Television producer Mark Burnett was a key part in making President Donald Trump possible. When he approached the now-president to host the Apprentice, Trump was a mogul on the decline. But Burnett, and the popular reality show, turned him into a household name that was synonymous with success. The New Yorker talked to several people involved in the show for a profile on Burnett that has several interesting revelations about how producers worked to make Trump seem bigger than he was.
“He had just gone through I don’t know how many bankruptcies. But we made him out to be the most important person in the world. It was like making the court jester the king.” Bill Pruitt, a producer on the show, said, “We walked through the offices and saw chipped furniture. We saw a crumbling empire at every turn. Our job was to make it seem otherwise.”
Although Trump immediately proved himself to be an ideal character for reality television, producers had to do a lot of editing work to make him seem coherent. “He wouldn’t read a script — he stumbled over the words and got the enunciation all wrong,” Katherine Walker, a producer on the show, said. “But off the cuff he delivered the kind of zesty banter that is the lifeblood of reality television.” Although editors “cleaned it up so that he was his best self,” Walker is convinced “Donald thinks that he was never edited.”
Producers didn’t just edit Trump so that his words made sense; they also made sure to make it seem as though Trump’s decisions were coherent with what happened in the challenges every week. Trump often was unprepared for the “board room” sessions and fired people “on a whim.” That sometimes meant he got rid of people who had done a good job in the challenge, so editors would go back and “reverse engineer” the episode. Show veterans see lots of parallels with what Trump is doing as president now. “I find it strangely validating to hear that they’re doing the same thing in the White House,” Jonathon Braun, an editor, said.
Another interesting tidbit from the profile is that it strongly suggests that the long-rumored tape of Trump saying the N-word doesn’t actually exist. “I was the supervising editor on the first six seasons,” Braun said. “I didn’t watch every frame, but in everything I saw I didn’t hear him saying anything so horrible.” Even if those who took part in the show are legally prohibited from sharing any tape, it seems inconceivable that something so explosive wouldn’t have leaked as editors on reality shows often compile gag reels of cast members to amuse themselves. “If somebody had the goods, it would have leaked long ago,” an Apprentice staffer said. “There were no Trump fans on the set. I don’t know a single person who worked on the show who voted for Trump.”
Support work like this for just $1
Slate is covering the stories that matter to you. Become a Slate Plus member to support our work. Your first month is only $1.