For ‘Apprentice’ insiders, Trump’s 2016 bid has echoes of reality TV

Trump denied in an interview that he had learned any tricks from the show. His success on television, he said, came from a ‘natural instinct’

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Donald Trump had come to a run-down New York City apartment on a fall day in 2003 to tape a scene for his new reality television show, “The Apprentice.” Suddenly, one of the contestants cried out in surprise.

The young woman, Omarosa Manigault, had been struck in the head by a piece of plaster dislodged from the ceiling by a microphone boom. She immediately blamed the mishap on another contestant. As Trump watched, every camera in the room shifted to capture the outburst, one of those moments that are the lifeblood of reality television, a former crew member recalled.

Fast-forward to 2016: As a presidential candidate, Trump talks often about turning the cameras. He creates moments of great drama during his rallies by pointing out television cameramen and accusing them of refusing to show the size of his crowds.

“Turn the camera!” he chanted at a Michigan rally last year. The crowd of 9,000 joined him until a roar filled the room and exploded into cheers as the cameraman finally swung his camera to show the crowd. Such scenes have become commonplace.

Trump’s 2016 White House run is built in part on drama and controversy, a campaign that former cast and crew members of “The Apprentice” said appeared to draw lessons from reality TV, especially one: how to grab the public’s attention and keep it.

Trump denied in an interview that he had learned any tricks from the show. His success on television, he said, came from a “natural instinct.”

But those involved in “The Apprentice” said Trump the candidate is not all that different from the contestants on the dog-eat-dog elimination game show, where 14 people engaged in a series of business-related challenges to win a job at Trump’s real estate company. At the end of each episode, Trump would appear with the contestants in an executive boardroom and eliminate one with his trademark, “You’re fired.”

A producer on the show’s first season, Bill Pruitt, said he believed Trump had learned, by watching and refereeing fights among the contestants, how they “defended or went after one another.”

Pruitt said he had seen Trump evolve on the show, honing his ability to get candidates to turn on one another, one of the hallmarks of the show. “He learned, as time went on, how to do that, how to speak and create reactions,” said Pruitt, who is not supporting Trump’s presidential run.

“The campaign is much different than a show,” Trump responded, rejecting the idea that his campaign bore any resemblance to reality television.

Campaign of conflict

Long before the debut of “The Apprentice,” the New York businessman was a regular fixture in the pages of his hometown’s daily newspapers, which covered his fights with other real estate developers and celebrities like Rosie O’Donnell.

But “The Apprentice” gave him a truly national platform for the first time, and he saw how his blunt and unfiltered style helped make the show a major hit. At it’s peak, nearly 21 million people watched the show, which ran for 14 seasons and has still not been canceled by NBC.

“I haven’t changed. ‘The Apprentice’ didn’t change me. I think I changed ‘The Apprentice’,” Trump told Reuters, asserting that he had come up with the idea to say, “You’re fired.”

And he dismissed intensifying criticism that his presidential campaign thrives on conflict. “I’m not looking for conflict. With the show it’s a little bit different.”

Yet Trump has dominated media coverage of the election in a way that has little modern precedent in American politics, and he has done that mostly by saying or doing something that makes people angry. His barrage of insults in Twitter battles with opponents, including fellow Republican candidates, has delighted many supporters, who regularly tell pollsters they like the billionaire because he says what he thinks and doesn’t hold back.

His claim that Mexico was sending rapists over the US border enraged the Mexican government; his call for a temporary ban on Muslims entering the United States prompted widespread international condemnation, as did his call for killing the families of terrorists and torturing terrorism suspects.

Mike DeMatteo, who worked on “The Apprentice” as a sound mixer for nearly a decade, said it would have been hard for Trump not to have drawn lessons from the show.

“When you’re sitting back and watching it and seeing the reaction in the press as it evolved, you get a very good gauge of what people are talking about, who they like, what they don’t like,” he said. “You’re really starting to understand the people out there.”

DeMatteo described himself as a Trump fan but said he disapproved of some of his recent comments.

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