Donald Trump will continue to hold the title of executive producer for the television show “The Celebrity Apprentice” after taking office, foreshadowing an unorthodox presidency in which the commander in chief has a hand in the world of reality TV.
Trump’s name will be listed in the credits of the NBC show that he once hosted, according to details of the arrangement confirmed by a representative of the show.
Such credits in Hollywood often come with a paycheck, though the representative did not disclose whether Trump will be compensated.
Hope Hicks, a spokeswoman for Trump, provided no details of Trump’s arrangement but offered an explanation as to why the president-elect would find it difficult to separate himself from the show.
“Mr. Trump has a big stake in the show,” she said, noting that he created it with longtime reality show mastermind Mark Burnett.
The show has not aired in two years but will return to NBC with former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger as host on Jan. 2. Trump’s title with the show was first reported Thursday by the entertainment publication Variety.
“The Celebrity Apprentice” is a spinoff of “The Apprentice,” the hit show that Trump hosted for 14 seasons, popularized his catchphrase “You’re fired!” and helped catapult his global celebrity. Trump was given a 50 percent ownership stake on the show and paid, at the start, $100,000 per episode for hosting. Trump has claimed that he was paid more than $213 million for the show over the course of its run.
Trump’s arrangement is with entertainment giant MGM, which produces the show. His former partner, Burnett, is head of MGM’s television division. A company spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment. The show’s representative who confirmed Trump’s title spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss an internal matter.
Ethics experts expressed dismay on Thursday that Trump’s ongoing relationship with the show creates a needless complication, particularly if the president is receiving a paycheck from a major entertainment company. Government ethics officials have said that Trump should divest himself of his private business interests to avoid conflicts of interest in office.
“We need him to be president — full time — and not to have other contractual commitments elsewhere,” said Richard Painter, who served as ethics counsel to former president George W. Bush. “He’s testing the limits on everything.”
Norm Eisen, who served as ethics counsel to President Obama, said Trump will “be tempted, consciously or otherwise, to favor NBC or use the White House to promote this source of revenue.”
“It is one more example of why he must do what every president has done for four decades: divest all his interests into a blind trust or the equivalent,” Eisen said.
No previous president has faced the challenge of disentangling from a business as large and complicated as Trump’s. President Obama received book royalties for two titles published before he took office.
Trump has repeatedly said he will no longer be involved with his business empire after he takes office, telling the New York Times in an interview last month, “I don’t care about my company. It doesn’t matter.” But the unusual television arrangement suggests he is having difficulty divorcing himself from his reality-show roots and business dealings he has found to be a source of pride and money.
Trump has promised he will leave his company “in total” but has provided no details, including whether he will still hold an ownership stake while the business is run by his adult children. He has said he will hold a news conference next week to outline plans for the company.
For Trump, reality TV has been a core part of his identity and preparation for his successful candidacy. Whether on the campaign trail or in the Republican primary debates, he employed the showmanship and flair for suspense he had perfected while hosting “The Apprentice.” 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, where the show was once filmed.
“The Apprentice” marked the start of a crucial chapter in Trump’s rise.
He was a New York real estate mogul still repairing his reputation after financial struggles in the 1990s when he was cast as the host of the show, which began airing in 2004.
The show was a hit and established Trump as the decisive master of the corporate board room that would allow him to dramatically expand his business empire through real estate and merchandise branding deals around the world.
He hosted his last episode of the show in February 2015. In July 2015, NBC announced the company was “ending its business relationship” with Trump after he launched his presidential campaign with a speech in which he said many immigrants from Mexico are rapists and criminals.
At the time, Trump claimed the media company had not wanted him to run for president because it wanted him to continue hosting the show. The show eventually received two outstanding reality competition Emmy nominations but it never won, a slight that Trump has brought up over the years, including during the final presidential debate.
In August, NBC Entertainment Chairman Robert Greenblatt told reporters that Trump would never again host the show, even if he lost the presidential election.
“I have no idea if he’s got a future on television, but he would never be back on ‘The Celebrity Apprentice,’ ” Greenblatt said then. “Not as long as I’m here.”
But the show executive producer credits and payments are handed out by MGM, not NBC, which merely licenses the show. An NBC spokeswoman declined to comment.
The public relationship between Trump and Burnett has been up and down in recent months.
After The Washington Post published a video in October of Trump describing in lewd terms what he likes to do to women, Burnett released a statement declaring that he had never been a supporter of the businessman’s presidential bid.
That statement came as Burnett came under pressure to release unaired clips from the show that critics hoped would reveal more embarrassing moments for Trump.
“I am not pro-Trump,” Burnett said at the time, adding that he and his wife, actress Roma Downey, “reject the hatred, division and misogyny that has been a very unfortunate part of his campaign.”
But Burnett appears to have warmed to the idea of Trump in the Oval Office since the election. This week, he met with the president-elect to discuss plans for his inauguration, proposing a dramatic stunt in which Trump would go down Fifth Avenue in a parade, then board a Trump-branded helicopter at the top of Trump Tower and fly to Washington.
Trump appeared skeptical of the idea as he recalled Burnett’s pitch to donors Wednesday at a fundraiser in Manhattan, noting how much a parade would snarl Manhattan traffic, according to several attendees. Rather, Trump said, “I want to get to work.”
Philip Rucker and Matea Gold contributed to this report.