Why the Apprentice still remains compelling television

By Abeer Sharma 

“Dum de dum de dum de dum de dum de dum de dum dum…”

Oh yes, a new series of the BBC’s The Apprentice is back on our screens this week, launching with a double-bill. Expect haplessness, back-stabbing and stomach-churning desperation galore as 18 candidates battle for the opportunity to set up business with the indomitable Lord Sugar.

The show’s return has already invited groans of derision. Reputable miserablist Paul Mason recently wrote a piece decrying the show “as close to business reality as Fawlty Towers is to the modern hotel trade”. He also calls for the contestants to be challenged to devise the new Facebook rather than flogging fish fingers on the streets. Quite how he expects anyone to come up with a worldwide behemoth over the course of a few weeks is not addressed in the article.

Anyhow, bashing The Apprentice has become a facile pastime, such as the tired dismissal of Oasis as a Beatles tribute-band when their music sounded… nothing like The Beatles. It must be admitted that some of the criticisms are merited. In particular, having watched the first aired all the way back in 2005, there is no doubt that an initially more serious-minded business show has degenerated (like all successful reality shows) into too much of a circus of the deluded, fame-hungry and vacuous being humiliated for our viewing pleasure on a weekly basis. Nonetheless, once you take The Apprentice for what it is, there is no wonder why it is one of the TV events of the year- it continues to be utterly compelling television.

The show is brilliantly made, from the dramatic music, to the sweeping arial shots of London and building of characters and narratives lasting the duration of the series. The clever editing keeps the results of all tasks hanging in the balance until they are revealed in the boardroom. Although the boardroom sequences last too long, they remain riven with tension and excitement, especially where multiple firings seem possible. If the primary object of good television is to bring people together and entertain, The Apprentice does a fine job of doing so.

Day to day, the world of business can appear to be a dry and incomprehensible. Shows such as The Apprentice and Dragons’ Den have brought business into the spotlight in an accessible way in which an overly-serious business programme, news item or documentary cannot. It can only be a good thing for viewers to be captivated by a business show rather than the nothingness of a TOWIE or Big Brother.

As much as the poor behaviour from certain candidates invites criticism about the attributes the programme appears to suggest are necessary to succeed in business, the show chooses not to hide the fact that unsavoury characters do exist in real life and that some of them end up doing very well for themselves. It cannot be argued that The Apprentice offers no educational value either. Apart from providing the amateur anthropologists with plenty of material, the candidates are put through their paces in tasks encompassing essential business skills including sales, negotiation, presentation, design and research, albeit in a slightly artificial package. Given the brutal filming schedule- tasks are recorded back to back over an 8-10 week period- it is no wonder that baffling mistakes are made that make us viewers think “we could do so much better” when in reality, many of the calamities would befall us under the same circumstances.

A decade since its first series in 2005, The Apprentice still has viewers shouting and laughing in equal measure at their televisions screens. That the show has remained engrossing and boasts strong ratings is testament to its success and endurance. Paul Mason may not be watching this year, but rest assured, millions of others will be.

The new series of The Apprentice begins tomorrow, Wednesday 14th October on BBC One.

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