Page last updated at 07:44 GMT, Wednesday, 10 May 2006 08:44 UK

The Apprentice's growing success

By Matilda Egere-Cooper
BBC News entertainment reporter

Sir Alan Sugar with The Apprentice's Bafta trophy
The Apprentice won Best Feature award at the 2006 TV Baftas

Since its beginning, The Apprentice has proved to be titillating viewing for both business novices and boardroom executives alike. How has it maintained such a hold over its audience?

From Sir Alan Sugar's cheeky banter to the varied tasks 14 hopefuls have to accomplish to prove their creative business acumen, its strong entertainment value has been crucial to its success.

"It's a quality reality show," says Saira Khan, the runner-up from series one.

"I think the characters and the business tasks that the characters are given are all types of work that people can relate to," she adds.

'Brilliant figure'

The healthy ratings are testament to the show's success.

Since February, the audience figures have increased by 50% to around 4.6m per episode.

Michelle Dewberry and Ruth Badger go head-to-head in the final
Michelle Dewberry and Ruth Badger go head-to-head in the final

The Apprentice recently won a Bafta award, while shows such as Dragon's Den have followed its lead.

"It's a great format, it's beautifully shot, it's well-edited and at the centre of it, there's a brilliant figure in Sugar," says Ally Ross, TV critic for The Sun newspaper.

"There's a reasonably engaging set of maniac characters cast as well.

"When you've got people like Syed and Jo Cameron creating hell, it makes something which is already perfectly formatted and it just adds another dimension to it. I absolutely love the show," he adds.

"There's a nice dynamic of self interest," adds Richard Vine, TV editor of The Guardian's Guide.


"One minute they're trying to pull together, then they all shaft each other five minutes later. I just think it makes really good TV."

The final face-off between 26-year-old Michelle Dewberry, a former checkout girl turned telecoms consultant, and 27-year-old sales manager Ruth Badger is expected to bring the series to a heated climax.

In essence there's realism to The Apprentice. It's a bit of a contrived situation, but that's what gives it the edge over other reality shows
Ally Ross,
The Sun newspaper's TV critic

But the recent revelation in The Times that both women have been working for Sir Alan since September has seen the show criticised for its lack of realism.

The newspaper reported that their performances will be taken into account when Sir Alan makes his ultimate choice.

"His final decision is not based on the programme that people see," says Saira Khan.

"His final decision is based on these two people have been working with him for the six months."

In 2005, Ms Khan went head-to-head with transport manager Tim Campbell, who eventually went on to win the 100,000 job with Sir Alan's company Amstrad.

Ms Khan believes the show has less to do with choosing winners on their experience, and is more concerned with giving viewers a happy rags-to-riches ending.


It is one of the reasons why Michelle has been tipped the favourite to win, after revealing to Sir Alan that she had a tough upbringing.

"The programme portrays that Sir Alan places more emphasis on someone's background than someone's skill," says Ms Khan.

There have also been claims that the programme endorses bullying in the workplace.

"With Sir Alan, because of the way he is and the language he uses, they're all the characteristics of a bully," Ms Khan says.

2005 The Apprentice winner Tim Campbell with Sir Alan Sugar
The Apprentice's 2005 winner Tim Campbell with Sir Alan Sugar

"But he found it very difficult to fire people. And you have to remember, it's a TV show.

"I don't think he's a bully in real-life. It's just the format of the show. There's no room for bullies in the boardroom," she adds.

Despite its detractors, The Apprentice is still considered by many to be one of the more genuine reality programmes on television, with a third series on the way.

"Its certainly a lot more realistic than, say, Big Brother," says Ally Ross.

"In essence there's realism to the Apprentice. It's a bit of a contrived situation, but that's what gives it the edge over other reality shows."

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