Does the N-word tape exist? How did Trump go from “carnival barker” to leader of the free world? Will Russian President Vladimir Putin ever become a full-fledged reality-TV star?
Patrick Radden Keefe tries to answer those questions for The New Yorker in his new profile of Mark Burnett, portraying the deeply tanned British chairman of MGM Television as a figure who views the U.S. presidency as a game, which began with the resurrection of Donald Trump in the role as host of The Apprentice.
The Survivor creator once described Trump as his “soulmate,” and Keefe’s profile reveals behind-the-scenes information about the existence (or not) of more Trump tapes, while revealing Burnett as a man who saw potential in the real-estate mogul’s then-crumbling empire.
Burnett’s chief legacy, Keefe writes, “is to have cast a serially bankrupt carnival barker in the role of a man who might plausibly become the leader of the free world.”
Here are the four juiciest excerpts from the longread:
THERE ARE PLENTY OF OFFENSIVE TRUMP TAPES, BUT NONE ARE OF HIM SAYING THE ‘N-WORD’
Reporters have sought long-rumored behind-the-scenes footage from The Apprentice showing President Trump using racist language since the Access Hollywood “pussy” tape dropped during the campaign.
But Jonathan Braun, an editor who worked on the first six seasons of The Apprentice, told Keefe he doubted that there was any such tape from the show.
Even so, over the 14 seasons hosted by the now-president, there may be as many as 60,000 hours of outtakes that contain sexist or derogatory racist language. Three staffers told The Daily Beast that Trump had called Oscar-winning actress and deaf Apprentice contestant Marlee Matlin “retarded.”
Keefe’s interview subjects said that Trump “wasn’t going around saying ‘pussy, pussy, pussy’ all the time,” but that he regularly would make other uncouth comments, like “‘How about those boobs? Wouldn’t you like to fuck her?’”
PRODUCERS SOUGHT TO PORTRAY A ‘CRUMBLING EMPIRE’ AS AN ‘IMPECCABLE BUSINESS’
“Donald would not be president had it not been for that show,” said Katherine Walker, a producer on the first five seasons of The Apprentice. Producers often struggled to make Trump’s now-infamous stream-of-consciousness monologues seem coherent, “editing out garbled syntax and malapropisms.”
Though Braun said “most of us knew he was a fake,” producers sought out to turn the “skeezy hustler” into “a plutocrat with impeccable business instincts and unparalleled wealth,” Keefe writes. Producers said they took the “crumbling empire” with chipped furniture and revitalized it for the show.
Trump even acknowledged this change, once telling Esquire that people used to see him as “a bit of an ogre” until Burnett stepped in.
TO BURNETT—AND TRUMP—THE PRESIDENCY IS A GAME
Burnett saw the show as a game, and later viewed the presidency the same way.
“I think it’s a game for Trump, too,” he said. “It’s a game for the audience. I think the voters like it. They’re enjoying the spectacle. It’s in the soul of who Mark is. They’re kindred spirits. There are no major causes driving them—it’s just about playing a game and winning it.”
BURNETT WANTED A PUTIN REALITY SHOW FOR ‘DECADES’
Burnett has been outspoken for nearly 20 years about his desire for a television show with Russian President Vladimir Putin, beginning in 2001 with a project called “Destination: Mir.” Burnett reportedly wanted to send the winner into space, but the concept was trashed after Russia decommissioned the Mir space station.
Then, three years ago, Burnett wanted to build a new show with Putin to honor the “glory” of Russia: “the humans, the nature, the animals of the nation.”
In September, Putin finally added “reality star” to his résumé with a show on the Rossiya 1 channel.