Credit Danny Moloshok/Associated Press
Mark Burnett, the reality-show auteur whose âApprenticeâ series catapulted Donald J. Trump to national stardom, issued a forceful denunciation of Mr. Trumpâs presidential bid on Wednesday evening, saying he rejected âthe hatred, division and misogyny that has been a very unfortunate part of his campaign.â
The statement capped an unusually challenging few days for Mr. Burnett, one of televisionâs most powerful figures, who has faced growing demands that he release footage from the âApprenticeâ set that some former crew members say could reveal Mr. Trump acting in vulgar and offensive ways.
Mr. Burnett, who has not commented on whether such footage exists, says he does not have the legal right to release âApprenticeâ tapes; Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, the global entertainment conglomerate that now owns Mr. Burnettâs production company and its archive, says the same.
A person familiar with Mr. Trumpâs âApprenticeâ contract, who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe confidential terms, said M.G.M. would have to obtain Mr. Trumpâs permission before releasing unaired footage of him from the show, part of a clause granting Mr. Trump control over the use of his name and likeness.
But during a cascade of accusations of boorish, even violent behavior toward women by Mr. Trump, the clamor for âApprenticeâ footage has become a spectacle worthy of one of Mr. Burnettâs own creations â complete with cameos from made-for-TV personalities like the lawyer Gloria Allred, who led a protest against M.G.M. this week, and a distinctly Hollywood mixture of political intrigue and corporate self-preservation.
Mr. Burnettâs statement was issued on the same night that several women came forward to say they had been groped or assaulted by Mr. Trump. Their accounts followed a video released last week from 2005, featuring Mr. Trump and the then-host of âAccess Hollywood,â Billy Bush engaging in vulgar and misogynistic talk about women.
The clause in Mr. Trumpâs contract is not unusual in reality television, and M.G.M. said on Wednesday that it intended to honor its agreements with personnel involved in âThe Apprentice.â Few Hollywood studios wish to be at the center of a fevered political dispute, and M.G.M.âs statement did not mention Mr. Trump by name.
Still, some critics have wondered if Mr. Burnett â whose other hits include âSurvivor,â âShark Tank,â and âThe Voiceâ â was simply trying to maintain cordial ties with Mr. Trump, who retains a financial interest in the âApprenticeâ franchise and whose on-air skills have generated tens of millions of dollars for Mr. Burnett. (âThe Celebrity Apprenticeâ returns in January with Arnold Schwarzenegger taking over as host.)
Entertainment lawyers interviewed this week wondered if Mr. Trump would have much of a legal case if footage were to be released. The âname and likenessâ clause is typically invoked if a celebrityâs image is used for profit â not as documentary evidence in a presidential campaign.
Refusing to release footage âcould mean that there are contractual restrictions,â said Jerry Glover, a lawyer in Chicago who has worked on reality-television disputes.
âIt could also mean Burnett doesnât want to get on Donald Trumpâs bad side,â Mr. Glover added.
That is the suspicion of people like Ms. Allred, who marched outside M.G.M. headquarters and declared that Mr. Burnett had âa civic dutyâ to open his video vault. Online petitions are demanding that the footage be released; UltraViolet, a womenâs advocacy group, said it would fly a plane over Los Angeles on Thursday with the banner, âM.G.M., NBC, Burnett: Release the Tapes.â (âThe Apprenticeâ is shown on NBC.)
Mr. Burnett denied a report in BuzzFeed News that he had threatened âApprenticeâ employees with litigation if any footage were leaked.
In a sign that Mr. Burnett was wary of the effect on his public image â particularly in his left-leaning entertainment milieu â his statement on Wednesday began with an emphatic phrase: âI am NOT pro-Trump.â
Defenders of Mr. Burnett said it was unfair to expect him to step into the role of a journalist, especially if releasing footage meant breaching a contract. There could also be reputational costs: An emergence of damning footage might blemish the valuable âApprenticeâ brand. And the reality-television industry, with its susceptibility to spoilers and demands for authenticity, is particularly sensitive to issues of discretion and trust.
Many former âApprenticeâ employees are reluctant to discuss their experiences with Mr. Trump, fearful of losing work in an industry where just a whiff of untrustworthiness can persuade a potential employer to call someone else.
In interviews this week with more than two dozen people involved with âThe Apprentice,â many expressed disgust at Mr. Trumpâs vulgar conversation with Mr. Bush. But none would speak publicly, citing nondisclosure agreements with steep financial penalties.
âApprenticeâ workers, more accustomed to talk of casting calls than campaign scandals, said they were stunned to find themselves thrust into supporting roles in a presidential election. They also noted a practical problem: There are thousands of hours of footage from âThe Apprentice,â most likely stored in hundreds of boxes. Finding scenes with Mr. Trump â let alone footage of some kind of damning utterance â would be no small task.
Mr. Burnett, who has donated to Democratic candidates, is a publicity-shy Englishman who, until now, has been reluctant to discuss Mr. Trumpâs political rise. Last month, he was seen smiling awkwardly at the Emmy Awards when the comedian Jimmy Kimmel needled him about Mr. Trump from the stage.
âThanks to Mark Burnett, we donât have to watch reality shows anymore,â Mr. Kimmel quipped. âWeâre living in one.â
But Mr. Burnettâs eye for megahits could soothe any political misgivings expressed by his peers.
âEven if it turns out that Burnettâs sitting on Trump video that the public really ought to see, if he keeps on cranking out monster hits, this town wonât shun him,â said Martin Kaplan, who runs the Norman Lear Center for media and society at the University of Southern California.
âIn this industry,â Mr. Kaplan added, âratings swing a bigger bat than civics.â