Donald Trump continues to make news for NBC, even when he’s not on its air. Today at TCA, NBC execs were asked to defend inviting the GOP frontrunner to host SNL — the first presidential candidate ever to host the late-night franchise – when the network had announced it was cutting business ties with its former reality-series star, saying his “derogatory statements” about undocumented immigrants did not comport with NBC’s cornerstone values of “respect and dignity for all people.”
Reporters poured on just a little bit of lighter fluid to begin, asking whether the SNL gig was worth it, in cost/profit analysis. “I think it was,” NBC Entertainment chairman Bob Greenblatt said, noting that during Trump’s 11 minutes of SNL screen time “the earth didn’t fall off its axis,” and it was a highly rated show.
NBC reality and late-night programming chief Paul Telegdy weighed in, noting Trump’s hosting gig was “good fodder for comedy as well.”
That did not satisfy some. Another reporter came back at the Trump question from another angle, reminding the execs the SNL booking was announced not so long after the network’s announcement it would not “associate with him.” The reporter wondered how NBC “got from one to another?”
Greenblatt made a distinction between getting out of “that business” of airing and co-owning the then-Trump-co-owned Miss Universe and Miss USA pageants, and inviting him to guest host a late-night show.
“With the pageants, and The Apprentice, we got out of those businesses. That was June-July. That was when we thought he’d be waltzing through the background of the political arena,” Greenblatt began.
But, of course, faster than you could say “Don’t underestimate the number of angry white men in the Republican party” Trump became the GOP candidate leading in all the polls.
“He’s the frontrunner. The poll numbers are astounding. He’s everywhere,” Greenblatt said. “Every news show, every nightly show. He’s been on Fallon, he’s been on SNL. That reconciles quite easily with we’re not in business with him, but love him or not, he’s one of the most prominent political figures of our time.”
And still the reporter wasn’t entirely satisfied, wondering if the execs on stage understood why the public had been “confused” by NBC’s Trump moves. “We book thousands of guests year round. He was on SNL less time than he’s been on other TV programs, including a recent appearance on Meet the Press for an hour. I don’t think the public is confused as much as the press and some special interest groups,” Greenblatt said.
And yet, minutes later, a reporter began: “Going back to the Trump question — ”
“Oh, fun!” Greenblatt snarked.
“When the split came,” the reporter continued, NBC had issued a statement saying: “At NBC, respect and dignity for all people are cornerstones of our values. Due to the recent derogatory statements by Donald Trump regarding immigrants, NBCUniversal is ending its business relationship with Mr. Trump.” In conclusion, the reporter asked, “isn’t that sending mixed signals” when the network then books Trump for SNL.
“I think that if we were in the business of never having anyone guest on the network that had views that disagreed with our views we would be out of business,” Greenblatt said.
Paul Telegdy jumped back in here, not happily.
“Both those statements are true,” he began, asserting, like he meant it to sting, that the reporter who’d read NBC’s statement at the time of having “either…a good memory – or you’re reading it.”
NBC’s breaking business with Trump “Doesn’t prevent you from booking someone on news program or entertainment program,” said Telegdy before curtly adding, “Does that answer the Donald Trump question?”