11/11/2004 AT 8:20 AM ET
Virgin Airlines mogul Sir Richard Branson may like to globe trot in hot-air balloons, but his new FOX reality series, The Rebel Billionaire: Branson’s Quest for the Best, is having a hard time getting off the ground – and no one is gloating louder than fellow mogul-TV star Donald Trump.
Drawing an average of only 4.85 million viewers in its Tuesday night debut, Rebel ranked fifth among broadcast networks in total viewership (below even the WB’s Gilmore Girls) and in the ratings for adults under 50, according to preliminary data from Nielsen Media Research.
For the premiere, FOX ran two episodes back to back. The good news is, the second hour’s ratings were an improvement over the first – though not by much. The average rose to 5.32 million viewers.
The critical bashing didn’t help matters. Washington Post TV critic Tom Shales called The Rebel Billionaire silly, stupid and ridiculous – “a combination of The Apprentice and Fear Factor … that adheres unashamedly to the rigid formulas of the genre, especially ‘Donald Trump’s Weekly Tribute to Donald Trump.’”
Trumpeting Branson’s failure on Wednesday was The Apprentice star himself, apparently talking to anyone who would listen. (Trump similarly blasted The Benefactor star Mark Cuban when that ABC show fizzled, though both Cuban and Branson have knocked the business acumen of Trump, whose casinos operations are in bankruptcy.)
As Trump, 58, told TV’s Extra: “Branson’s ratings were terrible, down the tubes. … The Apprentice is the hottest show there is! Richard Branson, your ratings speak very loudly and you just got fired!”
Also speaking to New York’s Daily News, Trump said: “I thought the show was terrible.” And of Branson, who challenges the players on his show to outrageous physical stunts: “I thought he was terribly miscast.”
The Donald also found time to bash Branson for the New York Post. “I don’t know the guy, but I think he’s got zero personality and zero television persona,” said Trump, adding, “He doesn’t have the look and whether we like it or not, the look is a big part of ratings and success.”
Unlike Trump, Branson has not been reached for comment.