Nation & World

Stewart is hired by 'Apprentice'

From prison time to prime time - that's where Martha Stewart is headed as star of The Apprentice: Martha Stewart, an NBC spinoff of the Donald Trump reality series that will begin casting this week and could debut next fall.

The series, to be produced by Trump and reality TV guru Mark Burnett, will retain the same general format as the original that airs Thursdays on NBC, including weekly elimination of candidates as potential apprentices. However, the tone and style will be "tailored to Stewart's personality and brand identity," said Jeff Zucker, president of the NBC Universal Television Group.

Zucker called Stewart "a true entrepreneur who transformed a small catering business into a world-renowned empire," during a news conference yesterday. "The series will be infused with Martha's celebrated grit and savvy as she offers others a chance to aspire to turn their dreams into hard-won reality."

Zucker acknowledged that Stewart's legal problems, which resulted in her being convicted and sentenced to 10 months for lying to federal investigators about a stock transaction, seemed to have a negative effect on the ratings of Martha Stewart Living, a daytime show canceled by CBS before she went to prison Oct. 8. But he said NBC is confident that the marketplace will embrace her once she has served her five months in prison and five months of house arrest.

In addition to The Apprentice: Martha Stewart, NBC and Burnett also have partnered to make a daytime talk show starring Stewart that will debut in the fall. The show, which will feature a studio audience and guests, has been bought by stations in 70 percent of the country, according to Zucker.

Burnett bristled when asked about Stewart's "criminal record," predicting that her handling of the sentence will make her more popular than ever.

"She's a brave woman," Burnett said. "What she did is very American. ... Americans love to see people make good after they were pushed down."

Calling Stewart a "brave woman" seemed to be the main talking point of the news conference. Trump, with his love of superlatives, upped the ante, saying, "She's a very brave woman. Very few people could have withstood what she withstood."

Burnett, who said he has visited Stewart several times in prison but did not discuss the show, plans to start production on The Apprentice: Martha Stewart in March when the 63-year-old businesswoman begins the house arrest portion of her sentence. "She's going to come out and get back to work and be Martha," he said.

Whether viewers will welcome a post-prison Stewart into their homes remains to be seen. But the market certainly seems to like what's happening with Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia.

Stock in her company sold for as low as $5 a share in October 2002 after she resigned her seat on the New York Stock Exchange board in disgrace. Yesterday, the price per share was $32.93.

Casting for both versions of The Apprentice will start tomorrow in New York, Detroit and Houston, Burnett said. While Baltimore is not part of the lineup, producers will be in Washington on Feb. 11 seeking candidates. The winner of The Apprentice: Martha Stewart will land a $250,000-a-year job with Martha Stewart Living.