As he begins his final weeks in office, amid a winter surge in coronavirus deaths, President Donald Trump has mentioned to confidants that he’s thinking about resurrecting The Apprentice or The Celebrity Apprentice reality TV show, two people with direct knowledge of the situation, and another person close to the president, tell The Daily Beast.
Among his inner orbit of family, political aides, and advisers, it is yet another sign that, despite the president’s public insistence that he won the 2020 election, he recognizes that he has lost and that his ongoing legal crusade to cancel Joe Biden’s victory will come up short.
In the past two weeks, the people familiar with the matter note, Trump has casually slipped into conversation lines such as, “How would you like to see The Apprentice come back?” and “Remember The Apprentice?”
The president has also bragged about how much of a ratings draw and money-maker the series was for him and creator and Trump pal Mark Burnett, and that if he wanted to, he could do it again. Whether a network would have him is another question. The Apprentice aired formerly on NBC. But that was an era before Trump was president. And the controversy of his time in office will likely follow him after he leaves.
Also unclear is to what extent Trump and Burnett have made contact this month. But Burnett has been talking up the prospect and has told associates he sees a revived Apprentice as a potential huge money spinner, according to a person familiar with his thinking.
“Mark’s an opportunist. Trump was his meal ticket before and he’s keen to bring the show back to life, especially in the face of the disaster MGM has become,” the person said, referring to Burnett’s rocky tenure as chairman of the MGM television group, where he has overseen a string of flops, including Netflix’s Messiah, The Contender on CBS, and ABC’s Funderdome.
Regarding plans for the pair to restart the hit TV show, a spokesperson for Burnett, who asked to remain anonymous, told The Daily Beast via email, “NOT TRUE zero discussions about TV.” White House spokespeople did not provide comment for this story on Thursday.
For Trump, a return to TV wouldn’t be simply about remaining in the spotlight. It would be about dollars and cents as well. The New York Times reported in September that he profited to the tune of $197 million over 16 years from The Apprentice and was also able to generate a further $230 million from the fame the franchise generated.
In the president’s social and political circles, there is some excitement at the prospect of an Apprentice redux, even as Trump and his legal team continue to wallow in conspiracy theories and lies about the 2020 election outcome. Some close allies have recently assured him that once out of office, he could still find solace in his most consuming obsession: entertainment and news media.
“I received a call from President Trump last week. We chatted about the election briefly [and] he made it clear that he wasn’t giving up on fighting for a second term,” said Eric Bolling, a Sinclair host and friend of the Trump family who appeared on Trump’s reality TV show years ago. “I mentioned to him that I believe whatever happens with the legal fights, he would emerge as the biggest media personality on the planet. Trump has a clear opportunity to be a media mega-personality post-presidency.”
“I think an Apprentice/Celebrity Apprentice revival would be a humongous hit,” Bolling added. “This iteration would be ratings gold for whomever is fortunate enough to get the reboot.”
The aftermath of the 2020 election isn’t the first time during this presidential term that Trump has talked about bringing back the show. In November 2019, The Daily Beast reported that Burnett and the sitting president had discussed shooting a new, politics-themed edition of the series after Trump left office. The show would have a working title of The Apprentice: White House.
After that article was published, the president took to Twitter to deny the report, falsely claiming, “Fake News is reporting that I am talking to Mark Burnett about doing a big show, perhaps The Apprentice, after the presidency, which I would assume they mean in 5 years. This is not true, never had such a conversation, don’t even have time to think about it.”
But Trump has long been fixated on his past life on TV and the status of the show once he left it. Former advisers say one of the things he hated most about running for office in 2015 was having to leave it.
“The day that NBC announced that Donald Trump would no longer be able to host The Apprentice in 2015 was one of the very few times I’ve ever seen the [then-future] president visibly upset in immediate reaction to news,” Sam Nunberg, a former political adviser to Trump, recounted. “When very famous people—celebrities, athletes, people in Hollywood, politicians, network executives, network hosts—would call his office in Trump Tower, he would often let people sit there and listen as he talked to them; occasionally, he would put them on speakerphone. But when Mark Burnett called, which was frequent [between 2013 and 2015], Trump would politely tell everyone else to ‘get out’ of his office.”