The 13th series of the Apprentice begins next week, more than a decade after the show launched on BBC Two. It remains hugely popular, but how much life does the series have left?
The chances are you’ve probably never watched the German version of The Apprentice. Or the Spanish one. Or the Finnish, Turkish, Dutch, Belgian or Norwegian ones.
They all existed, most of them in the mid-noughties when the format was at its peak, but nearly all have now been wound down.
In the UK, however, the show remains stubbornly popular. The finals of the most recent three seasons all attracted more than seven million viewers, according to ratings body Barb.
“That’s because of us three,” jokes Lord Sugar, referring to himself and sidekicks Karren Brady and Claude Littner.
To be fair, he’s probably not wrong – the personalities are a key part of the show, and Lord Sugar doesn’t show any signs of wanting to pack it in any time soon.
“I’m very happy to continue doing it,” he says when asked by BBC News.
“As far as I’m concerned, I’m up for it, before they put me in the coffin.”
He continues: “I think we’re all proud of the brand really. You refer to it failing in other markets – we’ve kept it going, and we’ve kept it going because it has life in it, and we are passionate about the brand.
“We’re making sure that it’s not just good entertainment, but actually delivers the right message.
“But of course the decision for new series remains and has always remained with the BBC. We’re ready and waiting but it’s up to the BBC to decide whether they wish to continue.”
Well, we asked the BBC, who said: “The Apprentice is a much loved BBC One show and we are committed to it on the channel. An announcement about future series will be made in due course.”
Future director general?
Lord Sugar also honed in on one key aspect of the British version of the show that he thinks gave it a new lease of life.
“We changed the format after series six, to one of going into business with people,” he explained.
The first few series of the show saw an apprentice hired by Lord Sugar to work in his company, but now he invests £250,000 in the winner’s business idea.
“That has become an absolute success as far as I’m concerned,” he said.
“You see the [former winners], they’re all making money, and for me it’s quite exciting to really start from the grass roots again.”
(He’s referring to cameo appearances in the first episode of the new series from Ricky Martin, Leah Totton, Mark Wright, Alana Spencer and Tom Pellereau, who explain to the candidates what winning the show did for them.)
Lord Sugar has previously suggested that the BBC should broadcast a spin-off show focusing on the winners’ stories, but said on Tuesday: “There’s a problem with compliance, something to do with promoting business or something like that which means the BBC can’t do it.”
Not one to shy away from giving his opinion on basically anything, Lord Sugar continued to share his thoughts about what he would do if he was the BBC’s director general.
“I’ve had a lot of thoughts about the BBC. They’re a great organisation, we pay £12 a month, and when you compare that to other things you pay for your phone, internet, Sky television or whatever, the value you get at the BBC is tremendous,” he said.
Sounds like he wouldn’t be opposed to becoming DG, right?
“The problem is…”
“The problem is that too much politics goes on, to suppress them in spending a bit of money, because it’s always, ‘Oh well it’s licence fee payers’ money’.
“What this leads to is them losing the ability to pay the going price for programmes like The Voice or Bake Off, and I think that’s wrong.”
He continues: “Hands are tied internally because people are frightened to spend money. Now, having said all that, if I was in charge of the BBC, I would find that money.
“And the only way you find that money is to get rid of some of the money which I would consider to be wasted within the organisation.
“But I do feel for the BBC because you invent a programme and then someone else steals it from you, and you can’t compete because your hands are tied because of policy.
“And you’ve got some idiot in Parliament moaning about the late and great Sir Bruce Forsyth, for example, having his birthday cake paid for by licence fee payers’ money, and that is absolutely outrageous.
“So would I like the job? Well I wouldn’t mind the job, but I doubt very much whether they’ll give it to me,” he laughs, “because whoever did give it to me would end up without a job.”
Ahead of the new series airing next Wednesday, Lord Sugar plans to appear on Good Morning Britain with his long-term nemesis Piers Morgan.
“Yes, I’ll get my boxing gloves ready,” he joked.
“[Piers] doesn’t stop talking about how he won the American Apprentice now, it’s so boring.
“You can see Susanna Reid yawning every time he brings it up, and every time he mentions what a good friend he is of [President] Trump, who incidentally hasn’t spoken to him since he won the election.”