He sold top business minds on a TV show that promised to save the world – and make them famous. They handed over thousands. Then reality set in – and they got the cold shoulder. This is the extraordinary story of how people could be more than happy to give everything up to make it big in front of the cameras.
The show was called The Apprentice. At the time, it wasn’t a very popular television programme. In fact, most people thought it was a bit mad. But this was, in 2003, the year when the BBC first took over British morning television, and its format was born – to the surprise of absolutely no one inside the BBC. From then on, the TV equivalent of selling a used car is called selling a programme.
The programme was a big hit with the viewing public – making it a massive ratings winner. And in the end, it was very good for the business of The Apprentice. A series of highly successful spin-offs, including the follow-ups, The Bitch List and The Celebrity Apprentice, have followed. I’ve written about them before.
Just a few of the people who worked on The Apprentice Show (Picture: Getty)
Why The Apprentice was a hit
To the very day, The Apprentice was a ratings winner, and it was incredibly lucrative in terms of advertising and marketing opportunities – not to mention the cash and sponsorship from the business partners from other parts of the world. But it was the success of the programme that really made it possible – and the magic came from a simple formula.
The show was run by former top business executives – in TV comedy. From start to finish, it was a show set in the real world, but it was created as a fictionalised version – an advert for the business world, with people being made famous to the world of business.
A lot of people have asked me ‘what is the most memorable moment in your career?’ and I’ve said: ‘if you were watching The Apprentice I’d say the moment that would make a lot of difference was when I was at McDonald’s and they wanted me to present something to their team. And they were like, ‘how would you work that? And I was like, ‘well can I just come and help