The top of Donald J. Trump’s TV profession lasted one evening, and he has by no means stopped attempting to relive it.
The finale of the primary season of “The Apprentice” in 2004 was the top-rated present on TV. Afterward the host, lastly a mass-media star after a long time of courting fame, believed that giving individuals twice as a lot of him can be twice pretty much as good.
NBC agreed, scheduling the present for 2 cycles the next 12 months (after which a by-product with Martha Stewart). The “Apprentice” that returned was extra Trump-centric, the host extra brash, loud and insulting, his boardroom firings extra dramatic and stunt-filled. Mr. Trump himself took to the talk- and comedy-show circuit like a starlet in Oscar season, showing in adverts and on purple carpets delivering his trademark “You’re fired” finger-point and sneer. He was in all places.
It didn’t work. The scores declined, first step by step, then precipitously. Whereas rivals like “American Idol” topped the charts for years, “The Apprentice” declined till Mr. Trump was left internet hosting a gimmick model with C-list celebrities. For years after, he would cling to that one superb stat from 2004 like an Electoral School map, to say that his actuality present was nonetheless the largest factor on TV.
The host, in fact, rebooted himself, parlaying his community celeb right into a second life as a political commentator on Fox Information, then candidate, then president. However his reality-TV expertise is price retaining in thoughts as he plans to revive his night coronavirus briefings, within the obvious perception that rebooting last spring’s ratings hit will reboot his poll numbers.
NBC’s mistake with “The Apprentice” was partly an eternal TV pitfall: milking the prize cow until it runs dry. Donald Trump, it turned out, was no more immune to overexposure than Regis Philbin and “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.” (“Idol,” on the other hand, aired just one season a year, and aimed to make stars of its contestants, not just its hosts.)
But it was also an error distinctive to Mr. Trump, who was both the star and a producer of “The Apprentice”: Since his 1980s tabloid days, he never believed there was such a thing as bad publicity, at least for him. Or as the “Pod Save America” host and former Obama strategist Dan Pfeiffer put it in a Tweet on Tuesday: “Trump all the time thinks extra Trump is the answer when it’s all the time the reason for the issue.
Positive, consideration is an asset, in politics as in actuality TV. Mr. Trump’s willingness to feed the information beast in 2016 earned him billions in free media and successfully made him the election’s protagonist.
And as I wrote throughout Mr. Trump’s first run of briefings within the spring, they supplied him a possibility he hadn’t had since he began “The Apprentice”: an everyday TV platform through which he may converse to a mass viewers past his loyalist base. For a second, they allowed him to create the visible impression that he was appearing on the pandemic, by going out and talking on it. For a second, his approval scores — and TV scores — went up.
However what you do with the eye seems to matter, not less than when the stakes are a whole lot of hundreds of lives, not a game-show prize. It issues if you happen to counsel that household disinfectants could be a medical treatment. It matters if you go to war with your own medical experts. It matters if you minimize, on Page 1, a terrible reality that everyone can read about for themselves in the obituaries.
Judging by the president’s decision, he doesn’t see this as the problem. Instead the problem is not enough him on TV, giving the people what worked for him before — zinging, blustering, pointing fingers and fighting.
His plan to return to prime time was not accompanied by an announced shift in public-health policy. The thinking simply seems to be: People want to see the president doing something. And to Donald Trump, going on TV is the doing-somethingest thing of all.
Thus we saw him on Sunday, sitting for an excruciating interview with Chris Wallace of Fox News, doubling down on blatant disinformation — like his claim that the United States has the lowest Covid-19 mortality rate in the world — in the face of ruthless fact-checking. As in his “You’re fired” days, he fell back on his trusty catchphrase, calling Mr. Wallace “fake news” as if the words could dispel the interviewer from the boardroom.
At one point, Mr. Wallace brought up the president’s past criticisms of him, asking if he understood that it was a journalist’s duty to interview the president’s rivals, too. A more blunt way of putting it would be: Does the president think it’s Fox’s job to help him win the election?
He seems to think so. He tweeted a complaint in May that Fox was “doing nothing to assist Republicans, and me, get re-elected.” However in a broader sense, he has steered that TV itself owes him payback for all he’s given it. TV networks, he has stated, will miss the scores he brings if he’s voted out of the White Home.
He could also be proper, however he additionally assumes that TV viewers assume like TV networks. He acts as if People would undergo something relatively than the boredom he imagines they might endure with out him. Thus his most popular epithet for his opponent, Joseph R. Biden Jr. — “Sleepy” — which will not be the killer burn he imagines to a populace bored with staying up all evening in anxiousness.
And but Mr. Trump is, if you happen to belief the present polls, presently shedding to a challenger who’s working a quasi-incumbent-like media technique, avoiding making massive splashes and letting his rival do the work for him. Mr. Trump appears resentful of this — “Let him come out of his basement,” he informed Mr. Wallace — or possibly simply incredulous. Why would any sane individual not get as a lot media consideration as attainable?
Mr. Trump appears to consider that People are craving for a TV star greater than they’re craving for a pacesetter — or, not less than, that they don’t acknowledge a distinction between the 2.
Criticize his strategy, in fact, and there’s a prepared reply: The “An excessive amount of is rarely sufficient” technique labored for him in 2016. It labored in 2004, too, within the first season of “The Apprentice.”
It all the time works till it stops working. Till somebody decides that an excessive amount of, in reality, is sufficient already.