News that President-elect Donald Trump will retain an executive producer credit on the forthcoming season of NBC’s “The Celebrity Apprentice” has led to a lot of debate about the ethics of his potential involvement on a major network show.
The discussion highlights widespread confusion around the term executive producer. In an email, Andy Dehnart, editor of the website Reality Blurred, said the executive producer title is “essentially meaningless” in reality television because it can denote a number of roles. While showrunners, who oversee day-to-day production of shows, receive executive producer titles, Dehnart said the title can be also be applied to those with minimal involvement — a producer who created the show’s format or an executive of the production company behind the show. It can even be applied to agents or managers, whose contracts demand that they be credited that way. Mark Burnett, who created “The Apprentice,” is listed as an executive producer on its spin-off “The Celebrity Apprentice” — as well as NBC’s “The Voice,” ABC’s “Shark Tank” and the long-running CBS reality competition show, “Survivor.”
NBC has not detailed Trump’s role — or how he will be compensated — on “The Celebrity Apprentice,” which premieres Jan. 2 and will be hosted by former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. But some television insiders have interpreted Trump’s role as merely representative of his financial stake in the show. As The Post’s Rosalind Helderman and Elahe Izadi reported Thursday, Trump was given 50 percent ownership on “The Apprentice,” which he hosted for 14 seasons.
Veteran television producer David Simon, an outspoken critic of the president-elect, argued, in a series of tweets Thursday, that it makes sense for Trump to receive royalties for the show.
“I loathe Trump, and I think it’s beneath POTUS to take a credit on a reality TV show. But…knowing what I do about producing royalties in TV, there’s no reason he shouldn’t receive his regular royalty for every episode of a show he helped create by contract,” Simon wrote. “To do so isn’t suggesting that he is actively working on the show, but only that he’s receiving the contracted royalty.”
Tween botulism & Trump, I'd choose botulism. But defend his continuing TV royalties & watch a host of fools argue ethics by raw ad hominem.
— David Simon (@AoDespair) December 9, 2016
Simon and others, including former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer, have compared Trump’s situation to President Obama receiving royalties for his bestselling autobiography “Dreams From My Father.” But ethics experts have focused on NBC’s role as a media company and whether Trump could influence the network as president. Others have zeroed in on NBC’s parent corporation, Comcast, which has regulatory ties with various agencies, including the Federal Communications Commission, which is overseen by a chairman appointed by the president.
It’s unclear whether Trump’s involvement could have other implications for “The Celebrity Apprentice.” Would any of the contestants have an issue with Trump being involved? Among them is singer Carnie Wilson, who tweeted Nov. 9 that she was “trying to figure out how to explain to my kids that Trump is President when they awake.” A representative for Wilson did not respond to a request for comment.
Before Trump’s executive producer credit was reported by Variety, another contestant — Boy George – responded to a Twitter user who asked if he would quit the show since it was still somehow tied to Trump. The singer responded, simply: “No!”