Open letter to Donald Trump

Mr. Trump:

First, let me say that I'm a fan. There are very few television personalities who are able to strut and fret across that small screen stage in quite the way you do. Possibly Regis in full dudgeon; Jane Kaczmarek, on "Malcolm in the Middle," is almost as threatening at times; occasionally Cartman from "South Park" gets up the sheer verve. But it is a small and select group, and you, Mr. Trump, may well be first among equals.

There were very few pleasures on television last year equal to the first season of "The Apprentice." An episode of the late, lamented "Wonderfalls" here or there; the odd "Scrubs" or "24"; most of "The O.C."; and possibly a sentimental vote for those last "Frasier" moments.

But when it came to the show you absolutely, positively, couldn't miss, the one that if you found your VCR had somehow refused to record it you'd sob softly to yourself like a small child, there wasn't anything that came close.

But, Mr. Trump - you don't mind that I call you that, do you? "The Donald" seems so impersonal - this new season of "The Apprentice" lacks the Trumptiousness, the Trumposity, the - dare I say it? - the Trumptasticness of the first season. It is, quite simply, not Trumpworthy. If it were an apartment complex or a casino, you'd be looking to sell it to a group of foreign investors.

I suspect you know this as well, Mr. Trump; in these last few episodes, you seem to have been phoning it in. Occasionally literally, like that time you dialed in from the private plane or when the Mars people called you from their conference room, but usually just in the metaphorical, "I'd really rather be canoodling with Melania" sort of way.

I bet you're as confused as I am. You're a builder by trade; work from the same blueprint two times in a row, you get two identical buildings. How could your two seasons turn out so differently? And what can you do to return "The Apprentice" to its former glorious heights, heights that were, if I may be so bold, almost as high as you claimed them to be?

I know that at the beginning of every show, you like to reduce the complexities of business to simple, basic slogans, so instead of attempting to grapple with these questions seriously, I'm going to simply fall back on what I like to call the four P's:

People. Any reality show is only as good as its contestants, and this year's crop was, almost to a man, a bust. There's still a small shiver I get whenever I hear the word "Omarosa", and any time I remember Sam Solovey's firing, little tiny hairs stand up on the back of my neck. None of the contestants - with the possible exception of Raj - will register on my consciousness for a single moment after they go down that elevator and get into that suspiciously available taxi. You like to claim you had a million people to choose from - you couldn't have picked some more firecrackers? You know you're going to fire 17 of them might as well enjoy the ride.

Projects. Last year, I complained to friends that no one would ever pick a president of a company based on the penny-ante, small- scale tasks that you assigned the teams. But at least the tasks were fun to watch. This year, it's true that they're taking on grander assignments, but their total lack of qualifications to do them properly means that we rarely believe that anything really interesting will happen until the boardroom - which means the first 40 minutes of the show are irrelevant. In fact, the only reason for the tasks' bigness is because of....

Plugs. We all know why these Fortune 100 companies are participating in the show, and it's not because they want to hear what Kelly and Jen can contribute to their bottom line. Mars and Pepsi know that these tasks are half-hour commercials for them. But I don't want to watch commercials before and during the show, and I certainly don't want to watch them on the show.

But, Mr. Trump - please don't think that my passionate pessimism about plugging extends to your own constant self-promotion. No, no, Mr. Trump, a thousand times no. Constant self-promotion is your brand, and it's what we all tune in to watch. Keep telling us that your apartment buildings and golf courses are the best in the world - just don't make judgments about sodas and candy bars.

Peacocks. Well, one peacock in particular; with the disappearance of "Friends" and the huge ratings its final season enjoyed, you're just not getting the kind of lead-in you've grown to expect. This doesn't have anything to do with the show's critical failures, of course. But it doesn't help your viewing numbers any. But neither do the first three p's.

Mr. Trump: I'm assuming, perhaps wrongly, that there's going to be a third season of "The Apprentice." If there is, I'm going to be watching the first episodes. You haven't been fired from my living room yet. But you are in the boardroom.

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