Battling Billionaires

Mark Cuban and Richard Branson are taking on the Donald with their own brand of reality TV. Here’s our sneak preview.

Last year, Donald Trump soared in The Apprentice. This fall, he’s got company. Dotcommer Mark Cuban will star in The Benefactor on ABC, and Sir Richard Branson, the billionaire across the pond, has his own gig on Fox. Here’s a preview.

Title The Apprentice 2 The Benefactor The Billionaire
Personality Tie-in Donald Trump, real estate mogul (at least he plays one on TV) Mark Cuban, founder; Dallas Mavericks owner Sir Richard Branson, billionaire-Brit; Virgin Group founder
Network NBC, early September ABC, September 13 Fox, sometime in November
Premise Throw together 18 telegenic young backstabbers competing to run a Trump company for one year (last year’s pay: $250,000). Mark Cuban is giving away a million bucks to the person scoring highest in a series of high-metabolism management tasks. Contestants, vying for an as-yet-unannounced prize, get to re-create the mogul’s life in a series of international adventures.
Leadership philosophy Survival of the fittest Survival of the loudest Survival of the unabashed
Trash Talk “You’ll have 100 people trying to do shows a little bit like us. . . . It’s not going to be easy to duplicate,” Trump told the Chicago Sun-Times. “[We’ll be] nothing like The Apprentice,” Cuban blogs. “Because Donald, we are not alike in any way.” For one, Cuban’s hair is real. “Trump’s whole approach was ‘Don’t trust your best friend,’ ” Branson told the New York Post. “I don’t believe that’s correct.”
Prospects The novelty has passed. Now that the Donald is viewed as a serious business icon with a hit show — instead of a taste-challenged, funny-haired corporate carnival barker desperate for media exposure — he’s dead meat. None. That’s not Cuban’s fault, or even the contestants’. ABC, the reality-TV equivalent of the Nader campaign — has no spark. And the production company, 12 Yard, is in over its head. At least the Mavs are looking good this year. Given Fox’s track record, you can bet that the contestants, however vacuous, will be smokin’ hot. And they’ll be doing extreme sports in posh locations. If you turn the volume way down, we’re betting this could be one helluva show.