Friday, February 18, 2005

You're Fired!

I finally realized what it is that bothers me about NBC's The Apprentice. No, it's not the fact that it is yet another tedious reality show. As far as reality shows go, this one isn't that bad. At least no one on the show is eating squid livers or puree of grubworm. No, it's not the fact that Donald Trump and his staff seem to think his combover is inconspicuous. No, it's not the faded-with-use catch phrase "You're Fired!" Yet, that does come close to what I see as the real problem.

The problem with The Apprentice is that there is no "mentor." Trump nor his subordinates act as mentors; they function more like judges and executioners. Every episode promises an even better (which means more vicious) firing than the previous week. Once the contest of the week is over Trump makes the grim promise that someone on the losing team will get fired. I guess that is supposed to keep us from "touching that dial during these commercial messages." Of course The Apprentice is a television show and it goes for ratings. The big shark attack on every episode is the firing; everything leading up to that is nothing but fins circling in the water.

Nevertheless, an apprentice is one who learns from a master. The term seems more at home in the workshop or the studio than the corporate boardroom. Through observation, trial and effort, and mentoring a real apprentice follows a true master's habits and imitates his or her skills until the apprentice becomes a journeyman (notice the language of wayfaring and growth) and eventually a master of the craft in his or her own right. In NBC's "Trump-ed up" court of law there is only one rule to be obeyed - Don't get fired! The only real reason the contestants (notice the language of survival and conflict) are motivated to excellence is to avoid elimination. I am not convinced that this incentive generates authentic excellence.

Since Mark Burnett and Donald Trump are probably faithful readers of this blog I suppose I should acknowledge to them that I have from the start realized that they could call me on a technical foul. Yes, I know that the contestants on The Apprentice are competing for the chance to be the next apprentice to Trump. However, this makes my point; we really do not witness the mentoring of the new apprentice. All we get to see is the process of elimination; the choosing of the apprentice is the final episode. If we are really going to see "business interactions and challenges that frequently occur in real-world settings" (that's right off the show's webpage, folks) then I suggest that Burnett produce a show that shows one of the two previous "Apprentices" working away on his or her project and learning the craft from the Donald. Great suggestion, eh? I want royalties! I can hear their reply now, "You're Fired!"

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