Feb. 2, 2005, 8:38PM
By MIKE M C DANIEL
Martha Stewart may be in prison but she's about to become a television star twice over. In addition to a previously announced syndicated weekday show for NBC, Stewart will host a prime-time spinoff of Donald Trump's The Apprentice.
The Apprentice: Martha Stewart does not have a start date, but casting for the show will begin immediately, starting with auditions Friday in Houston and 26 other cities.
"I began discussing this idea with (Apprentice executive producer) Mark Burnett back when Martha had legal problems," Trump said Wednesday. "I'm a good friend of Martha's, I have been for a long time, and I learned something about her over the last couple of years: She's a very brave woman. We think this will be a tremendous success."
Burnett would not discuss details about the new show, other than to say it will be distinct from Trump's and could begin shooting as soon as March, when Stewart begins her house arrest.
Stewart, convicted last year for obstruction of justice, entered prison in Alderson, W.Va., in October.
"She's probably not going to say, 'You're fired,' " Trump said.
Trump labeled the Stewart show "our first domestic expansion," which hints at future incarnations. But attempts by fellow entrepreneurs Mark Cuban and Richard Branson to duplicate the success of The Apprentice failed. And household ratings have declined since the first edition of The Apprentice — slipping 20 percent between Seasons 1 and 2, and 5 percent from Season 2 to the in-progress Season 3.
Stewart could have two shows on the air by fall. NBC is resurrecting her syndicated daytime show in September.
"We have made no decision on scheduling," said Jeff Zucker, president of the NBC Universal Television Group.
"Donald's going to do two more cycles of The Apprentice, and now Martha's going to do a cycle. All will play out over the next 16 months."