Donald Trump will remain an exec producer on NBC’s “Celebrity Apprentice,” which is returning Jan. 2 after a two-year hiatus with new host Arnold Schwarzenegger.
MGM confirmed to Variety that Trump has retained his EP credit on the series. The president-elect’s status on the 15th season of the reality series that made him a household name has been a question since Trump launched his presidential campaign in June 2015. In the credit sequence, Trump’s name will air after that of “Apprentice” creator Mark Burnett and before Schwarzenegger, who is also an exec producer of the new incarnation along with Page Feldman and Eric Van Wagenen.
The larger issue for MGM, NBC, and the White House is the payment that Trump will receive for the series. It’s unclear what his per-episode fee is, but it is likely to be in the low five-figures, at minimum. NBC has ordered eight episodes of “The New Celebrity Apprentice.” Trump’s fees will be paid through MGM, the production entity on the show, not NBC. MGM declined to comment on the financial terms of Trump’s deal.
Trump spokeswoman Hope Hicks confirmed that Trump has maintained a financial interest in “Apprentice.”
“Mr. Trump has a big stake in the show and conceived of it with Mark Burnett,” Hicks said. Trump has scheduled a news conference on Dec. 15 in New York to discuss his plans for separating himself from his vast array of business interests after he is sworn is as president.
As has often been recounted, Burnett created “Apprentice” with the idea of recruiting a new CEO every season to preside over the elimination of contestants vying to impress with their entrepreneurial efforts. Burnett had long been a fan of Trump’s brash showmanship, and he has cited Trump’s 1987 book “The Art of the Deal” as an influence on his own development as a producer. Trump was Burnett’s first choice for the CEO to launch the show.
Trump was so good early on the first season that Burnett quickly decided to make him the permanent “Apprentice” frontman. “Apprentice” was an overnight success in its January 2004 debut on NBC. Burnett owned the franchise outright until he sold his One Three Media company to MGM in 2015.
But Trump is also a profit participant on the “Apprentice” franchise, which has been sold as a format in various markets around the world since 2004. Trump bowed out as frontman of the show as he launched his political career. His last episode of “Celebrity Apprentice” aired in February 2015. NBC wound up cutting its business ties to Trump in July 2015 amid the outrage stirred by Trump’s assertion that many Mexican illegal immigrants are criminals and rapists.
Although Trump has no role in the production of the show, the fact that a sitting president will be on the payroll of a current TV show is another example of the thicket of potential conflicts of interest raised by Trump’s segue from private businessman and TV star to commander-in-chief. However, past presidents have published books during their time in the White House, so there is precedent for a president earning royalties while in office. In the case of President Obama’s 2010 book “Of Thee I Sing: A Letter to My Daughters,” his profits from the Alfred A. Knopf publication were donated to a charity that aids the children of disabled veterans.
As of Thursday, NBC had yet to post the final credits for “New Celebrity Apprentice” on its press website. The show is hosting a press event in Los Angeles on Friday with Schwarzenegger and Burnett.
Trump’s tenure on “Apprentice” and “Celebrity Apprentice” came under scrutiny earlier this year when former staffers and participants on the show came forward with allegations of inappropriate and crude behavior by Trump during the production. The revelation in October of a hot-mic discussion between Trump and Billy Bush on a 2005 segment of “Access Hollywood” — in which Trump now famously bragged about being able to grab women “by the pussy” because of his celebrity status — led to calls for MGM and Burnett to release outtakes from “Apprentice” that might have captured such conduct by the then-Republican nominee for president. Burnett and MGM resisted that pressure, saying they were contractually unable to do so, nor was it feasible to comb through 14 seasons’ worth of footage.
In October, Burnett distanced himself from Trump’s political campaign with a statement asserting that he disavowed “the hatred, division and misogyny that has been a very unfortunate part of his campaign.” Burnett has been a supporter of Democratic candidates, including President Obama, in the past.
However, Burnett met with Trump in New York this week, and a knowledgeable source said he is contributing to the Trump inauguration planning effort led by Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, the veteran New York event maven known for presiding over the glitzy Met Ball for a decade.