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The Donald; Ratings Leader or Leader of the Free World?

I’ve been a media buyer for my entire career, so tend to be cynical when it comes to what networks and personalities will do to increase their television ratings. Increased ratings can mean big profits, and more importantly they can save a show that is on the cancelation block.

A few nights ago I watched Geraldo Rivera, running serpentine behind his SUV in Libya, dodging real bullets. With microphone in hand, he shouted instructions at his crew and screamed at the gunmen.  My amazed husband called me to watch the spectacle. “Wow that guy has balls!”  

“Really,” I replied. “Is he brave or just stupid?”  He appeared to be willing to die at the hands of incompetent Libyan Rebels (yes the good guys were shooting at him) to increase his viewership by a couple of hundred thousand people (if he’s lucky). 

Let’s face it, the last time we were interested in Geraldo, he was standing outside Al Capone’s empty vault. That much anticipated stunt became the defining moment in Geraldo’s career, so perhaps at age 67 he feels inclined to remake himself before its too late.  It might be a big price to pay, but if Geraldo were to be killed in Libya, he would get a huge ratings bump and Fox Network would devote at least one night and a day to the coverage of his funeral.  Going out with a bang would probably be worth over 5 million viewers (seven times what he now generates nightly)!  Of course – before Geraldo makes such a drastic move he might want to consider that the Royal Wedding today boasted somewhere in the range of two billion viewers worldwide, so perhaps courting a Princess would make more sense than getting shot.  He and Fergie might make a cute couple.

As I’ve watched Donald Trump raise the ante on the Obama “birther” controversy and toy with the media on possibly running for President – I have also watched The Apprentice 18+ viewership rise from 8 to 9 million viewers.  That means a lot of money for NBC!  The cost of one 30 second ad in the scatter market went from $110,000 to $180,000, a 60% increase!

The real story is this; The Donald’s show “The Apprentice” has been experiencing ratings declines since 2010, with some episodes dipping below a 2.0 rating (low for a network primetime show). 

Trump has been good at pumping up the show in the past when it began to wane. He nearly doubled the ratings when he introduced the idea of “Celebrity Apprentice.” But as riveting as it sounds to see Gary Busey, Star Jones, Meatloaf, and David Cassidy go at it, The Celebrity Apprentice was also on the decline. 

So Trump does what he does best, talks big and re-ignites his ratings for a few months by outwardly promoting the waning “birther” conspiracy theory that President Obama may not have been born in the USA.  Never mind piles of proof that Obama was indeed born in Hawaii.  Let’s not let the facts get in the way of selling airtime.

He then flirts with the idea he may run for President, even challenging the contenders on his own show last week (filmed weeks in advance); “How many of you would vote for me for President?”  All nod their head in agreement.  “Good because you’d be stupid if you didn’t.  And I’d fire you!” The Donald quips. 

That said; I don’t believe Trump is a serious contender to be President. This is not the first time Trump has promoted the idea of becoming leader of the free world; he’s done it before, coincidentally while also promoting a book.  He is far more interested in keeping his show on the air and selling TV ads or books, much like another “birther” Sara Palin.  

If Trump were serious, he would have to abandon his show on NBC (just as Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich did on Fox recently); due to the Equal Airtime Rule (Communications Act of 1943) which stipulates that Broadcasters must give the same amount of free air time to opposing political candidates.  Dually noted; both Huckabee and Palin are still on contract with Fox and both are selling lots of books.

USA Today published a poll last week that indicates Trump’s Presidential prospects are fading.  63% of Americans and 46% of Republicans say they will definitely not vote for Trump.

According to the same Poll – most of the “birthers” support Palin, Huckabee and Romney.  While there are still many (35%) who think Obama was born abroad, it is revealing to note that 20% of respondents also think its possible Trump was also born abroad.  Never mind he was raised in New Jersey by a real-estate developer known for building subpar housing developments. 

Nobody can predict what a megalomaniac will do with the prospect of becoming leader of the free world.  But one thing I’m certain of, Trump and NBC are very happy with his ratings bump.


  • Nielsen Ratings
  • USA Today April 26, 2011
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