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REALITY

Who's the Boss?

Just how much business genius is actually marshalled behind Donald Trump's squint has been a subject of debate for years. But as The Apprentice's, central player—harrumphing in the boardroom, showing off the gold-plated eye candy of his lifestyle with feigned casual pride—he's a showman in the grand style. Anyone with the nerve to imitate him risks looking like Mini-Me with a combover. Even with Apprentice's ratings down a bit this season, the show has already sent one copycat slinking off: ABC's Benefactor, starring Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, was such a ratings disappointment its run was cut from eight episodes to six. Now FOX has launched two more shows that play off/rip off The Apprentice, neither of which, so far, has generated much ratings buzz.

In My Big Fat Obnoxious Boss, from the producers of My Big Fat Obnoxious Fiance, an actor named William August passes himself off as an entrepreneur who has made, as he puts it, "craploads" of money and is looking to hire a, um, protégé or squire or something. (He has trouble pinpointing the word.) The aspirants humiliate themselves in ridiculous "business" competitions (selling reusable toilet paper), while August, having a high old time playing Boss from Hell, insults them with offhanded irrationalities-one guy he faults for being short. But no comedian can trump Trump, who's funny largely because a viewer can never be sure whether he knows he's funny. Trump jingles with money, but every so often you can hear a fainter jingle of laughter.

Virgin CEO Sir Richard Branson has, shrewdly, gone off in a gentler direction for his Apprentice homage The Rebel Billionaire. He puts the contestants through harrowing daredevil challenges like walking a plank between two hot-air balloons, but in the premiere he was always cheerfully supportive, nudging the contestants along on a rigorous journey toward self-discovery (and pay dirt: the job of running his enterprises). It's like a reality show run by Siddhartha. You're hired, you're fired. It's all one. Trump would probably fire Branson and hire August.

TNT (Sun., Nov. 21, 8 p.m. ET)

DRAMA

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Trying his best to be Chaplinesque, Jackie Gleason crossed the line between pathos and bathos in 1962's Gigot. This remake works better, thanks to a pair of fine performances and a few realistically rough edges.

William H. Macy, who won a 2003 Emmy for playing a salesman with cerebral palsy in Door to Door, is restrained yet moving in the Gleason role of the mute Gigot, transplanted from the Paris of the original to New York City. Gigot, the superintendent of a rundown apartment building, reluctantly watches over a young girl named Lou (vibrant newcomer Keke Palmer) after her drug-addict mother splits for Philadelphia. In many ways it's a familiar screen relationship—the lonely adult and the abandoned child—but Macy and Palmer make us feel their characters' need for love without getting excessively teary.

Don Rickles seems to be doing stand-up as the protagonist's gabby pal; still, he delivers comic relief. Though her character is unconvincing, Catherine O'Hara has a wry turn as Gigot's weekly sex partner. If the upbeat ending is a bit pat, at least the characters have earned some happiness.

The WB (Tues., Nov. 23, 8 p.m. ET)

DRAMA

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This 100-percent-whole-some TV movie is only slightly more lifelike than the item that inspired it: a popular doll from the American Girls Collection.

The title character (AnnaSophia Robb) is a 9-year-old orphan being raised by her wealthy grandmother (an underemployed Mia Farrow) in 1904. Defying class distinctions, Samantha befriends little Nellie (Kelsey Lewis), who works as a servant next door along with her father and two sisters. After the poor kids' dad dies, Samantha takes steps to free them from a Dickensian orphanage.

Robb is believable once in a while, but most of the performances are from the "let's pretend" school of costume drama.

CBS (Sun., Nov. 21, 9 p.m. ET)

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"Did you ever have the feeling you turned into the wrong person?" Rebecca (Blythe Danner) asks her placid brother-in-law Zeb (Peter Riegert). A widow since age 26, the 50-something Rebecca has been wondering lately how her life got taken up with running her late husband's party-planning business and looking after his large extended family, including his 99-year-old uncle (Jack Palance).

Engaging if not terribly significant, this Hallmark Hall of Fame adaptation of Anne Tyler's novel shows how one person can touch many-even if they don't fully appreciate her. Danner shines at the film's center, and Peter Fonda is fine as her straitlaced old boyfriend.

The Bachelor (ABC, Nov. 24, 8 p.m. ET) Byron picks Ms. Right in the two-hour finale, followed by a romantic update on their lives since taping wrapped.

Kelly, Ruben & Fantasia: Home for Christmas (FOX, Nov. 24, 9 p.m. ET) Three American Idol winners rush the season in a song-filled special.

TV's Greatest Sidekicks (Lifetime, Nov. 25, 10 p.m. ET) Former Laverne & Shirley partners Penny Marshall and Cindy Williams host a salute to sitcom stalwarts such as Bea Arthur, Betty White and Valerie Harper.

The Seinfeld Story (NBC, Nov. 25, 10 p.m. ET) Jerry, cocreator Larry David and cast members Jason Alexander, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Michael Richards celebrate the sitcom (just out on DVD).

It's a Wonderful Life (NBC, Nov. 27, 8 p.m. ET) Relive George Bailey's savings-and-loan crisis as James Stewart stars once more in the holiday classic.

[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

  • Contributors:
  • Tom Gliatto,
  • Terry Kelleher.