Video: Martha’s new reality

By Liz Claman Anchor
CNBC
updated 3/2/2005 3:41:11 PM ET 2005-03-02T20:41:11

It has been five months since Martha Stewart left the comforts of a cushy New York lifestyle for the confines of a minimum security prison in southeast West Virginia. But even before she packed her bags for prison, a small cast of characters was plotting the course of her post-prison life.

CNBC recently sat down with key members of that team. It’s a support network like none other, including New York real estate magnate Donald Trump and reality television guru Mark Burnett, who inked a television production deal with Stewart before her legal fate was sealed, and frequently visited her in prison.

Burnett’s new show, “The Apprentice: Martha Stewart,” will appear on NBC this fall. He says he chose Stewart as host of the new version “The Apprentice” because he feels she is an “undervalued asset.” (MSNBC is a Microsoft-NBC joint venture.)

“She already had legions of devotees,” Burnett told CNBC. “And now there are millions more who are totally fascinated about this 63-year-old woman who voluntarily went to jail when most people are doing everything they can to worm out of their responsibilities and their payback. She took it on the chin. And you know what? There's a lot of respect in America for that.”

The original “Apprentice” features Donald Trump as a no-nonsense boss-man putting a batch of would-be tycoons vying for a chance to work for him through their paces. That hard-nosed attitude might work for Trump, but some observers say it could present a problem for Burnett’s Martha Stewart show.

The thinking is Stewart will reinforce a negative impression that some people have of her — as someone who is not very warm and friendly to the so-called “little people.” She’ll be walking a tightrope, observers say, playing “good cop” by day on her syndicated daytime show (due to be aired on NBC in September) and then a “bad cop” by night when she steps into the boardroom for the “Apprentice” spin-off.

For Burnett, being tough doesn’t necessarily mean being “mean.”

“You’re already going to see Martha — a fun Martha — every day in front of a live audience sharing her knowledge. And Martha's also fun in the business part,” he said. “There’s going to be times when she’ll need to be tough. ‘Tough’ doesn't mean ‘mean.’ Martha's not mean. Tough means tough,” he added.

Burnett is enthusiastic about working with Stewart, who he describes as more “open minded” — a change he says would not have happened if she had not gone through the ordeal of a court trial and five months in prison.

Trump, another of Stewart’s advisors, is similarly upbeat about the domestic diva. He says that, despite her ordeal, Stewart will return to her former glory, and she’ll be bigger and better than ever. He says he admires her desire for perfection, and after what she has endured, to be even talking about doing a reality show is admirable, he adds.

“Most people would just crawl into a corner,” Trump said. “She keeps her chin up. She keeps her head up. She goes out and marches forward, and this is what you have to do in life.”

That’s quite an endorsement. After all, Trump has staked his name and reputation on some pretty big gambles, from casinos to reality television, and isn’t one to make careless bets.

In fact, the Donald reached out to Martha, helping her to sign on for the upcoming “Apprentice” spin-off. But he doesn’t expect her to use the tagline he made famous in his own show.

“I don’t think she’s going to use the words, ‘You’re fired,’” Trump said. “It probably wouldn't be appropriate for her to do that.”

© 2012 CNBC, Inc. All Rights Reserved

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