Two weeks before he was inaugurated as the 45th President of the United States, Donald Trump took to Twitter to offer his take on “The New Celebrity Apprentice,” the rebooted NBC reality show starring Arnold Schwarzenegger in the role previously occupied by Trump.
“Wow, the ratings are in and Arnold Schwarzenegger got ‘swamped’ (or destroyed) by comparison to the ratings machine, DJT,” Trump wrote. “So much for … being a movie star — and that was season 1 compared to season 14. Now compare him to my season 1. But who cares, he supported Kasich & Hillary.”
It was a bizarre moment in a bizarre subplot to the Trump national drama: The president-elect using Nielsen ratings as a club with which to beat a television show that he executive-produced and would make money from while in the Oval Office. Trump would keep at it, continuing to criticize the show and needle Schwarzenegger in the weeks to follow. The two men even ended up in a Twitter war, arguing over ratings.
Unfortunately for NBC, audiences were never as enthralled by “The New Celebrity Apprentice” as the president was.
The Schwarzenegger season ended quietly Monday night, drawing a 0.9 live-plus-same day rating in the 18-49 demo — down 47% from the finale of the previous, Trump-hosted season. Whereas most “Apprentice” finales had been well-hyped two-hour live events, Monday’s was a pre-recorded hour led into by a rerun of “The Wall.” And while previous seasons had aired on Sunday nights, NBC scheduled this season on Mondays, where it faced stiff competition from ABC’s “The Bachelor.”
“It was handled in a different way than it had been in the past,” said Katz Television Group’s Bill Carroll. “I think ultimately that impacted its performance.”
NBC had announced during the early stage of Trump’s primary campaign in 2015 that “The Celebrity Apprentice” would return with Schwarzenegger as host. The former California governor made a splashy appearance at the network’s upfront presentation the following May, unveiling a teaser for the show and a new catchphrase: “Let’s get down to business.”
But after Variety reported exclusively in December that Trump would retain an executive producer credit on the revived show — and would receive a per-episode fee in the five-figure range — efforts to promote the series became mired in controversy. Series creator Mark Burnett was a no-show at a press conference for the show the day after news of Trump’s executive producer credit broke. Speaking with reporters at that event, Schwarzenegger implied that Trump could have had a more active role in the show than NBC, producer MGM, and Trump himself had indicated.
“Not with me,” Schwarzenegger answered when asked if Trump had been active in day-to-day production decisions. “It could easily be that he was involved with NBC or with Mark Burnett, but not with me.”
The next month, after the show premiered, Kawasaki announced that it would pull out of a sponsorship deal for “The New Celebrity Apprentice” — then quickly reversed course, saying in a statement that the company sought to “remain neutral in regards to American politics.”
“The New Celebrity Apprentice” also faced the usual challenges of an aging reality franchise attempting to regain relevance after the loss of its central talent.
“Arnold Schwarzenegger was fine, but it was a different dynamic,” Carroll says. “‘The Apprentice’ in the United States was Trump. From the opening credits — the Trump helicopter, the Trump plane, Trump buildings, it was so identified with Trump and his personality that it’s difficult to recast.”
NBC has given no indication as to whether the “The New Celebrity Apprentice” will be renewed — the network declined to comment for this story — but the mix of middling ratings and controversy does not bode well for its future. And with Jennifer Lopez’s “World of Dance” and a possible “American Idol” revival in the works, NBC’s unscripted pipeline has plenty of competition-series options.
Given the current shakeup among his inner circle, perhaps Trump has other problems now to occupy his time.