'Apprentice' translators hope for hits all over globe

By Published on .

Around the world a dozen men-and one woman-who are not Donald Trump are crying out in different languages, "You're fired!"

As local versions of "The Apprentice" spread rapidly across Europe, Latin America and Asia, the Trump role is being assumed by such disparate taskmasters as a German soccer-team manager, a billionaire Arab entrepreneur and a Brazilian ad agency CEO who dangles a job at WPP Group's Wunderman as the prize.

The biggest hit so far is Brazil, where Grupo Newcomm's high-profile CEO Roberto Justus has already announced a second season starting next spring. The 14-episode show that ended in late December garnered an audience share of up to 18%, with almost one in five people watching despite its airing on one of Brazil's least-watched networks, TV Record.

Similar to the U.S.

Some of the tasks were similar to the U.S. show: selling flowers, organizing a charity auction and a golf tournament and decorating an apartment. While losers faced the boardroom, winning teams were whisked off by helicopter to Mr. Justus' country estate for lunch, cruised on a yacht and flew to Buenos Aires. In the last episode, Mr. Justus praised a female contender, an event planner named Viviane, for her creativity and charisma before saying, "You're hired!"

While Mr. Justus and company are the public face of the international "Apprentice," the man behind the scenes is Rob Clark, senior VP-worldwide production and entertainment at Fremantle Media, which paid Mark Burnett Productions $5 million to produce the show in several overseas markets. (Fremantle co-produces the show with Burnett in the U.K. and Germany.) Mark Burnett and Donald Trump split the revenue from "The Apprentice" in the U.S. and proceeds from the international licensing rights.

It is Mr. Clark who travels the world to oversee the various iterations of "The Apprentice," navigating local laws and cultural sensitivities that have hampered "The Apprentice" from becoming the product-placement bonanza that the American show has turned into.

"Most broadcasters outside the U.S. have very strict regulations," said Mr. Clark. "But in India and South Africa we will be actively considering potential partners for integrated sponsorship opportunities."

In the U.K., for instance, the show starts this week on the BBC2 channel, which does not allow advertising. However, in one task the apprentices will find and sell products in legendary London department store Harrods. Mr. Clark, who is overseeing production of "The Apprentice" shows internationally, said Harrods passed muster because it is regarded as a British institution.

In Brazil, contestants were equipped with Vivo cellphones-one of the biggest clients of Mr. Justus' agency-and Mr. Justus urged them in almost every episode to use the phones to help with their tasks. In one task, the apprentices promoted Vivo in a direct-response TV spot, and the company's VP-marketing helped judge that assignment.

Mr. Clark said each local "Apprentice" is tailored to the country's business culture rather than held to a rigid format. For the first challenge, "we encourage a selling task," he said. "The cultural relevance comes in what you sell. In New York, they sold lemonade; in London, flowers; in Frankfurt, hot dogs; in Finland, rolled fish."

So far Europe has the most "Apprentices," with three new shows starting this month in the U.K., Norway and Denmark. Norway boasts the first female "Apprentice" host, Inger Ellen Nicolaisen, a 46-year-old mother of three who owns a chain of 64 beauty salons. Belgium is in pre-production and a deal has been reached in Croatia, a Fremantle spokeswoman said.

`The Ambassador'

Outside Europe, South Africa is looking for a host, and deals have just been signed for the first Asian "Apprentice" in India, with News Corp.'s Star TV, and Indonesia.

This fall Mohammed Ali Alabbar, a real-estate and financial-services entrepreneur, will host a pan-Arab version from Dubai that will run on Middle East satellite channel LBCSat.

"The Apprentice" is already spawning unsanctioned spinoffs. Israel's Keshet Broadcasting is producing and airing "The Ambassador," in which 14 contenders are challenged with diplomatic tasks and judged by an executive board that includes the former head of Israel's secret service. The winner gets the job of New York communications director for advocacy group Israel at Heart.

Among the genuine "Apprentices," the biggest flop so far is Germany, where the show was demoted from prime time.

"They are not that cutthroat in business" in Germany, Mr. Clark said. "It's a more polite working environment than the U.K. or in the U.S."

contributing: claudia penteado, dagmar mussey and emma hall

Most Popular
In this article: