Stewart's Apprentice fired

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It's a fade out for The Apprentice: Martha Stewart after next month's finale.

Sources said that NBC has passed on ordering another round of episodes of the Stewart-hosted edition of The Apprentice, which has struggled in the ratings since its September 21 premiere. A spokesman for NBC stressed Sunday that the show always had been scheduled to run for only one cycle.

NBC and Apprentice executive producer Mark Burnett tapped Stewart to helm the spin-off in an effort to capitalize on public curiosity about the lifestyle maven after her release this year from a five-month prison term for lying to investigators in connection with an insider-trading stock probe. Plans for Stewart to host the spin-off were announced in February while Stewart was behind bars in West Virginia.

Like the original Apprentice and its gregarious entrepreneur host, Donald Trump, Stewart's version of the show set up a competition among 16 would-be executives to win a $250,000 prize and a yearlong "apprenticeship" job at Stewart's Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia company. Stewart's panel of judges includes Charles Koppelman, chairman of the board at MSLO, and her daughter, MSLO consultant Alexis Stewart.

While Trump's Apprentice was an instant hit last year on its debut, Stewart's opened with little sizzle, drawing just 7.1 million viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research. For the season-to-date, the show has averaged 6.8 million viewers.

Apprentice: Martha Stewart opened the season for NBC in the Wednesday lead-off slot, and then it shifted to 9 p.m. in the line of fire of one of prime time's biggest hits, ABC's Lost, as of October 5. Its two-hour live finale is set for December 21.

Burnett and Stewart also are partnered with NBC Universal in a daytime syndicated show, Martha, which has delivered fair to middling ratings since its September premiere.