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Can Bill Cullen Match Alan Sugar’s Apprentice?

June 22, 2008 by  

TV3 is wasting no time on its Apprentice project. However, at the risk of being hauled up for rehashing last week’s news, it’s hard not to obsess a bit about the chances of a hit series being made out of an Irish version of this show.

This extraordinary format has the power to pull in viewers like few others can manage, but it relies on one key factor – a ruthless character like Alan Sugar to call the shots.

In this respect, TV3 can hardly have found Sugar’s match in man-of-the-people Bill Cullen.

He has already been quoted as saying he thinks Sugar is a grumpy old man and he’s right. Of the three people who have won a job with him in the last three years (not counting the recruit who joined last week), only one is still working with him.

Here’s a classic Sugar quote from the BBC website: ‘‘If you survive here, I promise you this: as sure as I’ve got a hole in my bloody arse, when it’s down to two of you, people who are nice about you now, will not be.” That’s the attitude, Mr Sugar.

He almost makes my worst boss ever – a middle-aged American newsman who banned reporters from speaking to one another in the office, on the grounds that we were all too friendly – look like a pussycat.

The cruelty of it all is the whole point. At the BBC, The Apprentice is over-the-top, hard-to-imagine, bordering-on-offensive absurdity. It’s theatre. The candidates are terrified of Sugar, terrified of making a mess of things, and terrified of one another.

The viewing experience is not a million miles off watching a person being thrown to the lions.

With Cullen in the Sugar role,TV3 could end up with a show that’s firm, quirky, but basically humane. If so, I suspect nobody will watch.

Cullen clearly struggles to sound horrible. His best effort so far was: ‘‘The Apprentice brings an exciting opportunity to budding Irish achievers. As a hands-on operate with various business activities, I will give the winner an exceptional grinding in how to win in the tough environment of our current economic situation and our morning meetings start at 6.30am.That’s a fact.”

If TV3 and producers Screentime Shinawil get it right, of course, they will have a hit on their hands. Despite all the talk about the demise of the reality TV format after ten years of dominance, the format shows no sign of wavering.

The latest season of The Apprentice gave BBC 1 a peak audience in the final episode of 9.7 million, three million more than the last year’s finale. That’s only two million fewer people than watched the final of last year’s X-Factor, which is the biggest show right now – across the tabloid media as well as TV – in this whole genre.

Even the spin-off shows did well: BBC 2’s You’re Fired! attracted 4.6 million in its last week and You’re Hired on BBC 1 brought in five million.

The Apprentice has been commissioned here by TV3’s programme director Ben Frow. A heavy-hitting import from London, Frow is used to making good calls on populist programming: his own past credits include How Clean is Your House and Location, Location, Location.

According to Frow, the Irish Apprentice will be ‘‘addictive viewing’’. We will just have to wait and see.

Article taken from The Sunday Business Post
Sunday, June 22, 2008 – By Catherine O’Mahony

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