Cullen's quips and contestants' polished acts wearing thin

Pat Stacey

"Yiz are all great at TALKIN'," snarled Bill Cullen at this year's crop of hopefuls in The Apprentice, laid out before him like dumb shooting gallery ducks, tight with tension as they waited to see who would get it between the eyes.

He's right, too: they ARE great at talking. They talk themselves up; they talk everyone else down; a few of them split into Machiavellian little cliques and talk among themselves; all of them talk behind each other's backs.

Mind you, Bill's pretty good at talking himself up, too. You have to be when you're Bill Cullen, super-successful entrepreneur who skips for 15 minutes every morning and thinks we could claw our way out of this recession if only we got off our fat, lazy arses, just like he did all those years and all those penny apples and all those Renault cars and all those best-selling books ago.

He's good at coining tidy little phrases, too, like: "Not making a decision is a decision!" That's amusing, but Bill's little quips and his theatrical snarls are beginning to wear a bit thin.

A palpable staleness has taken hold. The formula is already looking tired. As we know from Big Brother, once you do something once, you can't do it exactly the same way again.

The audience cops on to what's going on; they know what to expect. More crucially, the contestants cop on to what's going on; they know what's expected of them. Cullen admitted as much in a radio interview yesterday morning. The end result is that you get a set of identikit thrusting young things in sharp suits and with sharper tongues.

The most entertaining thing about last year's series was the bumbling Breffni, who became a minor celebrity simply by being fallible, likeable and, to be honest, a bit dim. In other words, he came across as a human being. This year's lot, in contrast, come across like automatons.

When asked on Newstalk's breakfast show what was different about this year's bunch, Cullen replied that they'd been watching previous series closely. Some of them had even recorded all the episodes so they could polish their shtick till it sparkled.


The Apprentice shouldn't have faded, not this early in the game. The BBC version, with Alan Sugar, has seven series under its red braces; the American original, with Donald Trump, has been running for nine, with no sign of either of them flagging.

And yet it HAS lost its sheen. Why? It's hard to say, although the first word that comes to mind is overload. Last night's opener ran from 9pm to 10.15pm -- 15 minutes longer than previous episodes and 15 minutes more than it merits.

And then there's The Apprentice: You're Fired, now hosted by Anton Savage, following the departure of Brendan O'Connor. On top of all that comes a new spin-off show, The Apprentice At Home, on 3e, which follows the wannabes to the palatial house they share.

There was a novel twist, mind: Cullen switched the project managers so the guy was leading the girls and the girl was leading the guys. But how many more desperate twists will it require before The Apprentice ties a noose around its own neck?