LOS ANGELES - Donald Trump will soon have "The Apprentice" to himself: Martha Stewart's version of the NBC reality series is ending next month.
Stewart's show failed to find a big audience but both NBC and executive producer Mark Burnett said Monday that its mediocre ratings had nothing to do with the short run. Trump's show is in production on its fifth edition.
"The plan from the very beginning was always to produce only one cycle of `The Apprentice: Martha Stewart,'" the network said in a statement, rebutting news reports that the show had been canceled.
Asked if higher ratings might have changed the plan, a network spokeswoman declined to comment. But reality mogul Burnett, who produces Stewart's daytime show as well as "The Apprentice," addressed the issue.
"Even if it would have done enormous numbers, it couldn't have come back," he said Monday. He cited two reasons: The impossibility of Stewart doing both shows well and the fact her company doesn't have a financial interest in "The Apprentice."
Publicly traded Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia Inc. has an obligation to focus on the show in which it has a stake, Burnett said. Elizabeth Estroff, a spokeswoman for the company, also said Monday that Stewart never planned to continue both programs.
Her "The Apprentice" will end with a two-hour finale Dec. 21.
"Martha," the daytime show, hasn't been a blockbuster, either. Its initial viewership was "below expectations" and the format was being tweaked, Susan Lyne, Omnimedia chief executive officer, said last month.
Stewart, who served five months in jail for lying about a 2001 stock sale, followed by nearly six months of house arrest, started the programs in a flurry of activity in September.
The shows are part of a company strategy to burnish her image and increase her visibility. Stewart is also trying to reach new consumers through plans to develop another reality show, as well as new books, how-to DVDs and a radio show.
Trump recently suggested that his series has been diminished by Stewart's. His "Apprentice" has been averaging about 10 million viewers a week, down 4 million from last season. Stewart's "Apprentice" is drawing around 7 million viewers.
"I think there was confusion between Martha's `Apprentice' and mine, and mine continues to do well and ... the other has struggled very severely," Trump said recently on a radio program. "I think it probably hurt mine and I sort of predicted that it would."
Stewart told Fortune magazine that she had hoped her show would eclipse Trump's.
"I thought I was replacing The Donald," Stewart says in the current issue of the magazine. "It was even discussed that I would be firing The Donald on the first show."
When did Trump learn that she intended to bump him off his own show? "I don't think he ever knew," Stewart told the magazine.
On her series, Stewart bounced contestants with a polite, "You just don't fit," a contrast to Trump's blunter, "You're fired."
The fifth cycle of Trump's show is in production, with an airdate yet to be announced, NBC said Monday.
In a February 2005 teleconference about Stewart's show, NBC Universal Television Group executive Jeff Zucker said her show would go for one cycle and Trump's for two more, through No. 5. Asked Monday if that would be Trump's final one, an NBC spokeswoman said she had no information.
Burnett said he fully expects "The Apprentice" to continue with Trump. He also said the ratings will rebound, suggesting that the two versions of the show may have ended up splitting the audience.