NBC Boss Says Network Isn’t to Blame for Donald Trump’s Rise

August 2, 2016, 8:20 PM UTC
Photograph by Mike Pont — FilmMagic/Getty Images

NBC chairman Bob Greenblatt said his network isn’t to blame for Donald Trump’s surprising political ascendancy from real estate mogul and former reality TV star to the Republican nominee for president.

Before Trump’s political bid, Trump had starred for years as the tough-but-wise CEO in the reality TV shows, The Apprentice and The Celebrity Apprentice. But in an interview at a Television Critics Association press event Tuesday, Greenblatt refused to acknowledge any connection between the popularity of those shows and Trump’s newfound political success.

“We are happy to have a show that was doing really well, with a guy who was a big TV star. It’s impossible to predict where it goes from there. I think it surprised all of us that he would want to [run for president] but that’s what is great about this country,” Greenblatt said at the TCA event, according to Deadline. “But I don’t think there’s that much correlation between one and the other.”

Deadline reports that Greenblatt dismissed reporters’ questions that seemed to imply NBC’s reality shows gave Trump the initial platform and following on which he built his current political career.

According to Deadline, Greenblatt also tossed out a few other examples to help his case, including the fact that Doonesbury cartoonist Gary Trudeau predicted years ago that Trump would run for president and former President Ronald Reagan’s own star-making Hollywood career.

There’s been no shortage of finger-pointing for Trump’s divisive political campaign, with many blaming the news media. The countless headlines and live feeds of Trump rallies and speeches amount to billions of dollars in free advertising, according to some estimates. (And, this, despite Trump’s plainly-stated contempt for the press, with the candidate regularly blacklisting major publications, denying them entry to his campaign events, while referring to journalists as “dishonest” and “scum.”)

While Greenblatt was obviously looking to avoid any connection between Trump’s long stint at NBC and the fact that the billionaire is now one election away from the White House, other media executives have previously spoken more freely about the positive effect Trump’s political career has had on TV ratings. Earlier this year, CBS chairman Leslie Moonves said Trump’s rise “may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS.”

Meanwhile, CNN’s Jeff Zucker has defended his network’s seemingly constant Trump coverage, noting that Trump warrants the attention as the GOP nominee and that the billionaire is also much more willing to go on air than past presidential candidates. And, not surprisingly, conservative cable news network Fox News Channel has seen its highest ratings ever this year amid Trump’s run.

Last year, Greenblatt’s network was one of several major companies to officially cut ties with Trump in the wake of the offensive remarks Trump made as he first announced his candidacy, when he called Mexican immigrants “rapists.” (Greenblatt even got in a dig at Trump’s expense at last year’s annual conference of the National Hispanic Media Coalition.)

And, while the network later welcomed Trump back to host Saturday Night Live in November, Greenblatt said Trump would never be invited to host Celebrity Apprentice again — not “as long as I’m here.” But he didn’t preclude the possibility that Trump might return to some other TV role. “Oh, I couldn’t answer that,” Greenblatt said, according to Variety. “I have no idea at this point.”