It was more than a year ago that NBC first announced it would be bringing back The Celebrity Apprentice without America’s (and now, the world’s) premiere douchebag and President-elect Donald Trump at the helm, replacing him with Skynet liaison Arnold Schwarzenegger. With the two men’s shared fondness for termination, the network brass doubtless hoped America would embrace the change in leadership, looking forward to their beloved program about C-listers selling lemonade or whatever being handed over to an immigrant with experience in government and a better command of the English language. But the election should have been a tipoff: Americans don’t have any interest in watching someone competent run the show.
Entertainment Weekly reports last night’s two-hour premiere of The Celebrity Apprentice (sorry, The New Celebrity Apprentice, another exciting change to the series) fell 44 percent in the ratings compared to its previous Trump-led season debut, delivering 4.9 million viewers and a 1.3 rating among adults 18-49. Presumably the only reason we haven’t seen a tweet from the future jagoff-in-chief crowing about how the show won’t be a success without him (“Sad! NBC total loser without me, no one wants 2 see reality TV unless I’m spreading bronzer like an oil spill”) is because he’d be taking money from his own pocket. But while Trump’s attempt to conduct his graft right out in the open may still end up paying some dividends, it has definitely hurt the ability of Scharzenegger to end each segment by looking up and delivering the line “You’ll be back” straight to camera.
Still, NBC doesn’t have any single explanation for the massive drop in viewership. The network is quick to point out that, in addition to moving from Sunday to Monday night, the premiere was up against ESPN’s Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl coverage. Beyond that, other reasons floated for the decline include online calls for a boycott due to Trump’s conflict of interest in retaining his producing credit, a lackluster group of competitors this year (including Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi and something called a Kyle Richards), and the two-year hiatus between seasons. It’s also possible that Trump’s brand of soulless, shameless hucksterism—coupled with his spontaneous decision-making devoid of rhyme or reason—were integral to the show’s popularity.
But there’s also a pretty simple explanation, one that makes sense regardless of political ideology. Trump supporters didn’t tune in because they’ve got a much bigger and more exciting version of his former show to watch: It’s called daily life, where they get to see him methodically let go of each of the most basic American ideals of good government. And Trump opponents didn’t watch for much the same reason: It’s yet another depressing reminder that his blowhard existence didn’t used to have any real stakes, outside of getting to see him fire Gene Simmons. So watching the show try to welcome us back with a smiling face is a bit like watching the American Indians happily accepting the smallpox-infected blankets from European settlers—all we can think about is how no one’s got much longer to live.