“Presidents have a right to do things in their spare time, in their leisure time,” Kellyanne Conway recently told CNN of her boss, President-elect Donald Trump.
The question at hand was whether Trump should continue as an executive producer on NBC’s The Celebrity Apprentice.
Conway said that if Trump remained involved with the show, it would be no different from Barack Obama playing golf a hobby, something fun that Trump could do when not running the country.
The Apprentice franchise which launched in 2004 in its original, non-celebrity edition and took on its current form in 2008 was a major factor in Trump’s return to pop cultural relevance. (You can read more about the series and its mastermind producer Mark Burnett here.) Variety broke the news that Trump would retain a credit on the show on December 8.
Trump used to host The Celebrity Apprentice and serve as executive producer, but since he was fired from hosting in the wake of calling Mexicans rapists while launching his presidential campaign in 2015, he has only served as an executive producer. (That said, no seasons of the show have aired since then.
The first non-Trump season, hosted by Arnold Schwarzenegger, debuts January 2.) Though questions of just how active of a role Trump will play in producing the series might seem pressing, to most in the television industry, his involvement will seem one of his minor conflicts of interest. (That he has enough conflicts of interest to have “a minor conflicts of interest,” however, is worth noting.) The real concern here is with NBC.
If The Celebrity Apprentice works like every other show on television, Trump’s title will be largely ceremonial Donald Trump appears at a press event for the last season of The Celebrity Apprentice he hosted, which aired in early 2015. When you reach a certain level of stature or celebrity in the television industry, the promise of an “executive producer” title might be what gets you to sign on to a series.
It’s a way to offer a slightly bigger paycheck and a slightly larger cut of residuals from later broadcasts. If the series wins an Emmy, you’ll win an Emmy with it, as part of the production team. And so on. But the vast majority of “executive producer” titles are strictly ceremonial. Sometimes they’ll be given to an actor on a hit show midway through the show’s run, as a way to encourage that actor to stick around by giving him a little extra cash.
Sometimes they’re offered to a star to encourage her to sign on to a fledgling project and give it a higher profile. (John Travolta, for instance, is an executive producer on American Crime Story, even though he only starred in its first season.) And sometimes a tested writer or showrunner will join a series from a less-known writer as an executive producer to give the project a better chance of being picked up to series, thus expanding the tested writer’s TV empire.
But these people typically aren’t doing much behind-the-scenes work to make these TV shows. J.J. Abrams, for instance, was credited as an executive producer on HBO’s Westworld, but the show’s day-to-day operations fell to its actual creators, Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy. Certainly, if a star is given an executive producer credit, she’s important to the series overall, but she’s probably not super involved in its creative direction.