All-star Celebrity Apprentice ratings keep dropping: are returnees to blame?

The sixth season of The Celebrity Apprentice is having trouble attracting and keeping viewers, despite a feud that spawned a lawsuit threat and cast members who made really great television the first time they appeared in front of Donald Trump.

Sunday’s episode, which was pretty boring, was the lowest-rated show in the 9-10 p.m. hour, and had only 5.13 million viewers. The show hit “a season low 1.5 down three tenths from last week’s 1.8″ among people ages 18 to 49. While its first episode won the 10 p.m. timeslot, it had dropped 38 percent among viewers 18 to 49, the “lowest ever premiere for a Celebrity edition,” TV By the Numbers reported.

So what’s the problem? Did Donald Trump’s bullshit during the election finally turn people off? Maybe, but I think it’s something else that I didn’t expect: casting.

I am generally anti-returnee, even though it sometimes works, and often anti-celebrity show, because producers usually can’t get anyone but the same group of reality show celebrities who are more famous for their reality TV appearances than their previous careers.

However, Celebrity Apprentice was an aberration, even in its one previous returnee in Omarosa, and she made good television the first time she came back, as did the other celebrities, who were very well-cast.

The magic of the series is in seeing celebrities revealed for who they are and how they work creatively and with others as part of the show’s product integrated tasks. I could cite example after example, from Joan and Melissa Rivers (wow) to Dennis Rodman to Clint Black masturbating with laundry detergent, but the show exposed celebrities and entertained us with that season after season. That’s one reason why Donald Trump being an ass doesn’t really affect my viewing of the series.

But that magic has been completely absent this season, because we’ve seen everyone do this before. At best, they’re doing exactly what they did during their previous appearance; at worst, they’ve gotten savvier and are holding back, making themselves less interesting than they once were. Since nothing has changed–the tasks are predictable, which might be another issue, especially for returnees–they’re not surprised, so neither are we.

In short: I’d blame the all-star format for the declining ratings, though I never would have predicted that with a show that has done such exceptional casting in the past.

about the writer

Andy Dehnart is a journalist who has covered reality television for more than 15 years and created reality blurred in 2000. A member of the Television Critics Association, his writing and criticism about television, culture, and media has appeared on NPR and in Playboy, Buzzfeed, and many other publications. Andy, 36, also directs the journalism program at Stetson University in Florida, where he teaches creative nonfiction and journalism. He has an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing and literature from Bennington College. More about reality blurred and Andy.