Tim Walker: 'If the bear got the job, I bet he'd still do it better than Kimberly would'

The Couch Surfer: The Apprentice isn't setting my world alight this year
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The Independent Culture

I've made plans the past few Wednesday evenings. I've been out to see friends, to eat, drink, and make conversation with actual, real people.

Which is a bad sign, because it means The Apprentice isn't setting my world alight this year. As proof of its lack of permeation, I've regularly managed to make it to Thursday evening (sometimes even Friday!) before watching it on iPlayer, without ever overhearing who's been fired in advance.

This ought to be more of a struggle in my office, where chewing over last night's TV is in the job description.

We were promised a "credit-crunch Apprentice", which I'd hoped would mean something simple, cheap and compelling. Like, say, a bunch of recently laid-off bankers wrestling bears for 14 weeks.

Last man standing gets the gig. If it's the bear, I bet he'd still do a better job than Kimberly. But "credit-crunch" actually meant that the contestants' penthouse cost only £10.5m, down from £12m. And that instead of sending the teams abroad to inflict their business balls on unsuspecting foreigners, they sent them to a hardware store in Liverpool.

That's streamlining, I guess. The prospective apprentices are a bit bargain-basement, too. Even the trainee stockbroker is remarkably tame. Ben was originally set up as 2009's preening panto villain.

In week two, he threatened to bite people's teeth out if they dared to invite him back to the boardroom. Bite their teeth out? It's a vivid image (thanks, Ben), but I'm not even sure it's possible. Yet despite his notional Sandhurst scholarship and that innately aggressive West-Belfast-meets-West-Brompton accent, Ben turned out to be a total shandy as soon as Sir Alan's finger hovered in his direction.

He looked like he needed a hug from his mammy and a cup of orange squash. Last week's instalment explored synergies with other business shows, as any sensible outfit ought to in a downturn. Instead of paying someone to come up with a new idea for a task, they stole the premise of Dragon's Den. And instead of getting his own guests for The Apprentice: You're Fired, Adrian Chiles borrowed one from The Secret Millionaire.

I expect it's just format fatigue; every reality show suffers a lull. There may a formidable businessperson in there somewhere (Howard?), but I'm still waiting for them to make great television. Philip got consolidated this time, just as I'd nailed my impression of him. It's easy. You lower your voice an octave, put on your best makeshift Geordie, and repeat the word "Lorraine" over and over again until everyone glares at you. Then you carry on doing it.

TED is coming to Britain. TED, by the way, is not some tedious American relative, but "Technology, Entertainment, Design", an annual four-day conference, where punters pay $6,000 for the privilege of hearing short lectures from some of the world's great minds.

It's where Al Gore first gave his Inconvenient Truth talk, and where Bill Gates released mosquitoes into the crowd after a speech on malaria in Africa. Ah, Bill; he does have a very interesting sense of humour. TED's home is Long Beach, California, but this year the first TEDGlobal conference will be held in Oxford. Exclusivity is a valuable commodity; the tickets have already sold out, and attendees have to complete a lengthy application to prove they're cutting-edge enough to attend.

Alternatively, however, you could wait a few months and watch the lectures online for free, at ted.com. Perhaps you think the difference between watching Malcolm Gladwell live and watching him on YouTube is the same as the difference between seeing Springsteen play live or online. I happen to disagree. But the fact that people are willing to fork out $4,000 to hear Malcolm Gladwell illuminate the concept of choice, via the metaphor of spaghetti, proves right whoever first thought to bottle water: name your price, and people will pay for things, even if they could have them for nothing.

That's good news for newspapers, as it looks like some may soon be asking people to pay for web content again; Rupert Murdoch has signalled his intent to start charging readers of his online titles.

It ought to be good news for "freemium" business models such as Spotify, too, whose success rests on the hope that enough people will pay a little to receive a premium version of an otherwise free service. Everyone's been racing to free, but maybe we were running in the wrong direction, after all.