Donald Trump knows how the TV game works: as the ratings go, so does the future of his now 13-seasons-in-a-decade cash cow, The Apprentice. “It’s simple,” he tells Rolling Stone, hours before yet another season premiere of the reality show where he fires people. “You can be a nice person or you can be a horrible human being. If you get ratings you’ll stay on [TV].”
So lately Trump has been sticking with casting celebrities. If the numbers tell the story, he concludes, audiences would rather watch that guy you know from that one movie try and boost his personal brand than normal folks vying to land a job. Anyway, he finds the celebs more entertaining.
On the forthcoming edition of Celebrity Apprentice, airing tomorrow tonight on NBC, the expertly combed business magnate is joined by an “all-star”-caliber cast of returning crazies, including Twisted Sister’s Dee Snider, Poison singer Bret Michaels, and the alien oddity that is actor Gary Busey.
To mark the occasion, the man who nearly ran for President last election, and now is again grilling Dennis Rodman in a board room, opened up to Rolling Stone on the new season of Celebrity Apprentice, Mitt Romney’s failings, his stance against gun control, and, obviously, his hair.
Besides money, what motivates you to continue filming Celebrity Apprentice?
Well, it’s always been a success. It does terrific ratings. You know, the show was actually the Number One show on television during Season One. If it were not successful, I wouldn’t want to do it.
So what’s been the difference-maker between your show and the various unsuccessful knockoffs?
It can only be because of Trump [laughs]. One thing about [the TV] business, it’s all about ratings. It’s simple: you can be a nice person or you can be a horrible human being. And if you get ratings, you’ll stay on.
But is it still enjoyable for you after 13 seasons?
To a large extent, I enjoy doing it. It comes very natural to me. It’s not hard for me to do. If it was, I wouldn’t do it.
Lately you’ve limited the show almost exclusively to celebrity editions.
A lot of people want us to bring back the regular Apprentice. They’d love us to go back and do an original version like what we were doing with Season One, where we had people looking for jobs. I just find the celebrities for me to be more interesting. This season we have Dennis Rodman and Gary Busey and LaToya (Jackson) and Trace Adkins and Penn Jillette. We have a great cast. Everybody that we wanted back said yes.
Many of the celebrity cast members have been able to rejuvenate their careers after appearing on the show.
Joan [Rivers], as she will tell you, she had a pretty empty schedule. And after The Apprentice she became the hottest comedian in the country. And she’s doing phenomenally now. Piers Morgan, you know what happened to him. And Trace [Adkins], when he came on the show, not a lot of people heard about Trace. And during the show, he had the Number One country album. Arsenio Hall got his own late-night show again after being on The Apprentice. Dennis Rodman, he’s in North Korea now – he likes the North Koreans better than us.
So where’s Donald’s cut of their successes?
I always say that myself.
Do people have a good perception of Donald Trump?
You know, it’s very interesting. When I do The Apprentice, what I do is I fire people. And polls came out and people said, “You know, Trump is so much nicer than we thought.” Can you imagine, I fire people and now people like me better? I really must have had a terrible image before doing the show.
A few years back, when you were considering running for President, you said you were frustrated by the “equal time” provision that states because of your show, your opponents also be given two hours on primetime TV.
I think it’s so unfair. And I’ll be honest with you, had that not happened . . . I was leading in the polls. If I did [the show] when I was running, they’d have to give Rick Santorum and everyone else who’s running two hours on primetime NBC. Gimme a break. It’s discriminatory.
No one wants to see Rick Santorum for two hours on primetime.
I don’t think that would have done very well [laughs].
In 2011, you described Washington D.C. to Rolling Stone as a city of “great incompetence.”
It’s gotten much worse, wouldn’t you say? If you look at what’s happened with the sequester and the [fiscal] cliff. There’s no leadership. There’s no ideas. There’s no anything.
I take it then you weren’t pleased with the outcome of the last Presidential election?
Romney was a very nice man. But he didn’t resonate. Somehow people, they didn’t dig it. He should have won that election. I was never sure that he was going to.
Where did he fail?
I didn’t like some of the things he did: having him shopping in a store and pushing a cart out the door and then the door wasn’t opening because he had never done it before. His last two to three weeks were really tough weeks. He got hurt by [Hurricane] Sandy and all the reverberations from that.
Was it tough to watch him crumble at the finish line?
I thought it was going to be a very close election. But I think that in the end, the Republicans did not do a very good job. This was an election that should have been won easily.
You’ve been previously outspoken against gun control. Piers Morgan, who’s been on a tirade against guns since the tragedy at Sandy Hook, serves as a guest advisor on the first episode of Celebrity Apprentice this season. I take it you two are going to have to agree to disagree on that issue?
Look, the bad guys are keeping the guns. If the bad guys are keeping the guns, someone is going to have to protect you. It’s both a complicated and a very simple issue simultaneously. If somebody is going to have the guns, the other side is going to have to have the guns also. If nobody has them, that’s another subject. But people will always have guns in the United States. The interesting thing is that if [guns] were to be given up, they would be given up by the people that would not use them in a criminal way. I know Piers is on the other side of that issue. And that’s OK. That’s his opinion. I have great respect for Piers.
Before I let you go, I must ask: Do you get sick of people talking about your hair?
I’ve become immune to it. In a way, it’s a compliment. Barbara Walters interviewed me and one of the questions was, “Can I feel your hair?” And I said “Yes.” And she said, “It is yours!” And I said, “Barbara, you’ve known me for a long time, you know that.” You understand it’s my hair right?
I’ll take your word for it.
It’s my hair.