In Depth

NBC’s Sunday Audible: Supersize ‘Apprentice’

NBC is doubling down on the Donald.

The network has decided to supersize the next edition of “Celebrity Apprentice,” expanding the traditionally hour-long Donald Trump reality show to a two-hour format on Sunday nights, according to two people familiar with the situation. “Apprentice” creator Mark Burnett confirmed the expansion plans.

An announcement of the decision is expected as early as this week as part of the second half of NBC’s winter scheduling release.

Supersizing “Apprentice” gives NBC a way to cut programming costs, since adding an extra hour of an already-produced reality show is much less expensive than airing an original scripted or unscripted hour. With “Biggest Loser: Couples” already slated to fill two hours on Tuesdays, and “Howie Do It” set for an hour on Fridays, NBC’s winter schedule will likely feature at least five hours of unscripted programming each week.

Various movies and specials are set to fill NBC’s Sunday lineup in January. That means the earliest that “Celebrity Apprentice” could premiere is Feb. 8, with 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. as the most likely timeslots, one of the people familiar with the plan said. Mr. Burnett declined to comment on scheduling, deferring to NBC.

Two-hour episodes of reality shows aren’t unprecedented. NBC, in fact, has done well with 90-minute and two-hour editions of “The Biggest Loser,” while ABC and Fox sometimes air two-hour editions of “Dancing with the Stars” and “American Idol,” respectively.

What makes NBC’s decision interesting is that the network only recently officially asked “Apprentice” executive producer Mark Burnett to upsize the show, according to a source with knowledge of the request. Production on the new season of the series had already wrapped, and some sources predicted producers might have to scramble to fill the time.

Mr. Burnett, however, said that NBC officials had actually been talking to him about expanding the show “for weeks.” He said that he and Mr. Trump welcomed the decision.

“It’s great,” he said during a brief telephone conversation from New York. “It wasn’t a sudden call at all. During production, the people at NBC were saying the show was so great and should really be two hours.”

Mr. Burnett said Mr. Trump is particularly pumped by the expansion.

“Donald has always felt the boardrooms were too short, and I think he’s right,” Mr. Burnett said. “Right now, there’s really only about nine minutes of footage that we use and the boardroom (scenes) go on for hours sometimes. The problem has been trying to squeeze it all in. Every season we go through the struggle of cutting the show down.

“This wasn’t a sudden call,” Mr. Burnett added. “It really came from how strongly everyone felt about the show when we were shooting.”

News of the “Apprentice” came the same day CBS scheduled the premiere of the 18th edition of “Survivor” for Feb. 12. The latter franchise remains a tent pole of the CBS lineup, with Mr. Burnett noting that the show hasn’t been beaten by regular series competition since 2001.

(Editor: Baumann)