NBC's New 'Apprentice' Star Arnold Schwarzenegger Arrives With Trump-Like Baggage
Schwarzenegger's old behavior is making execs nervous as the network and Mark Burnett relaunch a franchise amid its former host's issues with women. Says Gloria Allred: His past "will always be with him."
On Oct. 10, The Apprentice producer Mark Burnett broke his silence on the "hatred, division and misogyny" associated with Donald Trump's presidential campaign, just days after the leak of the 2005 Access Hollywood tape in which Trump boasted to Billy Bush of groping women. Burnett's decision to denounce his longtime collaborator comes at a tenuous time for the Apprentice franchise, as NBC gears up to relaunch the show with another figure whose treatment of women has come under scrutiny: Arnold Schwarzenegger.
When The New Celebrity Apprentice debuts in January, it will boast a different location (L.A.'s Silicon Beach instead of New York City), fresh advisers (including Warren Buffett, Tyra Banks and Jessica Alba) and, most notably, a new star in the 69-year-old actor and former California governor. But while NBC is touting Schwarzenegger as a departure from Trump, the two men share eyebrow-raising similarities: The former also was accused of sexual assault by multiple women shortly before the gubernatorial election in 2003.
Thirteen years ago, three women specifically alleged that Schwarzenegger had groped them and grabbed their breasts, and a fourth woman alleged that he put his hand up her skirt and grabbed her rear end. The claims are not dissimilar to the accusations recently made again Trump, in addition to his predatory dialogue heard on the Access Hollywood tape, in which he candidly discusses groping and grabbing women by the genitals.
Also not unlike Trump, who called the banter "locker room talk" and has denied the groping claims made against him, Schwarzenegger was vague and evasive when the accusations from six different women about his unwanted sexual advances were printed in the Los Angeles Times days before the gubernatorial election. "I don't remember things that I've done or said 20 years ago. I don't remember things that I've done 30 years ago. And I said that many of the things that are in there are not true because that's not my behavior," he said at the time. "And then other things may be true, and in case it is, that's why I said I want to apologize if I offended anyone, because that was not my intention."
Schwarzenegger's personal behavior came under scrutiny again six months after he left office in 2011, when it was revealed he secretly fathered a child with his housekeeper while married to NBC's Maria Shriver.
"It's hard to imagine something more hurtful," says attorney Gloria Allred of the affairs and allegations against Schwarzenegger. Allred represented one of Schwarzenegger's accusers, Gigi Goyette-Jeffers, who claimed she had a relationship with Schwarzenegger while he was married, and Allred sat next to Apprentice season-five contestant Summer Zervos on Oct. 14 as Zervos accused Trump of forcibly kissing her. Allred now questions NBC and Burnett's judgment in hiring the Terminator star given his and Trump's baggage. "One of the challenges is Arnold Schwarzenegger's past, which will always be with him," she says.
The new season of Apprentice already has been shot (Schwarzenegger's catchphrase is being kept a closely held secret), and sources say NBC executives are concerned about the issues surrounding the new star, especially since the network fired Bush for appearing to encourage Trump's talk of predatory behavior. NBC is waiting until the Nov. 8 election to decide the best path for the show, with one option being to delay it. (NBC referred inquiries to Burnett, who did not respond to a request for comment.) Early marketing for the show has played up Schwarzenegger's macho image, showing him riding a white horse and smoking a cigar while seated on a gold chair.
"What they've done is just kind of detoured the conversation, but the same issues are still at play," says a top brand analyst who declined to be named. "It will distract people from the Trump conversation, but I think it potentially could come under further fire because he's been accused of boorish behavior."
Still, insiders believe Arnold and The Donald are different in that Schwarzenegger has apologized for his behavior. And some believe the "swirl" around its new star might give the franchise a ratings boost. The Apprentice has been a dependable performer for NBC. It was not, as Trump has claimed, the highest-rated show on Mondays, but the most recent season in winter 2015 averaged a 2.4 rating in the 18-to-49 demo and 7.6 million viewers, ranking it No. 41 among all programs for the season.
Even if he does not become president, Trump will have no involvement in the show this season, though it's an open question whether he will be paid as an executive producer. He is said to have retained that credit for this season, just as he was credited on the 2005 Martha Stewart-hosted season in which he did not appear. And, of course, he eventually could return to the show in a future season if politics don't pan out (and Burnett and NBC agree to take him back).
For now, NBC's attention is on Arnold. An indication of what's to come may lie with Schwarzenegger's favorability Q Score. In the most recent poll of sentiment from summer 2015, he pulled a 21 positive score and a 26 negative score, better than Trump's single-digit positive and a negative in the 40s when he was on the show but far less favorable than before the 2011 infidelity scandal. "Schwarzenegger is coming into The Apprentice with a much more positive perception than Trump left with," says Q Scores executive vp Henry Schafer.
Adds Allred, "He brings baggage with him. Whether people will care, I don't know."
A version of this story first appeared in the Nov. 4 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.