The What? Way 'The Office' Accidentally Changed Human History
As much as we want to believe history follows a linear series of causes and effects (Hitler sucked, so World War II), it's very rarely that straightforward. For example, Obama's road to the presidency got a huge boost when Jack Ryan, his Republican opponent in the 2004 Illinois Senate race, dropped out due to allegations that Ryan wanted to go to public sex parties with his then-wife Jeri Ryan (who played sexy Borg Seven of Nine on Star Trek: Voyager). Similarly, Trump became president because the writers of The Office wanted more internet residuals. And here you are, probably thinking it's your opinions and votes that matter!
2007-2008 Writer's Strike Hits
Back in 1997, South Park's Trey Stone and Matt Parker recognized this internet thing might take off someday. So they negotiated lower initial salaries for a 50-50 split on all non-TV revenue for South Park. Considering that just recently HBO MAX bought the South Park rights for $500 million, it appears they made the right move.
But most TV writers didn't have this kind of foresight, and so by 2007 most writers were rightfully pissed off that they wouldn't be paid for any revenue generated once shows they wrote ended up online. And considering The Office streaming rights were just bought by NBC for $500 million (I guess that's just the going rate for streaming?), as things were in 2007, writers stood to miss out on hella scratch.
So halfway through the 2007-2008 TV season, writers throughout the industry went on strike. Some of you may remember this time. The Office went awkwardly off the air as production halted. Scrubs creator Bill Lawrence worried his show wouldn't get a proper finale, and other shows like 24 repurposed the footage they'd already shot into a made-for-TV movie. Late night shows got real crappy (and some even briefly changed their name), and essentially the entire industry was upended.
TV execs were forced to scramble for content as everything worth watching fell off the air. If writers refused to write scripts, why not air more shows that don't need writers at all. Like, for example, reality business shows...
NBC Begrudgingly Renews The Apprentice
When The Apprentice first aired, it was a mega-hit. But from then on, it experienced consistently diminishing returns. By the sixth season, The Apprentice was pulling in barely a third of what it did in its first season. A few months before the writer's strike, NBC decided not to renew the show. Insert obligatory joke about Trump being fired... like in the show. Whatever you get it.
But then the strike hits, and the man who infamously can't stick to a script to save his life suddenly became the perfect man to provide mindless filler content until legitimately good shows with talented writers could return to TV. Better yet, the show's producer Mark Burnett had the idea to shake up the formula by adding celebrities into the mix (better for Trump, not, like, humanity). So thanks to a combination of desperation and new ideas, NBC announced Trump would return to the small screen with The Celebrity Apprentice.
And it worked! While the new show was never going to capture the dizzying heights of early Apprentice, it was a solid performer, and NBC decided to keep it on the air for several seasons even after all the good shows returned. And the writers did eventually concede, even though they didn't get most of what they wanted.
But at least we all got to see Meatloaf lose his goddamn mind on television, so partial win.
It Brings Donald Back Into The Limelight (And Cemented His Image As A Savvy Businessman)
You're now probably starting to see how this all fits together. Whereas in a happier timeline, Trump retires from TV and spends his time personally testing Trump-themed buttplug prototypes, The Celebrity Apprentice put back in the national spotlight.
This is important, because he remained on The Apprentice right up until he announced his intention to run for president. That meant the most recent thing anybody could remember about Trump was he starred on a show about being, like, so good at business. Forget birther conspiracy theories or a history of racism, all that was easily forgotten now that America finally had the chance to vote for a real businessman. There was no reason to doubt him, either. It's called reality TV for a reason.
Even more significantly, Celebrity Apprentice's cancelation after just one season of Arnold Schwarzenegger suplexing celebrities who failed to sell enough lemonade (I have never watched this show) further cemented Trump as the magic, business-savvy glue that made the show work. Forget how the ratings had continued to shrink even with Trump -- and how regardless of who hosts the show it's all some real bullshit -- Schwarzenegger's failure notched another win in Trump's elastic belt in the eyes of his supporters.
Seems important to remind everybody real quick that Trump is actually a pretty shitty businessman. And yet -- thanks to the power of editing -- The Apprentice appeared to be a vehicle for Trump's commercial prowess. To this day, journalists are attempting to get the unedited footage from Trump's time on The Apprentice released in the hopes of demonstrating how much of his mediocre business acumen was left on the cutting room floor. Also, you know, for further proof of the horrible racist and sexist things he almost certainly said.
Not that there wasn't plenty that hit air, too.
Getting Fired By NBC For Being Racist Becomes A Fantastic Jumping Off Point For His Campaign
But as we've learned by now, Trump saying appalling things doesn't truly diminish his voting base in any significant way. In fact, the worse the thing, the more it appears to bolster them. Which opens another door for how The Apprentice renewal helped him out. Try for a second to think back 7,000 scandals ago when in 2015 Trump (who was still a part of The Apprentice) said:
"When Mexico sends its people, they're not sending their best...They're sending people who have lots of problems... They're bringing drugs, they're bringing crime, they're rapists, and some, I assume, are good people."
I know. That kind of subtly racist statement is almost baroque in comparison to what's come since. Even more quaintly, people thought it was a big enough scandal at the time, NBC was forced to sever ties with Trump and kicked him off his own show.
And that made sense at the time, but in many ways, it kickstarted the narrative that it's always been Trump against the establishment. I mean, he just said it like it (racistly) was, and then the MAN fired him, because they couldn't handle THE TRUTH. To this day, Trump supporters constantly claim he's the victim of fake news and political backstabbing and how he's never gotten a fair shot.
Even having the opportunity to get fired from The Apprentice fueled Trump's candidacy.
In The End, Several Voters Felt Like They Bonded With Him Because Of The Apprentice
Which finally brings us to one of the strangest psychological phenomena plaguing America. We -- for some reason -- think celebrities matter. From people advocating The Rock would make a great president to just assuming celebrities are automatically experts on just about any subject, there seems to be an inherent preference for those we've watched on TV. Turns out, there totally is!
See, there's this thing called parasocial bonds. These are essentially one-side relationships with people we see on TV. We as humans crave relationship, and so if we watch somebody on TV enough, most of us will, on some level, begin to bond with that person. At its most benign, it means we just love Oprah and desperately want her to soothingly run her hands through our hair and give us a free car. At its worst, it means we'll inherently trust a political candidate because we feel like we know them, even though obviously we don't.
According to recently released studies, The Apprentice and other TV ventures appear to have played a significant role in Trump's election. Basically, people who voted for him were much more likely to have watched him on TV. In fact, how much Trump TV they'd watched was significant contributor even when considering other factors like party affiliation. Basically if you watched him enough, you wanted to vote for him.
So if the man had just gone off the air back in 2007, fewer people would have been actively engaging with his content, and fewer would inherently trust him, and fewer would have voted. What I'm trying to say is, be more like Trey Stone and Matt Parker, TV writers. Look what happens when you don't think of future revenue streams! Chaos!
Top image: FremantleMedia