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Published: Thursday, 1/3/2008

New 'Apprentice' has a group of celebrities working to win money for charity


It is an age-old dilemma in business. Once a product becomes successful, how much tweaking can you do of the product? If left alone, a product could become stale. Too much change and you have New Coke.

The seventh season of the NBC competition show The Apprentice opens at 9 tonight. The first seasons of the show about a group of young entrepreneurs trying to win the favor of business mogul Donald Trump were big hits for the network. But ratings declined for the most recent season when the show was moved to Sunday nights.

So here's where the changes have been made to regain some of that early consumer frenzy. This is The Celebrity Apprentice, where a group of "names," some well-known, others not so much, will be put through a series of challenges all in the name of charity. Each week one celebrity will get the "you're fired" from Trump.

Asked about the line between bringing new energy to a show and destroying a franchise, Trump offers a diplomatic answer.

"Well maybe it's a combination of both. You don't want to change too much of the formula because it's been so successful and it's got, you know, the highest demographic. It's done really well," Trump says in a telephone conference with television critics. "You want to make little changes, but you don't want to change too much. And we made some little changes actually. I mean, I think that the best change of all is the boardroom is going to be much longer than in the past because that's what everybody liked."

For the noncelebrity version of the show, there were thousands of applicants. Trump says that there was no shortage of celebrities who wanted to be part of the show.

KISS frontman Gene Simmons brings a wealth of business background to the show. He has turned the rock band into a mega moneymaker through merchandise that ranges from cologne to comic books. He has also created his own business empire. He explains that he wanted to be part of this program to see how he would react if all of a sudden his support system was gone.

"The question is and this is what any champion in any field will eventually have to ask himself or herself - once you've got enough money, once you've got enough fame and the glitz, and the glamour and

the power, and the accoutrement of the American dream, when all the flashbulbs are gone and the girls stop kissing you, and you put the awards away and the sun comes up the next morning, and you're there by yourself - will you get up at the crack of dawn and try to beat your own record?," says Simmons.

"In other words, ultimately every champion hopefully is only in competition with themselves."

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