The outcomes of TV "reality" series are almost never a matter of life or death, but here's one that comes close: What kind of backlash do you reckon NBC will receive if Donald Trump "fires" Bret Michaels from Celebrity Apprentice before the series season finale May 23?
If NBC had a lucky star, it would be space junk. Nothing seems to go completely right for our national broadcasting company these days. Now one of its most popular shows (9 p.m. Sundays, Channel 4 in Detroit) is in danger of generating even more mountains of publicity and notoriety than usual, for the wrong reasons.
In case you didn't know, Michaels, the free-spirited, 47-year-old frontman of the rock band Poison, has been the most likable and engaging competitor on this season's Apprentice. A few weeks ago he introduced America to a new exercise, the "tour bus thrust," while meeting a challenge to prepare a new workout routine. However, he has come close to being axed from the boardroom on several occasions, narrowly surviving each time. (Because this column was written before last Sunday's episode, Michaels may have been fired before you read this, but it's doubtful.)
The thing is, Michaels is narrowly surviving in real life as well. He was rushed to a hospital April 22, after suffering a severe brain hemorrhage, and by several reports was lingering near death for days. He is improving now, but no matter how tyrannical a boss Trump projects himself to be, how's it gonna look if the Donald cans Michaels on his reality show when the world knows that in reality, the rocker came close to knock-knock-knocking on heaven's door?
Executive producer Mark (Survivor) Burnett has acknowledged Michaels' condition at the end of each broadcast recently, wishing him a speedy recovery. One reader wrote asking about the "ethics" of NBC airing new Apprentice episodes at all, given the gravity of his illness. Hey, this is NBC — what would they replace it with, more Law & Order SVU reruns? For whatever reason, millions of people do hang on this series every week to see who's going to get the ziggy for poor job performance. To suspend the series, or air repeats until Bret's out of the woods, wouldn't be fair to viewers or the network. It was an act of God. Things happen.
Celebrity Apprentice episodes are taped weeks in advance, and to heighten the drama very few people know what's going to transpire from week to week. But if Michaels gets canned before the season finale, expect an outpouring of celeb-TV and Hollywood blog sympathy to rival a Sandra Bullock divorce hearing. And if, as doctors predict, Michaels may be well enough to appear live on the show May 23, NBC may be the biggest Apprentice winner after all.
Quite contrary: One of the enduring delights of In Plain Sight (10 p.m. Wednesdays, USA), beyond the meaty, layered storylines and remarkable supporting cast led by Frederick Weller as deadpan Marshal Marshall Mann and Lesley Ann Warren as a codependent mother named Jinx, is watching U.S. Marshal Mary Shannon (series star Mary McCormack) go off on her acid-tongued thrashings of anyone and anything in her path. You know, the kinds of things we would say to those who annoy us if we only had the testicular fortitude.
The writers must feel like they're at Cedar Point with a free pass coming up with these lines. Some of Mary's choice morsels from recent episodes:
(To her co-workers:) "You guys just fell asleep? I mean, if you're going to pass out on the job, at least wake up in a pile of strippers, for Crissakes!"
(To her new boss:) "Alison, I think you and I need to have a little chat about what we laughingly call your skill set."
(To an FBI witness about to enter witness protection:) "It is not a game show. You didn't just win a vacation. There are no tea times, no mints on the pillow or seats in the front of the plane. But what it is is preferable to death. It is preferable to being hunted like an animal or watching your family being tortured and butchered."
(To a young couple considering witness protection together:) "Don't say you're soul mates. 'Soul mates' was invented by crappy writers to sell bad books to stupid people. You're gonna break up! You're gonna become each other's biggest security risks."
(To a reluctant witness:) "I liked you a whole lot more when you were unconscious."
"Are you sure this will work?" an attorney asks Mary.
"Yeah, because I do this every night on my radio helpline."
"I may have talked Ingrid into a threesome for my 40th birthday," an acquaintance enthuses.
"Really?" Mary says. "So, me, your wife. Now we've just got to find a guy who's man enough to handle both of us."
"That's hurtful," he replies.
"Yeah. So's the thought of a three-way with you."Jim McFarlin is a media critic for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected]