When The New Celebrity Apprentice, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, debuts early next year, President-elect Donald Trump's name will appear in the credits as executive producer, right after series creator Mark Burnett. Trump will get more than just credit: He will also receive a fee for every episode that's "likely to be in the low five-figures, at minimum," Variety reports, noting that MGM, not NBC, will be paying Trump — MGM, Burnett's company, produces the reality TV show, and NBC licenses and broadcasts it.
"Mr. Trump has a big stake in the show and conceived of it with Mark Burnett," Trump spokeswoman Hope Hicks said Thursday, confirming that she was referring to a financial stake but giving no details about the arrangement. MGM and NBC declined comment when contacted by several news organizations. NBC had said it was "ending its business relationship" with Trump in July 2015, after he launched his presidential campaign by calling many Mexican immigrants rapists and criminals. In May 2016, Trump signaled that he was still invested in the show. "You know I have a big chunk of that show, going forever," he said. "Mark and I did it together. We were 50-50 partners."
President Obama received royalties for books he wrote before taking office, but "the fact that a sitting president will be on the payroll of a current TV show is another example of the thicket of potential conflicts of interest raised by Trump's segue from private businessman and TV star to commander-in-chief," Variety says. Ethics experts, already dismayed that Trump appears unwilling to divest himself of his business, threw up their hands at the reality TV deal. "We need him to be president — full time — and not to have other contractual commitments elsewhere," Richard Painter, ethics counsel to former President George W. Bush, told The Washington Post. "He's testing the limits on everything."
Still, reality TV is a big part of Trump's story — The Apprentice saved his business career in many ways — and the skills he mastered in the medium have served him well in politics, The Washington Post notes: "Even his transition has been marked by the kind of drama that, while abnormal for the practice of building a government, is familiar to fans of the show. Just as Apprentice contestants had to battle for Trump's approval, potential Cabinet picks are publicly competing with each other and paraded before cameras at Trump Tower."