Donald Trump has turned from a successful megalomaniac into a successful one that could possibly become the most powerful man in the free world: a thought that excites few people and terrifies others. But let’s ignore that for now – and talk about a show that I used to watch with my family while growing up: 2004’s “The Apprentice.”
“New York - my city,” are the first words that Trump says in the pilot episode. And from that you can tell that “The Apprentice,” much like Trump himself is all about, well, Trump. The show markets his image as one of success, glamour and power, and the New York real estate mogul acts as the judge, jury and executioner for his show.
Here, 16 “of America’s best and brightest young entrepreneurs” - at least in the first season - are split into two different teams that compete against each other every week in different day-to-day tasks. In the early parts of the season, the tasks are as simple as selling lemonade, but they gradually become more difficult.
The winning team gets “treated” by Trump through different ways, like going to an an expensive restaurant, while the losing team is forced to take part in a boardroom meeting where one of the members gets fired by Trump. The goal of the show: be the last person standing and hired as his “apprentice.”
The premise is great and man, does Trump know how to entertain. From all the different shots of New York to the epic music behind each climactic moment and the development of the reality show’s cast of characters, you’re invested. Moreover, the superficial presentation is self-aware: from the very beginning, “The Apprentice” has no illusions about being anything but a raw depiction of dog-eat-dog business.
And you know what? For its first season, the show does a pretty good job. With a cast of memorable characters, including but not limited to the epic reality television villain Omarosa Stallworth, it manages to captivate audiences with different conflicts each episodes. Take a budding romance between two competitors later in the season, or the constant bickering between Omarosa and seemingly everyone else that ever has to team with her.
Yet after a while, the formula begins to stray from the simplified business lessons that seemed to highlight each episode. During the later seasons, which include a few dreadful “Celebrity Apprentice” versions, the show becomes more about what ridiculousness Trump will pull in the boardroom, as well as what fights are going.
Sometimes he will fire more than one person - in one episode, he even fires four people. It often feels cheap and turns the show from a cutthroat illustration of cold business tactics to a circus revolving around Trump.
While Trump certainly had a unique image during that era, it’s not like he was the only “putdown” judge on reality television. Rather than being an enjoyable villain the same way people like Simon Cowell and Anne Robinson were for their shows, Trump was just a pompous jerk in a show mostly full of other arrogant people like him.
Unlike Cowell and Robinson, Trump never had a level of substance beyond his materialism: he actually was that sickeningly shallow.
None of my statements about this show are an endorsement of Trump’s candidacy for becoming president - nor are they for any policy he has brought forward to his political platform. But as seen from the recent political coverage of him, as well as the initial success of “The Apprentice,” the guy is a pretty effective entertainment mogul, though it’s certainly difficult to separate him as a political demagogue from the successful, but boorish and spoiled manchild he tries to celebrate on his show.