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Governator Bows Before President-Elect In ‘Celebrity Apprentice’ Ratings – But Why?

Deadline logo Deadline 1/7/2017 Lisa de Moraes
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President-elect Donald Trump’s Twitter tirade about Celebrity Apprentice ratings this morning caused the knotted and combined locks of industry pundits to stand on end as they attempted to decode and decipher. Did Trump, as some have suggested, lob another bright shiny light to distract media outlets from his scheduled meeting with intelligence leaders about their reports on Russia’s election interference, which Trump has called hooey intended to discredit his win?

Or, is Trump, as Graydon Carter has suggested, so “short-fingered” he could not resist the urge to puff up himself in the third person, even if it meant savaging the opening numbers of the series on which former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has stepped in as Firer in Chief, even though Trump continues to have a financial stake as EP? “His ego transcends such categorization,” one industry pundit theorized today of any expectations Trump would take his EP status into consideration before taking to Twitter to blast Arnold’s ratings.

Or, is Trump such a savvy manipulator of media he knew his morning’s tweets would result in an eruption of press reports which would pique viewer interest in The Apprentice and goose ratings for the second episode? Some industry experts this morning suggested that was the method to this morning’s seeming madness.

“Wow, the ratings are in and Arnold Schwarzenegger got ‘swamped’ (or destroyed) by comparison to the ratings machine, DJT,“ Trump tweeted this morning, to which he added snark about the Governator having endorsed GOP rival John Kasich over him early in the election cycle.

It’s not yet knowable the degree to which Trump’s politics might have impacted Celebrity Apprentice‘s numbers, given that he’s no longer the face of the show, that he has been replaced by another celebrity who is a former politician and comes with his own baggage, that the show has moved to Los Angeles from New York, that the show is an aged reality series, etc.

The series’ eighth-season starter — and first without original star Trump — logged a 1.3 rating in adults 18-49 and 4.9 million viewers on Monday night. That is down 46% from the most recent Season 7 debut two years ago and ties an all-time Live+Same Day low for the celebrity version of the business-themed reality series executive produced by the President-elect.

It is, however, not the smallest crowd ever to come to an Apprentice franchise opener.That honor still goes to “ratings machine” Trump. Back in 2010, after Celebrity Apprentice ran for several spring editions, NBC took a stab at bringing back the non-celebrity Apprentice mothership show, hoping it could become a regular fall program with the celebrity edition continuing to air in the spring. That September 16, 2010, opening episode did not do well; only 4.572M viewers tuned in – a few hundred viewers shy of Schwarzenegger’s debut. Trump’s demo rating of 1.5 was, however, better than Arnold’s opening 1.3.

That 2010 debut remains Trump’s worst opening ever for the Apprentice franchise, both in total viewers and in the demo.

Similarly, a swing at a Trump-starring all-star edition of Celebrity Apprentice opened in March 2013 with an anemic 5.15M viewers and a 1.7 demo rating, outperforming Schwarzenegger for sure, though maybe not “ratings machine” qualifying.

It’s unclear whether Trump’s appeal with the Duck Dynasty demographic has in any way dinged the NBC reality franchise with which he was so closely associated for more than a decade, or changed the audience composition, as was being discussed around town after this morning’s Trump Twitter storm. Similar conversation, with no conclusions, broke out back when Trump became the face of the President Obama birther conspiracy theory, as the Apprentice franchise’s numbers slipped.

Monday’s premiere indexed at 126 in homes making $126K or more, which is actually a hair higher than the 125 of the timeslot debut for Trump’s final season, on Monday, January 5, 2015. The previous night’s Sunday starter had indexed even lower, at 117.

Meanwhile, Schwarzeneger’s Monday’s launch clocked a household 3.6 in New York, the country’s No. 1 TV market and the show’s home during its long Trump run. The debut logged a household 3.9 in Los Angeles. Meanwhile, Trump’s final debut in January 2015 scored a household 5.9 rating in New York and a 4.2 in Los Angeles. But that 39% plunge in New York might have more to do with the show’s move out of Manhattan than with its star, while the slide in Los Angeles, home to all those Hollywood celebrities Team Trump loves to trash, was a much smaller 7%.

“It’s a complicated landscape,” one industry veteran explained, saying a mouthful.

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