The estimated $427.4 million Donald Trump earned from The Apprentice, Celebrity Apprentice, and related deals may represent his only financial success in recent decades, but Trump reportedly turned even that bonanza into a hellish experience for everyone around him.
The Hollywood Reporter spoke to several current and former employees of NBC and its parent company, NBCUniversal, about what it was like to be in the TV business with Trump for 14 seasons—and it seems life behind the camera was even more dismal than all those boardroom scenes.
According to the several THR sources, Trump was pondering a presidential run in 2011 and wouldn’t agree to another season unless NBCUniversal donated $500,000 to his Trump Foundation, which was forced to shut down in 2019 when a judge found Trump had misused the charity’s funds and fined him $2 million.
Trump also allegedly squeezed $10,000 out of NBCUni for the foundation in 2007 in order to get him appear before hundreds of advertisers at NBC’s upfronts. In that case, THR reports, “Some insiders assumed he pocketed the money.”
“It just shows his serial bad behavior,” says a former top executive. “‘I may be your employee and I’m supposed to go [to the upfront presentation] but I’m going to leverage you.’”
Initially, Trump was only supposed to play the boss for the first season of The Apprentice, which aired in 2004, but the show was such a hit that the network decided to keep him, much to the chagrin of staffers. “Trump was always a nightmare,” a network insider told THR. “He tried to get the showrunners fired every other day. One of them was in the hot seat at all times.” The show eventually burned through three of them.
In the report, a former network honcho recalls, “We had to build all kinds of systems with producers to make sure the show stayed on the rail… He was the perfect character: unfiltered stream of consciousness, crazy, well-edited to appear cohesive.”
Though the series often did well in the ratings, Trump didn’t appear to understand why viewers were tuning in. “He was obsessed with making boardroom scenes longer,” another source claims. “He wanted that to be 80 to 90 percent of the show. It should just be the boardroom and not the task. He wanted more face time and more of himself on TV.”
Though network bosses reportedly tried to tell Trump that his ideas were no good, he wasn’t a fan of the advice. One of them tells THR, “The tasks were sponsored by Fortune 500 companies. Those sponsors paid a lot of money and he made a lot of that money. [But] it was one of those irrational requests. ‘I don’t care. There needs to be more about the boardroom. Everyone tells me the boardroom is the best part.’ Firing was the highest rated part of the show. He’d hold onto that, thinking you could re-create that for 40 minutes.”
Trump’s brainstorms only got worse. “He’d suggest people—whoever was in the news he’d ask to put on,” another source claims. “He’d look at headlines and sometimes they were terrible ideas. He wanted [disgraced New York governor] Eliot Spitzer on, and then he wanted the [escort] Spitzer was sleeping with—Ashley Dupree. It was preposterous and we all told him it was crazy. But he would push for it.”
One NBC insider tells THR that Trump’s 2015 run for president was only supposed to be an opportunity for face time in advance of another season of Celebrity Apprentice. “He said he was announcing a bid in June and [he’d] be out of the race by September and start shooting [Celebrity Apprentice] in January,” says the source. “He never expected to get any traction. He was doing it to boost his own brand.”
However, when Trump grabbed headlines by calling Mexican immigrants rapists at his June 15 launch event, show employees began pushing NBC to ditch him. Paul Telegdy, then head of the network’s reality TV division, assured staffers that the presidential ugliness would soon be over.
On June 29, it was left to Telegdy to tell Trump that NBCUniversal was cutting him loose, which did not go well. “[Trump] couldn’t believe it,” says a former NBC insider. “He thought it was a mistake, and was belligerent and said it was a terrible decision and didn’t understand why.”
Another NBCUni source says Trump felt the presidency would be the ultimate ratings booster: “He didn’t see why he couldn’t do the show from the Oval Office.”
Publicly, the network announced it was dumping Trump over “continued derogatory statements.” NBCUniversal and the White House both declined THR’s requests for comment.
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