Magazine article Variety

Close, but Not Too Close

Magazine article Variety

Close, but Not Too Close

Article excerpt

Donald Trump brings a wealth of diverse business connections with him to the White House. From his years in the entertainment industry, there's no more significant relationship that he forged than his ties to the prolific and wildly successful TV producer Mark Burnett.

Burnett courted Trump for the role that vaulted the media-savvy billionaire onto the national stage - as the star of NBC's reality-competition series "The Apprentice" - by emphasizing the inspiration he had drawn from the 1987 book "Trump: The Art of the Deal."

Starting in early 2004, Burnett and Trump turned "The Apprentice," and later "The Celebrity Apprentice," into a global juggernaut that minted profits through brand integration deals and international format licensing. Local-language productions of the show became hits in the dozens of territories to which it traveled. The U.K. edition remains a top draw for the BBC.

In almost any scenario, having a personal connection to the U.S. president would be seen as an enormous benefit for a businessman of Burnett's stature. But in the uncharted territory that is the nascent Trump administration, Burnett's ties to the incoming commander in chief are fraught with peril.

The widespread disdain within the entertainment industry for Trump's policies and political rhetoric has the potential to compromise Burnett's ability to work with some top stars and creatives. This is an especially tough situation for the British-born producer because he now serves as president of MGM Television and Digital Group.

The tightrope Burnett has had to walk was lifted higher last fall amid the furor over Trump's vulgar and sexist comments that surfaced on a hot-mic recording from a 2005 segment of "Access Hollywood" In the final weeks of the bruising presidential campaign, Burnett came under fire to release any damning video or audio recordings captured from Trump's "Apprentice" days.

In the politically charged environment, it was hard for Burnett's team to calmly explain that MGM did not have the legal right to release such material, nor was it logistically feasible to comb through hundreds of hours of footage collected during Trump's 14 seasons. Although Burnett is well established as a supporter of Democrats and of President Obama in particular, conspiracy theories about his effort to shield Trump abounded online.

The uproar finally forced Burnett in October to issue a statement repudiating "the hatred, division, and misogyny" associated with Trump's campaign. By many accounts, Burnett and Trump had not spent much time together in the years leading up to the presidential campaign. …

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