Normally, I don’t particularly think it’s worth it to get verklempt about decisions entertainment companies make. But I do think it’s worth highlighting the spectacular crassness of the raise NBC just gave Donald Trump. For his hosting and production work, he’ll make $65 million a year over two years, a sum that’s apparently a “substantial increase.”
I understand the economics of The Apprentice. It’s incredibly cheap to produce; it’s a dream of product placement. But its ad rates are down considerably. And while ratings for the season, an average of 8.8 million per episode were up from the last celebrity edition of The Apprentice, which averaged 7.4 million viewers per episode, it’s nowhere near the first-season high of 20.7 million viewers per episode, or the 11 million viewers who tuned in to an average episode of the first edition of Celebrity Apprentice in 2008. And even if ratings were up this season, the ratings for the finale were lower in 2011 than they were last year when Bret Michaels took home the previous Celebrity Apprentice crown. This is just not a show that’s dramatically trending upwards. At some point, even if it’s not this season or next season, NBC’s going to have to come up with a replacement for The Apprentice. Whatever comes next will almost inevitably cost more to produce, but if it’s something like The Voice, which has higher ratings than The Apprentice, and comes with a built-in alternative revenue stream, it might well be worth it.
And what did Trump do to boost ratings this season? He embarked on a presidential campaign in which he insulted gay people, joined the ranks of climate change deniers, and perpetrated a racist conspiracy theory about the president’s birth. Fortunately, he’s probably not going to be able to do that in subsequent seasons. But even if he was, is that really the kind of business NBC wants to be in?