Saunders: TV, Trump equal fireworks
January 19, 2004
HOLLYWOOD - It's difficult to determine which is larger - Donald Trump's ego or his empire.
Long-noted for his take-no-prisoners activities in the business universe, Trump has invaded the world of reality television with NBC's The Apprentice, a Survivor-like series that allows Trump to do something he's well-versed in - firing people.
While never having access to Trump's activities in a boardroom, I can report that The Donald does not produce a bored room.
Since Trump seldom shies away from controversy on Wall Street, it's no surprise he has already fired verbal broadsides on Hollywood Boulevard.
An early target: Les Moonves, the highly successful president and CEO of CBS.
"I've worked with Les Moonves," Trump told a crowded press conference.
"I think Les Moonves is the most highly overrated person in television."
Their feud was ignited several weeks ago over a battle surrounding that annual earthshaking event, the Miss Universe Pageant (a Trump franchise) that was formerly on CBS.
Moonves said the network dropped the event because of low audience ratings. Trump responded by claiming he moved it to NBC.
Now he's taking aim at Moonves' programming and real estate acumen.
"I rented Les Moonves a space (New York's General Motors Building) for the studio for that morning show that gets no ratings. And they paid me a fortune. I was very happy with that deal.
"So let me put it simply. If Les Moonves was a contestant on this show, he would have been fired by the third episode, I promise you.
"And you know what? Unlike most people I like Les Moonves."
Trump's remarks drew laughter from the critics and an uneasy smile from Mark Burnett, creator of The Apprentice and the successful Survivor series on CBS.
After a discussion about Trump's relationship with CBS and whether The Apprentice was initially pitched to other networks, Burnett said: "Just so you know, I have a great relationship with Leslie and the network presidents . . . "
"You won't after this," Trump interrupted.
Trump claims two other networks (sources say CBS and ABC) had wooed him about a reality format of some kind since the genre gained steam three years ago.
"The networks wanted a show whereby they would follow me around and watch me make deals - even watch me brush my teeth.
"Then Mark came to me with this compelling idea."
The Apprentice, moving to Wednesday night this week, premiered Thursday, Jan. 8, to high national audience ratings, particularly in the 18-to-49 demographic.
Featuring two teams, contestants compete in business challenges and form bonds as the weekly hour eliminates candidates one-by-one in a climactic boardroom scene, a civilized version of Survivor's tribal council.
Trump grills the contestants and decides whom to fire.
In fact, his harsh words, "you're fired!" are becoming a Manhattan catch phrase, according to Trump who says he hears the phrase wherever he goes.
The eventual winner will be rewarded with a $250,000 job for one year, running one of Trump's major companies, with the salary to be paid by NBC.
Obviously, with Trump on the scene, it might be a good idea for the winner to put together his resume even before he starts his year as an "apprentice."
Claiming The Apprentice produced 215,000 applicants, Trump says contestants with exceptional education and high IQs aren't necessarily the strongest competitors.
"You saw what happened with the first loser, David, who has close to a 200 IQ - perhaps the highest of the 16.
"He was a total genius. He has an MBA but was the first one fired because his ability to sell lemonade was terrible.
"Education is very important. So is the street-smart thing.
"Take a guy like Don King. He's a friend of mine, but he is a terrible human being. He's a miserable, horrible guy.
"I doubt if Don King went to high school and yet he's as smart as anybody out there. And he's done an amazing job, which is mostly screwing fighters over the years, right?
"Don King has absolutely no education. But if you put him with a Wharton graduate, most likely he'll take the guy to lunch. So street smarts are very important."
Trump admits firing people is a way of life away from reality television.
"When I catch people with sticky fingers, which is often, they get fired. And when I catch people that just aren't doing the job, they get fired, usually in nicer way.
"But unfortunately I have to do that a lot."