Last night saw the dismissal of Cosby Show star Keshia Knight Pulliam from Celebrity Apprentice, television’s most important representation of finance since Rudy pretended to be a mean old woman to teach Theo that he’ll never make it as a fashion model. Just as it did for Theo, the real world made an unwelcome intrusion on Donald Trump’s reality series when, during the premiere’s requisite segment of celebrity panhandling, Pulliam refused to reach out to her former TV dad to ask for money. Then everyone set to badgering this woman why she wouldn’t do everything to prostrate herself before Bill Cosby, so that he could use his power to help her get ahead. Then she was fired.
As Vulture notes, the episode was filmed around a year ago, many months before any mention of Bill Cosby’s name required the addendum of “multiple rape allegations” (but still, many years after those allegations first surfaced). At the time, the producers of Celebrity Apprentice—and certainly not NBC—had no idea that Pulliam’s Cosby connection would prove awkward, outside of the usual melancholy of watching adults trading on their former child star fame and competing to impress Donald Trump. But even the embarrassment of being a grown-up who’s forced to hold a bake sale for Trump’s amusement couldn’t compare to the way Cosby hung like a specter over this climactic scene in the boardroom, where Trump, his daughter Ivanka, Piers Morgan, and her teammates berate Pulliam for not calling in his favor.
“I have not talked to Bill Cosby on the phone in I don’t know how long,” Pulliam said in her defense. “So for me to pick up the phone, having not talked to you for five years, except for when we run into each other for a Cosby event—I feel that’s not my place to do.”
Pulliam’s response was met with resounding disappointment from both Donald Trump and Piers Morgan, who reminded Pulliam that the key to being a successful business manager is making use of all your rich friends, and forcing them to invest in your bullshit. “Geraldo [Rivera] did it in the sure knowledge he had a couple of billionaires coming down to buy his pies,” Piers Morgan said, in an early contender for the worst sentence of 2015.
Trump agreed, saying that Pulliam’s failure to make that “single phone call” to Cosby was what directly led to her team’s loss. “I really believe, if you’d called that gentleman, he would’ve helped you, even if you hadn’t spoken to him in years, because you were an amazing team with one of the most successful shows ever,” Trump said. “So I think it would’ve been a very good call to make for charity. But you have to take responsibility. I think you agree with that.”
Of course, as the accusations against Cosby have intensified, some have decided that he isn’t such a good call to make for charity—for example, Berklee College Of Music and Spelman College, who have suspended scholarships and endowed professorships in his name. Nevertheless, this morning Trump responded to critics who found the whole thing incredibly uncomfortable—and who also wondered why he hadn’t edited the footage, considering everything that’s happened in the past few months. Trump insisted that, these decades-old “revelations” aside, when it comes to charity bake sales, Cosby still is great. He still could give us the chocolate cake.
Meanwhile, Pulliam herself appeared in her own Apprentice post-mortem on this morning’s Today show, where she reiterated that she didn’t call Cosby because she felt it would be “tactless” and “very rude”—and not for the reasons that most people don’t call Bill Cosby these days. In fact, she more or less declined to discuss those allegations at all, saying, “Ultimately, they’re that, allegations. And it’s very much been played out in the court of public opinion. But, you know, we’re still in America where ultimately you’re innocent ’til proven guilty and, you know, I wasn’t there. That’s just not the man I know so I can’t speak to it.”
Of course, that court of public opinion now gets to open its doors to discussion of Celebrity Apprentice, which is suddenly garnering headlines today thanks to Trump’s decision to repeatedly invoke Bill Cosby’s name—a man he publicly feuded with, while calling him stupid and two-faced, just a few short years ago—as a “tremendous man” in the episode. In that, it’s all eerily reminiscent of a letter Trump wrote in the midst of that Cosby feud, where he said, “Sadly, he got more attention talking about me than he did on the merits of his own appearance—maybe he is not as dumb as I thought.” Yeah. Maybe Trump isn’t either.