Home / Business / Media|Mark Burnett, ‘Apprentice’ Producer, Denounces Trump – New York Times
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Media|Mark Burnett, ‘Apprentice’ Producer, Denounces Trump – New York Times

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Mark Burnett, left, with Donald J. Trump at an “Apprentice” party in 2006. Credit Danny Moloshok/Associated Press

Mark Burnett, the reality-show auteur whose “Apprentice” series catapulted Donald J. Trump to national stardom, issued a forceful denunciation of Mr. Trump’s presidential bid on Wednesday evening, saying he rejected “the hatred, division and misogyny that has been a very unfortunate part of his campaign.”

The statement capped an unusually challenging few days for Mr. Burnett, one of television’s most powerful figures, who has faced growing demands that he release footage from the “Apprentice” 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 “Apprentice” tapes; Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, the global entertainment conglomerate that now owns Mr. Burnett’s production company and its archive, says the same.

A person familiar with Mr. Trump’s “Apprentice” contract, who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe confidential terms, said M.G.M. would have to obtain Mr. Trump’s 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 “Apprentice” footage has become a spectacle worthy of one of Mr. Burnett’s own creations — 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. Burnett’s 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 “Access Hollywood,” Billy Bush engaging in vulgar and misogynistic talk about women.

The clause in Mr. Trump’s 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 “The Apprentice.” Few Hollywood studios wish to be at the center of a fevered political dispute, and M.G.M.’s statement did not mention Mr. Trump by name.

Still, some critics have wondered if Mr. Burnett — whose other hits include “Survivor,” “Shark Tank,” and “The Voice” — was simply trying to maintain cordial ties with Mr. Trump, who retains a financial interest in the “Apprentice” franchise and whose on-air skills have generated tens of millions of dollars for Mr. Burnett. (“The Celebrity Apprentice” 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 “name and likeness” clause is typically invoked if a celebrity’s image is used for profit — not as documentary evidence in a presidential campaign.

Refusing to release footage “could mean that there are contractual restrictions,” said Jerry Glover, a lawyer in Chicago who has worked on reality-television disputes.

“It could also mean Burnett doesn’t want to get on Donald Trump’s bad side,” 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 “a civic duty” to open his video vault. Online petitions are demanding that the footage be released; UltraViolet, a women’s advocacy group, said it would fly a plane over Los Angeles on Thursday with the banner, “M.G.M., NBC, Burnett: Release the Tapes.” (“The Apprentice” is shown on NBC.)

Mr. Burnett denied a report in BuzzFeed News that he had threatened “Apprentice” employees with litigation if any footage were leaked.

In a sign that Mr. Burnett was wary of the effect on his public image — particularly in his left-leaning entertainment milieu — his statement on Wednesday began with an emphatic phrase: “I am NOT pro-Trump.”

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 “Apprentice” 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 “Apprentice” 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 “The Apprentice,” many expressed disgust at Mr. Trump’s vulgar conversation with Mr. Bush. But none would speak publicly, citing nondisclosure agreements with steep financial penalties.

“Apprentice” 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 “The Apprentice,” most likely stored in hundreds of boxes. Finding scenes with Mr. Trump — let alone footage of some kind of damning utterance — 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. Trump’s 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.

“Thanks to Mark Burnett, we don’t have to watch reality shows anymore,” Mr. Kimmel quipped. “We’re living in one.”

But Mr. Burnett’s eye for megahits could soothe any political misgivings expressed by his peers.

“Even if it turns out that Burnett’s sitting on Trump video that the public really ought to see, if he keeps on cranking out monster hits, this town won’t shun him,” said Martin Kaplan, who runs the Norman Lear Center for media and society at the University of Southern California.

“In this industry,” Mr. Kaplan added, “ratings swing a bigger bat than civics.”

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