Originally created 09/23/05

Stewart says 'goodbye' on her 'Apprentice' premiere



NEW YORK - In Martha Stewart's world, a loser isn't fired. He's "asked to go home." He's bidden "goodbye." Advised he doesn't fit. And then he gets a cordial note.

At least, that was how it was done on "The Apprentice: Martha Stewart," which premiered Wednesday on NBC.

The biggest question surrounding this much-awaited reality show had been how Martha would dismiss each losing candidate - her equivalent of the "you're fired" kiss-off made famous by Donald Trump with the original "Apprentice" edition.

On the Stewart "Apprentice," a 13-week televised job interview whose prize is a $250,000 position at Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, Stewart's farewell said a lot about the difference between her show and Trump's (which premieres for a fourth cycle Thursday night).

Throughout the hour, Stewart was businesslike but gracious. And the look of her series - which was taped at her Manhattan corporate headquarters this summer - is airy and bright, befitting the Martha Stewart Living style.

"I want you to have fun," she said up front, "but I also want you to succeed."

And when the moment of truth arrived, instead of the dark and forbidding boardroom where Trump lords over his candidates, Stewart held forth in a cheery conference room. Her lieutenants: daughter Alexis Stewart and Charles Koppelman, the company's chairman.

Then, having said goodbye to Jeff, a contentious creative director from New York, Martha penned a note that began, "Dear Jeffrey: I'm sorry that you are the first to go. Not to fail, but rather not to fully succeed."

For their first task, the 16 candidates were directed to a hot niche in the publishing business: children's literature.

Each of the two competing teams was assigned to update a classic fairy tale, making it more relevant to the modern child.

"Lesson number one: connecting with your audience," Stewart told the candidates.

Working alongside publishing-house executives, they were supposed to rewrite and illustrate each story, then read their finished product to a focus group of first-graders.

After squabbling worse than any group of first-graders while creating their book, the team christened Matchstick failed to charm their young audience with "Hansel and Gretel."

The other team, which named itself Primarius, was the clear winner with its rendition of "Jack and the Beanstalk."

Matchstick was thus summoned to the conference room. Someone's head had to roll.

"The reason this company has been so successful is that we connect each and every day," Stewart told Jeff. "I don't think you even connected with your own co-workers.

"So, Jeffrey, you just don't fit. Goodbye."

"The Apprentice: Martha Stewart" is part of a two-pronged TV comeback for the domestic diva. Her weekday syndicated talk-and-demonstration series, "Martha," premiered Sept. 12.

Stewart, 64, is back after serving five months in a West Virginia federal prison for lying about a 2001 stock sale. That was followed by nearly six months of house arrest, which concluded Sept. 1.

Her return to TV is part of her campaign to "revitalize this fantastic company," as she told The Associated Press recently - "to get people back on track about what we are and what we do here."

One thing they clearly do: write nice notes.