Trump Model Transfers to TV

Mar 29, 2004  •  Post A Comment

President Bush hadn’t even left the head table in the packed ballroom of the Washington Hilton last Wednesday night when Donald Trump split from the News Corp. table at which he was a very special guest.
Mr. Trump was bound for Burbank, Calif., where he would spend the next morning whetting advertiser interest in the second flight of “The Apprentice” (750,000 job applicants and counting), followed by a visit to the two miles of Pacific Ocean beachfront on which he’s building luxury estates and a championship golf course. At NBC that morning, there was joking inspired by what “The Apprentice” has done for the network. What has it done? It earned NBC a three-year high of 22.7 million viewers for its time slot last Thursday night and raked in advertising revenue of nearly $400 million, including nearly $26 million in its debut month of January, according to data from TMS Media Intelligence/CMR.
And there was joking about how “The Apprentice” has changed life for the man most people thought had everything, including a signature haircut, and who now also has his own catchphrase, “You’re fired!” which he wants to trademark, as well as a book, “Trump: How to Get Rich,” that debuted last week with a 500,000-copy run and zoomed to seventh place on Amazon.com.
Then there are the recently delivered Q Scores from Marketing Evaluations that nudged the long-famous Trump up to a familiarity quotient of 75, which puts him in a class with the casts of “Friends” and “Will & Grace,” Tom Hanks and Bill Cosby.
Donald Trump is having a ball, a great big brass ball.
What his real estate billions and best-selling memoirs hadn’t been able to buy him, TV, shrewd marketing, timing and all-access to the media have: ubiquity that will rise to unprecedented levels in the next two weeks.
Mr. Trump will be in and out of fabled Studio 8H in New York as he prepares to host this week’s “Saturday Night Live.”
Then it’s on to Trump Week on NBC, which will include the two-hour Miss USA Pageant, in which Mr. Trump and NBC are 50-50 partners, and the two-hour finale of “The Apprentice,” the series in which Mr. Trump and hugely successful reality hitmaker Mark Burnett are partners, and at least two hours of exposure on “Dateline NBC.”
Mr. Trump, whose branded real estate properties are tourist destinations, is suddenly the hottest property on TV, not because he’s hip to how to save the aging network business model, but because he followed the same formula and trusted the same instincts that have made him a billionaire at least five times over.
He gets the best advice his money and friendships can afford him and he listens to his gut when the time comes to choose partners. If partners don’t work out, they’re fired.
After seeing ratings erode dramatically for Miss Universe, Miss USA and Miss Teen on CBS, he bought out CBS’s 50 percent share in the unpretentious pageants and hopped into business with NBC, which also could offer instant growth through Spanish-language telecasts on Telemundo.
The maiden NBC telecasts of Miss Universe and Miss USA in 2003 grew (less than a million for Miss Universe, but nearly 4 million for Miss USA).
NBC Entertainment President Jeff Zucker said the pageants were more highly rated because they were “on NBC as opposed to CBS. We took those pageants very seriously and made them events and tied them to `Fear Factor,’ for instance, and promotional things.
“He knew that we were committed to them and he was open to working with us, but it’s not that he demanded anything or tried to force us to do anything differently,” Mr. Zucker said.
When Mr. Burnett first met Mr. Trump, while producing the finale of “Survivor” from Central Park in 2003, Mr. Burnett was ready. Mr. Burnett had read Mr. Trump’s “The Art of the Deal” and had an idea for a show, which became “The Apprentice.”
“I liked Mark immediately. He was charming, smart, and direct. I also liked his ideas, and we were on the same wavelength from the onset,” Mr. Trump said. “The reason Mark Burnett approached me to do `The Apprentice’ was due to my reputation as a businessman. He felt I had something that could be useful not only as entertainment but as education.”
Mr. Burnett cast Mr. Trump, who still registers as a polarizing personality in Q Scores, as the centerpiece for his hit because “I knew he had a great sense of humor. Trump is absolutely a warm person in long form.”
“I felt very comfortable that Trump would work,” Mr. Burnett said. “He required zero coaching.”
But Mr. Trump got sage advice from his longtime pal and TV charmmeister, Regis Philbin, who urged Mr. Trump to take full advantage of this unique opportunity to soften up his image. “He is clearly enjoying the notoriety television brings,” said Mr. Philbin, who booked Mr. Trump as a guest co-host last week.
Chief among the attributes Mr. Trump brings to TV is “an incredible personality that pops off the screen. All shows live and die on the characters and he’s an amazing character in the best sense of that word,” Mr. Zucker said. “He also brings to it an incredible nose for publicity and just a never-ending willingness to help the network out, whether that’s with advertisers or the press, and you know those things are critical.”
Mr. Trump won’t say how much of a raise he got from his $100,000-per-episode “Apprentice” salary when he renegotiated for “Apprentice II,” except to suggest that even a “Friends”-size salary would be mere tooling-around gas money for his private jet. “What is important is that, psychologically, I’m compensated fairly. And I have been. NBC and Jeff Zucker and Bob Wright have been extraordinary.”
“He was a gentleman and a true partner,” Mr. Zucker said, adding, “He didn’t write `The Art of the Deal’ for nothing.”
Leslie Ryan contributed to this report.