nadia Comaneci, former Playboy playmate Tiffany Fallon, softballer Jennie Finch, entrepreneur Nely Galan, "Taxi" alumnus Marilu Henner, former heavyweight boxing champ Lennox Lewis, tabloid snob Piers Morgan, uptight "Apprentice" alum Omarosa, ultimate fighter Tito Ortiz, "Sopranos" co-star Vincent Pastore and the irrepressible Kiss frontman Gene Simmons.

In the opener, it was gals against the guys peddling hot dogs on the streets of New York. If the strike doesn't end soon, the excitement might just kill us all.
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