The Ego and His Show


Like millions of other Americans, last night I watched the final episode of The Apprentice. And like millions of other Americans, I gasped at the surprise revelation that capped the season: that Donald Trump, who had been posing as a millionaire, in fact has no money at all.

No, wait—what actually happened was described by critic David Zurawik:

…once Trump made the choice of Rancic, The Apprentice deconstructed before our eyes into pure cheese.

The panels of the boardroom that Burnett had made a place of judgment and seat of power were pulled away to reveal a live studio audience on hand at NBC's Rockefeller Center. With that, Trump took center stage and, like a daytime game show host, launched into some of the most unabashed self-promotion prime-time television has ever seen.

He was ostensibly giving Rancic three minutes to choose one of two jobs as his prize: managing a new Trump Tower in Chicago or a new Trump country club on the Pacific. But the language Trump used—"a spectacular building project that will result in one of the world's greatest towers setting new standards of architectural excellence"—was the lexicon of the infomercial. The promotional pictures NBC let him air were an infomercial.

All of which is true, but I'm left wondering: Does Zurawik think this is a new development? Not an episode of The Apprentice goes by without Trump stumping for one of his businesses or properties, proudly declaring the "quality" on display. The would-be apprentices then dutifully ooh and aww, perhaps in earnest and perhaps to suck up. It would be obnoxious if it weren't so funny.

The Apprentice has been one of the most skillfully plotted reality series in the short history of the genre. Trump's relentless self-promotion was part of the deal: Consciously or not, he's playing the caricature people either love or love to hate, and that's part of what makes the show so watchable. (Much more watchable, to my taste, than that overrated duo of departing hits, Friends and Sex and the City.) And hey, it used my favorite O'Jays song—or a bowdlerized version, anyway—as its theme music. Can't beat that.

Besides, better for Trump to spend his time playing himself on TV than to spend it, say, ripping off people's property via eminent domain. Here's looking to next season.

NEXT: "It Glides As Softly as a Cloud!"

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  1. “Reality” TV is for people who enjoy being manipulated. The funny thing is that many of them don’t even know they are being played like a violin. They get what they deserve, and vice versa. Too bad they’re dragging down the rest of the culture with them.

    Yes, yes, I am a snob. Let me hear it.

  2. I don’t see how the typical “reality” show is any more manipulative than the typical sitcom or drama. And while I’m sure there are people who don’t understand that what they’re watching is a quasi-fiction cooked up in the editing room, most viewers I know are completely aware of how this particular batch of sausages is made.

    Even more, I don’t see how this is supposed to be “dragging down the rest of the culture,” except perhaps to the extent that it causes us to devote our scarce Hit & Run resources to discussing it.

  3. Well, I certainly agree that “Friends” And “Sex” are overrated. They drag down the culture by squeezing out better programming, like bad money drives out good.

  4. I don’t mind Trump being an ambitious capitalist even if he is very conceited, but I didn’t know about him trying to use government force to steal someone’s house.

    I wouldn’t mind seeing a few of his properties torn down and turned into nature preserves. Or how about a reality series based on “Trading Places” where everything is taken from him and he has to live like a bum. Let the old widow he tried to rob have his fortune. Permanently.

  5. Critic: Squeezing out better programming? At a time of comedies like The Simpsons and King of the Hill, or dramas like The Wire and The Sopranos?

  6. He’s a world-class sleezeball. Giving him his own show only encourages him. Yuck! I need a shower.

  7. Say what you will about the Donald, but the last half hour of the finale was better comedy than what usually comes out of the studio they used.

  8. The Simpsons and King of the Hill…

    Exceptional exceptions to the rule. How about Fear Factor? The Bachelor?

  9. The Simpsons and King of the Hill…

    Exceptional exceptions to the rule. How about Fear Factor? The Bachelor?

    I think Sturgeon’s Law — “90% of everything is crap” — applies here. There’s a lot of lousy programs on TV today. There have always been a lot of lousy programs on TV. But I’d say there have been more “exceptional exceptions to the rule” in American TV in the last half decade than at any other time in its history. And the best old stuff is more accessible than ever before, thanks to DVDs. (They just finally brought out a DVD of the short-lived but frequently brilliant Richard Pryor Show. Talk about living in a golden age…)

    True, most of the best shows are on cable. But that just brings another old saying to mind: “You gets what you pays for.”

  10. Trump: Quality!

    Inigo: “You keep on using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

  11. Thanks, Shannon. Loved The Princess Bride . . .

  12. I don’t own a television.

  13. At a time of comedies like The Simpsons and King of the Hill, or dramas like The Wire and The Sopranos?

    Oh Jesse, I’m so disappointed. The Simpsons haven’t had an inspiring season (only the occasional episode) in nearly a decade. KOTH was never that great. I can’t speak to The Wire, but the Sopranos is watchable solely for gratuitous sex, violence, and (HBOs bread and butter) F-bombs. Calling it a great drama is like calling Burger King ‘grilled steak’.

    What MALAK said

  14. Actually, great TV ended with the demise of The X-Files, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Married with Children, and Brimstone – remember that show? It was great but lasted only a season or two.

  15. The Simpsons and King of the Hill…

    Exceptional exceptions to the rule. How about Fear Factor? The Bachelor?

    How about you name a quality television show that got “sqeezed out” in favor of reality TV? That would actually help demonstrate your point.

    Noting that “Fear Factor” and “The Bachelor” are on TV doesn’t help your case. You need to establish that they’re on TV in place of the GOOD TV that *used* to be there — especially considering how many channels exist today.

    I mean, seriously — “The Sopranos” is better than any show the “Big Three” networks have ever aired.

  16. Eric: Loved Brimstone!! More for the actor playing Satan than the protagonist, though . . .
    Peter something, I think.

    Great concept.

  17. Has the subject already been worked over, or am I the only person who thinks that Trump has one of the weirdest hair styles ever? Is he going to have hair on his cheeks next seasons, like a Wolfman?

  18. Kwais-

    I’ll describe it, and you tell me if you remember. My episode aired in October of 2001. I went up against a blonde woman in her late 20’s/early 30’s, and an older guy. I was behind for the first part of round 1, until my reflexes adapted to the timing of the buzzer, and then I kicked ass. The older guy was eliminated in round 1. If I recall correctly the score at the end of round 1 was $550 for me and $350 for the woman. In round 2 Mr. Stein dominated, and I don’t think the score changed until the penultimate question of the round:

    “[Insert name of some Arab guy] was the first leader of this organization of [I forget how many members] founded in [insert date from 1940’s here] to resolve conflicts.”

    Mr. Stein ringed in first (he’s incredibly fast on the buzzer), and guessed either the UN or the Security Council. The blonde woman ringed in second and guessed either the Security Council or the UN (whichever one Ben didn’t guess). I ringed in third and guessed the Arab League, and added $300 to my score. Ben said something (I think on air) about how impressed he was by my answer. (I have no idea what was so impressive about my guess.)

    In the final round I got 4 out of 10. I missed the math question, even though I’m a physicist. It was “Two angles that add up to 90 degrees are said to be this.” I said either supplementary. The correct answer is complementary. (In my defense, scientists don’t normally use those fancy terms. If we’re doing a geometry calculation and 2 angles add up to 90 we usually just say “These two angles add up to 90.) I also did something really stupid and said “Mitsubishi” when Nancy Pimental asked “This was the best-selling luxury car brand last year.” (In my defense, with the clock ticking the only option is to say the first car brand that comes to mind, and Mitsubishi just happened to leap into my brain, so that’s what came out of my mouth.)

    Mr. Stein went second in the final round, and he got 5 right. But at least he also missed the math question.

    Does this ring a bell?

  19. If we stipulate that Donald Trump coifs himself and judges the result to be good prior to leaving the house, then how, exactly, can anyone propose to take him seriously?

  20. These contrived torture-the-contestant game shows flood the airwaves, while charming little gems such as “Wonderfalls” are strangled at birth.


  21. I was at a bookstore yesterday and saw a magazine with the Donald’s smug little face on the cover along with the headline how to get rich and thought, (step 1) inherit a shitload of dough from dad…

    He may have made a lot of money on his own but it’s a hell of a lot easier to leverage 1 million into 2 million than it is to bootstrap your way up to that first million.

    He’s a living proof that having money doesn’t give you class.

  22. MALAK,
    Peter Horton was the protagonist, I believe. And you’re right, Satan often stole the show with all the best lines. If you ever see the the entire series on DVD somewhere, let me know.

  23. True, but he’s also proof that money gives you supermodels, who are an acceptable substitute.

  24. Before there was “Reality TV” there were game shows. My favorite game show of all time is “Win Ben Stein’s Money.” Why? Because I won $850 of Ben Stein’s money!

    Now if I could just make it on Jeopardy…

  25. Strangely, I found myself LIKING Trump, certainly not something I had been predisposed to do. He was even more charming on Dateline NBC or whatever show Stone Philips is on last night. He has managed to take his bad taste, his self promotion, his continual infomercial, his narcissism, and his hairdo and make it all come across as authentic. Very strange.

  26. Win Ben Steins Money was the coolest game show ever. I think it is the only one I have watched. Ben Stein is a cool charachter, I have read articles of his in The American Spectator, and in Penthouse.

    I wonder if I saw the episode which Thoreau is in.

  27. Listening to Zurawick once a week (he does a small spot on the local NPR affiliate, WYPR) I get the impression that he’s one of those guys who really chafe at anything that isn’t ‘great television’. I don’t think I’ve watched anything that he’s recommended, and have usually enjoyed things that he doesn’t like.

  28. Having watched the finale, I’d have to say that Donald Trump is no different than Monty Hall. I would have more respect for him if that actually bothered him. But he doesn’t care as long as he’s making a buck. How long can you screw integrity before it screws you?

    Plus the reality of these shows is as real as the producers want it to be. Who knows what they pay these people to do and say. I think it’s very accurate to say that people get wrapped up in the show and forget that this is just a ratings game and they’re being played.

    Still, there’s something fun about seeing greedy little Donald wannabes running all over New York City. It’s just as entertaining as seeing those rats in a maze get the cheese. And, man, do they get the cheese.

  29. Looking to TV for quality viewing is often about the same as looking in the toilet for dinner. People have been saying the same things about television for the past 30 years (and I’m sure for longer, but that’s the extent of my experience), that it is largely drivel. However, the proliferation of cable channels has allowed for MUCH more variety and quality in the programming. The networks are the McDonald’s and Burger Kings of programming.

    Look to HBO for series like “From the Earth to the Moon;” The Discovery Channel, The History Channel, and TLC for quality educational programming; The Food Network for interesting discussions about food in America and ideas for cooking; Comedy Central for South Park, The Dave Chappelle Show, and great stand-up acts.

    I mean come on. There’s great television out there, more than ever before. It’s just not coming from the likes of NBC, CBS, ABC, et al.

  30. Linda, that’s unfair to Monty Hall! He worked the audience for his producer – doing his job with integrity. And his interview with his thoughts regarding the “goats vs cars” statistical quandary demonstrate that he wasn’t just a shill; he knows the score. Just because he was a prisoner of fashion in the 70’s, doesn’t make him Trump.

    I’m trying to find that interview, but it was years ago, and google is failing me…

  31. Trump’s hair looks like my hair would look if my hair was actually made of flattened cotton candy.

  32. Personally, I thought the show was great. Normally, I hate reality shows. This one I loved watching and will watch again next season.

    The stream of posts for this H&R reminds me strangely of the geeks in high school ripping on the popular people — chasing the cheese, greedy, etc.

    Trump came across as egotistical, a nonstop salesman, but also a good guy. Integrity and honesty, interestingly were important things to him and his vp’s. The vp’s also seemed to become slightly attached to the various participants. All in all, it was a great show — certainly one of the best for libertarians. It celebrated truth, reliability, personal responsibility, and capitalism. What’s not like?

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