Blagojevich competing on 'Celebrity Apprentice'
In one of the worst-kept secrets on television, NBC formally announced that Illinois' disgraced former governor Rod Blagojevich will be taking part in the next season of "The Celebrity Apprentice," to debut March 14 on WMAQ Channel 5.
Blagojevich's participation in Donald Trump's reality-show competition, which actually was filmed in New York City starting in October, has been widely known for months. In fact, Blagojevich had to get permission in federal court to take part.
At the time, Judge James Zagel and the lead prosecutor, Assistant U.S. Attorney Reid Schar, raised few objections about Blagojevich being on the show, only about what he might say on it.
"He has a history of repeatedly commenting on the evidence - usually inaccurately," Schar said.
"It is possible that an individual person might say something that creates problems for that person later at trial," Zagel added.
Yet, none of that bothered Blagojevich. "The conventional thinking among a lot of traditional lawyers is that you simply don't do these things, you don't say anything, you hide somewhere until you have your day in court," he said in an October interview embargoed until Monday's formal announcement. By contrast, he said, his instinct is "to fight back," which maybe helps account for his participation on "Celebrity Apprentice."
"It's a wilderness period for me," Blagojevich acknowledged. "But sometimes real opportunities develop in your life's journey that you can't really see when you're facing tumultuous times and the kind of storm that I'm facing."
Blagojevich is supposed to be playing for charity on "Celebrity Apprentice." His will be the Florida-based Children's Cancer Center, which assists kids with life-threatening diseases and their families.
It's the same charity Patti Blagojevich played for when she belatedly took his place last year on "I'm a Celebrity ... Get Me Out of Here," another NBC reality show. Zagel ruled the former governor out of that one, saying the Costa Rica shooting location constituted a flight risk.
Patti originally intended to play for the Bear Necessities Pediatric Cancer Foundation, but that charity declined over its ties to Children's Memorial Hospital, reported to be a victim of Blagojevich's alleged fundraising shakedowns in the federal complaint filed against him.
The U.S. attorney's office declined any formal comment on Monday's announcement, but Schar has mentioned before the possibility that Blagojevich's TV appearances could taint the jury pool. Defense attorney Sam Adam Jr. has countered that U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald already tainted the jury pool with his harsh news conference immediately after Blagojevich's arrest in December 2008, and that "the only thing you could possibly do is get back to zero, try to make it even."
This series of "Celebrity Apprentice" should end before the conclusion of May sweeps. At this point, Blagojevich's trial on corruption charges is still set to begin June 3, although his defense team has been trying to move it earlier in expectation of a favorable U.S. Supreme Court ruling later this year reining in the "honest services" statute at the core of the corruption case against him. The 28-word law makes it illegal for officials, executives and others to scheme to deprive those they serve and possibly others of "the intangible right to honest services," but the law is criticized as too vague and overused.
Blagojevich might not care about the impact his TV appearance has on his case, but the same can't be said about the impact another Blagojevich media storm would have on Illinois' self-esteem as a state. Comptroller Dan Hynes, in a recent gubernatorial candidate interview at the Daily Herald, called Blagojevich "pretty pathetic" and "a joke," adding, "I wish he would take responsibility and start thinking about his family rather than his own self-promotion."
Donald Trump boasted that the upcoming season of "The Celebrity Apprentice" is the best ever and promised the star power of its cast "blows 'Dancing With the Stars' away."
Yet, after Blagojevich, the cast thins out quickly among the 14 contestants. Baseball star Darryl Strawberry, rock-star wife and TV personality Sharon Osbourne, and Olympic gold-medal sprinter Michael Johnson will also be competing, along with singer Cyndi Lauper, actress Holly Robinson Peete and Victoria's Secret model Selita Ebanks.
Also on board: Former Poison vocalist Bret Michaels, the comedian-actor Sinbad, Australian TV chef Curtis Stone, WWE wrestler-model Maria Kanellis and Olympic swimmer Summer Sanders.
"I'm certainly not a household name," said comedian-author Carol Leifer. "I'm not surprised that Joan Rivers won (last season), because, as a standup comic, you're a one-man band - it makes you very prepared for stressful situations."
The pro wrestler-cum-actor who calls himself Goldberg issued fair warning.
"I know I'm going to explode during this show at some point and say things I probably don't mean," he said.
The celebrities won't be vying for a job with Trump, as in the old, civilian-cast "Apprentice," but instead will compete in business-oriented tasks around Manhattan to publicize and raise money for their charities.
• Daily Herald Politics and Projects Editor Joseph Ryan and news services contributed to this report.