Why I’m Giving Up On The Apprentice

This started out as a Tweet in support of a Stuart Heritage article in The Guardian today. But I ended up developing it a little on Twitter and Facebook, so I suppose it might be good to spell it out here.

Basically, I’m tired of The Apprentice. It has always been a bit of a guilty pleasure. Sure it’s “reality” TV – in as much as any TV format is reality (i.e. it’s not). But it can be fun, and if the “characters” are interesting you begin to root for them.

Certainly there’s lots of selective editing. That’s especially the case in the early parts of a series when you can’t get to know all the “candidates”. But usually a handful come through and you hope Lord Sugar doesn’t punish the for perceived slights along the way.

Over time things have changed. Once upon a time, the opening narration used to talk about the show having some of “Britain’s brightest business talents.” I didn’t buy that then, and in its BBC One year’s I certainly don’t buy it. The prize used to be a job at a company run by Lord Sugar with a £100,000 salary. In fact most of his businesses are pretty boring and he probably doesn’t need an overpaid wannabe on his books, annoying his loyal staff. So now candidates come with a business plan in which Lord Sugar will invest £250,000 (not all money you understand, but in value).

But this time around I’m falling out of love with The Apprentice. This series so far, I’ve not even had the patience to sit through a full episode without hitting fast-forward on my PVR remote (I record them in advance).

Frankly its embarrassing seeing people running around London in suits and heels trying to flog potatoes. Or a sub-team of FIVE people turning up to try to sell something to a single person. Isn’t there some kind of sales rule that your team should never outnumber the client’s?

In general, I think the format is tired and needs some tweaking if it wants to last another ten years. Going from 16 to 20 candidates just so that you can fire two people in a single week isn’t really enough.

– I wouldn’t have so many sales tasks – we’ve effectively had three in a row now. Not everything or everyone in a business is about sales. Show us something else – but not “make a TV ad” again. Because businesses employ ad agencies to make ads. A marketing director might only be called in to sign off on a creative decision, not act in and direct the ad themselves.

– In any case, the sales task generated aren’t real tests. The public will buy something because there are TV cameras around. Companies buy products because it doesn’t really cost them any money and they’re not going to actually have to stock their products. They like exposure on BBC One, and kind of hope that their company is correctly pronounced (“Carat” anyone?).

– The contestants know too much about how the game is played – avoid being project manager (“PM”) in the first weeks; play a low-ish key role in the team; gang up on whoever Sugar sees as weak in the boardroom regardless of what actually happened.

– They’re looking for too many “characters” when they’re casting the programme. Are any of them even over 30? You can start from the basis that anyone who’s going on the show is really in it to become famous. Weed them out to start with.

– The show’s premise makes no sense. Lord Sugar has the candidates’ business plans, but he’s not going to look too carefully at them until the penultimate week when he’ll suddenly find lots of flaws in them. Isn’t this the weeding out you do when people first apply for something? You don’t wait for Claude to find the lies on their CVs after taking ten weeks to get to that point.

– The bits of the candidates saying brave/stupid things at the start of the show are less realistic than those recorded pieces to camera of contestants at the head of the course on Total Wipeout.

Actually. The most interesting part of last night’s show was an understanding that having a fire-sale of all your stock to meet an arbitrary deadline is a terrible way of doing business. You’ve just killed the market. If I ever come across an Apprentice team flogging something in a market somewhere, I’m inclined to tell them that I like the product, but I’ll come back and buy it in three hours when they’re really desperate and have cut the prices. And yet in 9 out of ten weeks that’d have been irrelevant. Plus if the losing team had sold one more candle they’d have won and we’d have heard no more about it.

That’s an hour a week of my life back!