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Branson's transatlantic TV foray is trumped

Some things, it seems, do not cross the Atlantic. Although Sir Richard Branson has made the crossing by both balloon and speedboat, his assault on the world of American television does not seem to be having the same success.

Ratings for his show, The Rebel Billionaire, are badly trailing its competitors in the "reality business television" arena and critics have been less than kind. Questions have even been asked about whether the Fox channel will drop the show before the end of its 12-episode run. And if this were not enough, Sir Richard's main rival in the field, Donald Trump, has accused him of having no personality and dismissed the show with his trademark catchphrase - "you're fired".

The Rebel Billionaire - subtitled Branson's Quest for the Best - focuses on a group of young entrepreneurs competing to be named president of Sir Richard's business empire.

As in Mr Trump's show, The Apprentice, contestants are required to perform business tasks in competition with one another. But in a supposedly Branson-like "daredevil" twist the wannabe tycoons are also required to perform physical stunts such as walking along a plank suspended in mid-air betweenhot-air balloons.

The British tycoon, whose first break in business came with the release of Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells in the early 1970s, is a constant presence during the shows. ButThe Rebel Billionaire is not a hit with viewers.

While The Apprentice attracts an average of 16 million viewers, placing it number four in the ranks of all prime-time shows, Sir Richard's show draws an average of just 5 million viewers. It is rated at 91.

Mr Trump, whose holding of casinos is in bankruptcy, has not been slow to gloat at his rival's predicament. He told the New York Daily Post: "I don't know the guy, but I think he's got zero personality. He doesn't have the look and whether we like it or not, the look is a big part of ratings and success."

Sir Richard's spokesman, Will Whitehorn, said that while the show had not attracted the anticipated number of viewers, the response from those who watch The Rebel Billionaire had been positive.

Mr Whitehorn claimed Sir Richard was more interested in producing a "quality show" rather than ratings. "Donald Trump ... is talking rubbish," he said. "He has obviously got a successful television show but he is a failure as a businessman."

Reviewers have also criticised Sir Richard's show. The Washington Post television critic Tom Shales, wrote of the premiere: "This show doesn't just feature hot-air balloons, it is a hot-air balloon. It could drift out to sea and never be missed."

Fox insists that it is sticking by Sir Richard.