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Ivanka grabs a larger 'Apprentice' role

In one of the new wrinkles in the sixth version of "The Apprentice," Donald Trump sits in the boardroom with his daughter Ivanka and an empty chair he says will be filled later in the season.

We could guarantee that neither Rosie O'Donnell nor Martha Stewart would fill it.

The actual occupant is a bit of a letdown, one of the few in the first two episodes of the new season, now based in Los Angeles.

The new version of "Apprentice" is loaded with the usual young, good-looking, argumentative reality-show characters who apparently still believe working for The Donald is a good career move. The season premiere is 9:30 p.m. Sunday on WGRZ-TV.

Admittedly, I've never been a fan of the show, even if Trump's dismissal line, "You're fired," made it in TV Land's list of top lines in television. And I didn't know who to root for when Trump engaged in petty arguments with O'Donnell and Stewart, which illustrated that no amount of money can buy class.

That said, the first two episodes of the only version of "The Apprentice" on this year's post-NFL-football NBC schedule are strong enough to suggest that absence makes the heart grow fonder.

The best news is Ivanka is quite good in an expanded role, smartly and candidly joining in the boardroom discussions and going to the scene of the tasks to see how the would-be apprentices are behaving. She even is used for comic relief, with one male contestant in a car wash contest asking her, "Want to take off your shirt and help out?"

Daddy had to love that one.

And Daddy Trump is in a brief scene with his latest wife, Melania, and infant son, Barron, that defines cheesiness. I can't wait to hear what Rosie says about that.

In another wrinkle, the losers of the first challenge have to live outside in tents -- quickly labeled Trump Trailer Park -- while the winners soak up the spoils in an adjacent mansion and dine with Trump's buddy, Wolfgang Puck. It's amusing to see these spoiled Type-A personalities rough it outside, though it would have been more fun if it had been in colder New York City.

One thing is certain -- none of these guys and girls would make it past three days on producer Mark Burnett's other show, "Survivor."

As usual, the contestants don't take long to establish their personality traits. The leader who won't shut-up, the smart guy who has more quotations than Bartlett and the beauty that seems to have quickly gained an unfair advantage that may eventually bother her teammates.

Thankfully, the number of product placements in the show seems to have diminished. Trump, however, won't abandon his desire to show how many so-called friends he has. In the second episode, the winners head to the Playboy Mansion to meet Hugh Hefner.

I can't wait to hear what Rosie says about that one, too. Not that it matters. Trump has bigger female problems. After Sunday's 90-minute premiere, "The Apprentice" will go head-to-head at 9 p.m. Sundays with Lynette, Gabrielle, Edie, Susan and Bree of ABC's "Desperate Housewives."

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Before Trump starts his show, NBC carries the 90-minute premiere of a new reality show, "Grease: You're the One That I Want," at 8 p.m. Sunday on WGRZ-TV. It will cast Sandy and Danny in a 2007 Broadway version of the timeless musical.

Unlike "American Idol," professionals can apply so the "Grease" talent pool would appear to be wider than it is on the Fox series. NBC's series is based on a similar popular British TV show, which focused on the casting of "The Sound of Music."

Olivia Newton-John, who starred in the 1978 "Grease" movie opposite John Travolta, is a guest in the first two taped episodes. The six live episodes begin Jan. 28, with America eliminating two of the final 12 contestants weekly after getting guidance from judges Jim Jacobs, Kathleen Marshall and David Ian. Jacobs is the co-creator of "Grease," Marshall is an award-winning Broadway director and choreographer and Ian is a British theater producer.

In a conference call, Ian was asked if he was going to be the cliched, nasty British judge. "I would like to think I'm the brutally honest one as opposed to the nasty one," he said.

The judges essentially acknowledged that brutal honesty is withheld in typical Broadway auditions. Some of the early taped shows include some peculiar performances that "American Idol" has become famous for.

"You definitely see 'The Gong Show,' act," said Marshall.

The judges realize that American TV viewers might have different voting criteria than they do -- and Broadway audiences expect. "It is not who looks pretty but who can carry the show," said Marshall.

However, Ian said that casting "Grease" is a little different because of the high school setting. "When you are thinking of (casting) 'Grease,' you're looking for reality, not your typical Broadway type," said Ian.

This certainly isn't the typical way to cast a Broadway musical, either. But the judges know that the TV promotion will be good for the box office when the revival arrives in June. After all, as Trump proves annually, promotion is the word.

e-mail: apergament@buffnews.com

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>TV Review

"The Apprentice"
Review: Three stars (out of four)
9:30 p.m. Sunday, WGRZ-TV

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