By Yvonne Villarreal and Scott Collins / Los Angeles Times
BEVERLY HILLS, California—NBC won’t be saying, “You’re rehired!” to Donald Trump anytime soon.
The network announced that Celebrity Apprentice, the star-studded offshoot of the long-running competition franchise, was being put on hiatus this season as it searches for a new host.
NBC cut business ties with Trump, who served as brusque host and an executive producer of the reality series, in June after his controversial comments about Mexican immigrants during a speech announcing his presidential candidacy.
“Due to circumstances that everyone here is aware of regarding our host—I should say former host,” NBC Chairman of Entertainment Robert Greenblatt said on the last day of the summer Television Critics Association tour in Beverly Hills, “we will not be producing a new edition of the show this season, but it will be back for the 2016-2017 season with a new host.”
Greenblatt said the network has been “overwhelmed” by a number of candidates who have come forward and put their names in the running.
“You’ve heard some names bandied about,” Greenblatt said. “Some of them are simply not true, but I also don’t want to speculate on any specifics today because we haven’t gotten that far into the process. As soon as we settle on someone, we’ll get the word out, and something tells me that will be big news.”
As for its future dealings with the polarizing figure, Greenblatt chose his words carefully:
“I don’t think somebody who is running for president and might possibly be the next leader of the free world could be banned from any activities at NBC, but we’ll have to see how this plays out. For now, we’re sort of separated.” But pressed on whether Trump could ever return to The Apprentice franchise, which rose to popular heights largely because of Trump’s surly persona, Greenblatt was definitive: “Absolutely not.”
That’s not to say NBC brass didn’t have nice things to say about Trump. Greenblatt described the network’s working relationship with Trump before his election ramp-up as “congenial.”
“He was very much a collaborator and worked closely with us,” Greenblatt said of Trump’s involvement with the Mark Burnett-produced reality series.
Commenting on what’s fueling much of the attention surrounding Trump’s approach to nabbing the Republican presidential nomination, Greenblatt offered:
“I guess people in the political world are looking for somebody who just speaks their mind regardless of anything else. He does that. Whether you agree with anything he says, he says it without any kind of filter…. I think there’s something refreshing about that. But at a certain point, you have to look at the message and make your own decisions.
“The world likes a star; he’s a star.”
Earlier Thursday, Jay Leno, the former host of the NBC’s Tonight Show, talked about the changing—or not-so-changing—face of late-night television. He couldn’t resist jabbing at Stephen Colbert, who’s about to take over as the host of CBS’s Late Show.
“A white guy on late night? This is revolutionary,” Leno joked to reporters. The funnyman was there to promote his new CNBC car show, Jay Leno’s Garage.
In a more serious vein, Leno added: “I would like to see a bit more diversity in late night…I mean, I’m certainly ready for a female host, another African-American host. I mean, Arsenio [Hall] blew the place wide open 20 years ago. I don’t know why we haven’t had someone else come in.”
Chelsea Handler recently ended her E! talk show, while Hall’s return to late-night TV fizzled. That has left late-night network TV hosting, once again, a mostly white and male bastion, although a few exceptions exist, such as Comedy Central’s Larry Wilmore.
Leno did count himself as a fan of Colbert, who rose to fame as host of Comedy Central’s fake-news program The Colbert Report.
“I think he’ll be terrific,” Leno said. “He’s smart. People think he’s this raging liberal. The guy teaches Sunday school.”