Mark Burnett has an uncanny ability to appeal to the lowest common denominator. “Survivor” was a testament to that premise, and certainly Donald Trump is the poster child for that perfect show biz ideal, as first articulated by P.T. Barnum, “Nobody ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American public.” Burnett has taken a lot of heat for his refusal to provide “Apprentice” outtakes, wherein Trump famously uses the n-word and purportedly reveals that his “grab ’em by the pussy” comment was actually one of his tamer elocutions. He’s protecting Trump. Like the GOP, watch what Burnett does, not what he says. Daily Beast:
Burnett declined to make any footage public or to let former contestants out of their nondisclosure agreements. But shortly before Trump was elected president, he did go out of his way to denounce the “hatred, division, and misogyny that has been a very unfortunate part of his campaign.” The statement came in the midst of a flood of sexual-misconduct and assault allegations that were publicly made against Trump shortly after the October 2016 publication of the infamous “grab ’em by the pussy” tape.
After Trump won the election, however, Burnett was ready to put all that bigotry and sexism behind him. He buddied back up to Trump and even played a role in the inauguration, trying—largely unsuccessfully—to recruit musicians to perform for Trump’s festivities.
One person who has spoken with Burnett about Trump said he openly boasted of his relationship to the president: “Mark would say ‘My relationship with the president is incredibly strong. I’m the most powerful person in Hollywood because of it. I could wipe the floor because of it.’ Mark has no shame.”
As you would expect, Burnett’s office has denied the rumors, any conversations between Trump and Burnett on the topic, and the like. But again, forget what they say, watch what they do. Television is not only Trump’s medium, it’s his substitute for living life. At some point, the White House will stop being an extension of the “Apprentice” set and Trump will return to the only way of life he understands, superficiality and soundbites. He was hoping that the presidential campaign was going to be an extension of his TV show and when reality began to overcome reality TV, he was not happy about 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,” [former aide Sam] Nunberg said.
The ex-aide continued, “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.”
Ironically, one of President Trump’s central gripes in recent months regarding his predecessor, Barack Obama, is the imagined corruption that the former president engaged in by securing a major entertainment and production deal with Netflix in his post-presidency life.
But if Trump’s conversations with Burnett are of any indication, it appears that the sitting president is yearning for his own version of “Obama Netflix?” And according to those who know Burnett, the reality-TV kingpin is similarly champing at the bit.
If I had to bet money right now, I would bet that Burnett and Trump will do business again in the future. It’s no secret that Trump is a narcissist and he needs the attention, good or bad, that television gives him. What the real question is, will Trump have an audience? Sooner or later, we will be rid of Donald Trump, preferably sooner. But even if the worst case scenario goes to 2024, is anybody going to want to listen to him after that? I would say no. Even his hard core base is hanging on for dear life, only because they believe that he can shove his racist and divisive philosophies down everybody’s throat as president. And granted, he’s done a hell of a lot of damage. But he doesn’t have the real power that comes from having an intellect and personality of substance — such as Obama, whom he reviles for that very reason. Trump’s got no staying power. He’s already a tired old joke and by 2021 or God forbid later — he’ll be a worn out pair of shoes. I don’t think Trump can maintain his shock jock value for too much longer and I don’t believe he’ll have an audience when he’s gone from the White House. I think he’ll be a pariah. But we’ll see, won’t we? When the likes of Mark Burnett, Fox News and all of them can’t turn a buck from Trump, then we’ll see how great a friends they all really are.