The new host of “The Celebrity Apprentice” -- which launched Monday -- is replacing a former host who is about to become the next president of the United States. The host is Arnold Schwarzenegger. He is also the former governor of California who was once a world champion bodybuilder -- also a big star -- and someone who replaced another president, a few California governors removed: Ronald Reagan, himself a pretty big movie star and TV host.
So with that, welcome to 2017. It’s already fascinating.
In fact, the advent of Schwarzenegger is especially noteworthy for what this was, as opposed to what this now is. Donald Trump originated the role of “Apprentice” host, then held the gig for 14 seasons amid the gilded embrace of Trump Tower, where -- with the mien of a 10th century Mongol overlord -- he dispatched hundreds of contestants with the flip of an indelible and highly marketable phrase (“You’re fired”). Trump wasn’t there last night except in a sense he was there, perhaps still stalking the 5th Avenue boardroom, withholding his judgment, refraining from Twitter ...
Meanwhile, the new guy unveiled his severance catchphrase just about the same moment six or so million viewers guessed it as well: “You’re terminated.”
He established the tone about the same time, too. “Now remember, the motto in here is crush your enemies and make certain everyone gets fired before you do.”
He even sold stuff during commercials, likes Mobile Strike Force, the “free app” which he sold during the Super Bowl.
He reminded contestants of his glorious past, recalling a marketing stunt in Munich many years ago: “I’m going to take all my clothes off and walk in the marketplace and pose and all of the media come around and the next day (write) ‘Mister Universe running about naked,’ and all of a sudden, our gym was packed. I just didn’t do what I was told. I did not just follow orders.”
He spoke in German: “Sie hört einfach nicht auf zu reden!” (“She just doesn’t stop talking.”)
He spoke in English: “Are you ready to hear who is the winner of this task?”
When contestant Jon Lovitz called him “Arnold,” he reminded everyone what to call him. “In here, you call me the governor.”
Out here, we call him the Governator. I hope he doesn’t mind.
As host, the governator seemed less imposing than his predecessor. He wore a blue tie. He looked like an ex-bodybuilder who had become the biggest movie star in the world on the basis of movies like “Kindergarten Cop,” and who then became governor of California, and now, in the twilight of an extraordinary career, was forced to deliberate the most vexing and momentous of questions: Should I fire Carnie Wilson or Snooki?
It all didn’t seem right.
Some of the words didn’t come out right either.
When he told everyone to leave his presence so that he and his advisers -- Tyra Banks and nephew Patrick Knapp Schwarzenegger -- could adjudicate the fates of a contestant, he said something that sounded like this: “The rest of you go back to the heirloom ...”
You could almost imagine everyone turning to each other. “Where’s the ‘heirloom?’ The producers never told us about some heirloom.”
As host, the Governator simply did not convey a sense of fear or foreboding. When he first convened everyone in his boardroom, some quote from Dr. Evil flashed through my mind:
“Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to my underground lair. I have gathered here before me the world’s deadliest assassins, and yet each of you has failed to kill Austin Powers. That makes me angry. And when Dr. Evil gets angry, Mr. Bigglesworth gets upset. And when Mr. Bigglesworth gets upset ... people DIE!”
At times, the Governator wasn’t sure whether to laugh or sneer. He mostly managed to repress the smile millions of us viewers refused to suppress while pondering the most remarkable fact:
Yes, that is Dutch” (“Predator”) and Gordy Brewer (“Collateral Damage”) and Houser (“Total Recall”) and John Matrix (“Total Recall”) saying with all the fake enthusiasm he can possibly muster: “THE MAN’S TEAM WON!”
To ask whether Arnold Schwarzenegger is a good host of “The Celebrity Apprentice” or a bad host is the wrong question. This is “Celebrity Apprentice.” “Good” and “bad” don’t apply.
To ask whether he’s a believable one or menacing one is a reasonable question. To ask whether he’s the type of host who can say -- and yes, he actually said this -- “you’re terminated, and hasta la vista, baby,” and thereby manage to send a convulsive shiver through viewers as opposed to a convulsive belly laugh?
That’s the right question, too.
We do have our answers.