Over the past several years, I’ve been alternately amused and horrified to watch Donald Trump’s antics as he’s tried to expand his franchise beyond the NBC reality television franchise, The Apprentice, that returned him to relevance after his real estate empire fizzled by turning to politics. His dabbling in everything from conspiracies about President Obama’s birthplace to the integrity of the 2012 election results has allowed Trump to tap into new veins of support. And he’s been so successful at it that for a brief time, Trump managed to keep both the Republican presidential primary and NBC’s scheduling department, which might have had to yank The Apprentice, on edge as he pretended to consider whether to run for president.
Since then, Trump’s continued to irritate both political observers and NBC. The day after the presidential election in November, Trump attacked his network colleague Brian Williams for covering Trump’s comments about the campaign on Rock Center. So it’s no surprise that, at the Television Critics Association press tour, NBC Entertainment Chairman Bob Greenblatt was asked how he manages Trump, and whether he’s asked his star — who didn’t appear for the panel presenting the latest edition of The Celebrity Apprentice — to tone it down.
“We live in this country where you can sort of say anything you want as long as you’re not harming other people,” Greenblatt said, sounding deeply unenthusiastic. “And he’s got a political belief system. And we talk to him all the time. But I really don’t think that what he’s doing kind of in his personal life is going to corrupt what is happening on the show. That said, if he sort of becomes somehow hurtful or says things or does things that cross a line, I guess we would figure out what to do about that.”
As much as I’ve long though NBC should fire Trump for not being a team player, it makes sense that Greenblatt wouldn’t pull the trigger unless Trump’s behavior made the brand he’s created unviable. And given that part of the brand of The Apprentice is Trump being an abusive, self-important blowhard, him applying his blowhardiness to politics doesn’t actually undermine the image that he’s sold as a product to NBC.
And as much as I wish Trump didn’t have airtime, it would be great NBC would get rid of him because he’s a terrible example of what a successful executive would actually look like. He’s filed for corporate bankruptcy four times, and he’s done so not because he’s made different errors, but because he keeps heavily leveraging his hotel and casino businesses. It’s true that bankruptcy can be a way to restructure companies, but it’s still a drastic way to get to that point, and one that can be damaging to Trump’s partners and investors. Trump’s frequently embroiled in litigation of one type or another relating to his business or his images. And now, he’s trying to get out of paying some taxes on the Old Post Office, a government building that is tax exempt, which Trump wants to turn into a luxury hotel. It’s not surprising that Trump would want to get out of the higher taxes, but it’s still a particularly craven move, given how much of the District is government property, and how much the city government needs to get tax revenue back when for-profit organizations take over government buildings.
But then, if NBC had wanted a business leader who is both effective and consistently ethical, they never would have hired Donald Trump in the first place. The show’s the thing. And Trump, no matter what you think of the quality of the show, always provides plenty of it.