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The Apprentice – Ireland V The UK

Cullen and his goonies

It’s one of the most popular television programmes on both sides of the Irish Sea, not to mention one of the bitchiest.  Backstabbing is rife and you’ll find possibly some of the most imperious, self-important and egotistical individuals in the country.  It could only be the Apprentice.

In its 3rd series in Ireland and its 6th in the UK, the television juggernaut shows no signs of waning popularity.  Described by The Guardian as “A salutary lesson in aggressive buying and selling, hiring and firing”, viewing figures for the show have shown that it has consistently been one of the biggest ratings winners for both TV3 and BBC over the past few years.

But what is it that makes the Apprentice such an irresistible guilty pleasure for viewers on both side of the pond? And more importantly, who is the real boardroom tiger between Bill Cullen and Lord Alan Sugar?

Both Cullen and Lord Sugar are portrayed as almost caricatures of their ‘rags to riches’ backgrounds in their respective series’ and share similar characteristics in the boardroom when exercising their power but there are still notable differences between them.

Cullen evidently possesses the savvy street smarts of a cut-throat entrepreneur, but in comparison to Lord Sugar, under all of his hard-edged bravado, Cullen still retains his north side Dublin mannerism and charm.  His one-liners often verge on tongue-in-cheek, leaving his whole persona at odds with that of a high flying impresario.

Lord Sugar on the other hand strikes fear and respect within the contestants each time they enter the boardroom.  It’s his mix of steely glares, the coldly disinterested, yet ultimately cutting tone to his voice and his overall charisma which never fails to keep his troops in check.  When he walks into the boardroom he commands it.  He is the focal point.  With Cullen, the effect just isn’t quite the same, although he puts in more than a passable effort at trying to recreate it.

But it’s not only Bill and Lord Sugar who are the show’s leading attractions.  The often eccentric mix of contestants is what makes the Apprentice such a frenzied and unmissable watch.  It’s undeniable that roughly half of the contestants on either of the series are chosen merely down to their comedic value.  A fair proportion of these members of the future of entrepreneurship have a skill set about a tenth of the size of their ego.  Of course, they aren’t all completely inept, but if we’re honest, we prefer it when they are.

When it comes to the budget of both series’, the Irish just can’t compete.  However, one has to take into account that a BBC production is going to look a lot more cutting edge and slicker compared to TV3, considering the vast difference in profit margins between both.  Budgets aside though, the tasks on the Irish import are noticeably less creative than those of its British counterpart, with more emphasis on product placement to generate profits for the show rather than to test the questionable skills of the contestants.

Still, the Irish version has a few series yet to catch up on its older sibling and even if it doesn’t quite rise to as heady entertainment heights as the BBC production, it still has a nations’ viewing audience hooked.

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