Martha's Prime Time Debut: Not Bad, but Needs Improvement.

David Kiley

So, Martha...will you fit into prime time?

There is a lot of pop interest in Martha Stewart right now, and the jury is out on whether the doyenne will make a full comeback in the hearts and minds of those who long to turn tea towels into cafe curtains, or make an October door wreath out of pine cones and sassafrass leaves that sells in catalogs for $70.00. But for her first Apprentice episode, I give her a solid B-. To be honest, I'm not a fan of Donald Trump's Apprentice. The few times I have tried to watch it, I lost interest. And maybe I will lose interest with Martha as well. But I'll be back next week at least.

What is pretty clear is that as much as the attention is focused on Martha, the key to the show's success is how good the producers choose the reality players. This, so. And memo to Martha--I hope you have a few things up your sleeve to surprise us a little. That will go a long way toward propping up ratings. I was looking for product placement, but mostly what I saw was Martha stuff--Martha furniture, Martha's paint chips, etc. great piece of casting: the receptionist. She has that: "Ms. Stewart can't see you now" and the "buh bye" Stepford-like gaze found mostly in the reception galleries of Revlon and Hermes down pat.

Okay...enough of my unscientific blather. Here's a little of the overnight brand science, according to

"After a week of Martha, Martha's Stewart's new daytime talk show, and the premiere of The Apprentice: Martha Stewart the additional spotlight on the lifestyle diva has not moved the loyalty needle enough to significantly reinforce the weakened brand's equity. The week of TV exposure and the Donald Trump hit spin-off resulted in a brand strength index rating of only 99 for the Stewart brand.

Brand Keys, Inc. ( a New York-based brand and customer loyalty research consultancy has been tracking the Stewart brand since 2001. Once one of the mostly highly rated ­ and profitable ­ brands in the United States with a brand strength index of 120 (benchmark is 100), it was rated a 62 by customers when she was found guilty on all counts in March 2004. Prior to her television debuts, and in the face of 'closure and contrition,' 5 months of prison time, and nearly 6 months of home confinement ­ the Stewart brand strength was back up to a 96.

"A brand needs to be rated a 107 or better by customers for it to see real profitability," noted Robert Passikoff, President of Brand Keys, Inc. "If they were expecting the TV show to substantively shore up the weakened brand, we'd have to borrow from Martha and say it wasn't such 'a good thing'."

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