This President (and his Impeachment): Brought to You by Fremantle Media

The company that produces 'America’s Got Talent' and 'American Gods' also created the “Donald Trump” image white Americans elected. It normalized the white supremacy, misogyny, and protected the fragile male ego at the expense of BIPOC and women.

December 18 will go down in history as the day a third American President was impeached. Another milestone: this President is the first to be formally impeached in his first term. Making history was the whole point of remaking Donald Trump nearly two decades ago when Fremantle Media greenlit The Apprentice. They just didn’t count on the their work damaging the highest office in the land.

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Trump is the third President to be impeached and yet the first to have that done in his first term.

Ignoring the complaints of racism, sexual harassment, and sexual assault, the company producers partnered with Trump in the early 2000s to create a profitable reality show brand. Fremantle pushed forward with a manufactured image of a man who has forever changed American history. However, he’s not the first. In fact, Trump is the product of Fremantle’s lengthy history of cleaning up the public images of some very toxic men and while failing to cover up their toxic personalities, predatory practices, and criminal behavior.

The Making of a President…or “How to Make a Racist, Sexist, Failure Look Good”

Trump’s behavior on camera and behind the scenes of The Apprentice are well known and well documented. In fact, the executive producers for the show have gone on record about the man’s behavior. Fisher Stevens, former producer for The Apprentice, made a movie about Trump’s behavior and transformation entitled Dirty Money: The Confidence Man. Bill Pruitt, also a former producer of the show, told Vanity Fair that “without The Apprentice, [Trump] would never be president, and using reality television as a platform [improved] his image.”

According to Pruitt, the President elected in 2016 was the creation of The Apprentice producers, the marketing team and others who worked so hard to change Trump’s image. The producer describes the man they started with and apparently that image was nothing like the one sold on the show.

“If you walked around Trump’s actual office in Trump Tower you’d see the wood’s chipped, and what’s that smell?” Pruitt went on to explain that, “it wasn’t the empire we were going to have to sell to people. We needed to gussy it up a bit. And we did.”

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“The Confidence Man” is a part fo the Dirty Money series on Netflix now.

Trump’s behavior wasn’t much better. Pruitt described the man’s “lewd, lascivious behavior, and narcissism on set,” which Fremantle and NBC couldn’t quite change as well as they did his image. So, to protect their show, they needed to protect the host as well. This meant standing by him, knowing that he was prone to these racist and sexist behaviors. It also meant normalizing his behavior by gaslighting his accusers in the media. During the election, researchers found about 20 people with complaints of his “inappropriate behavior.” No matter how awful to accusation was, none of the man’s supporters were swayed. In fact, eaxh new accusation seemed to endear the man to his base of Evangelicals and “the moral” right.

Cleaning Up a Dirty Image

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From ‘The Confidence Man’ documentary.

Many of the complaints came from women who alleged sexual harassment and even sexual assault before Trump’s Apprentice makeover even started. Pruitt dismissed Trump’s behavior as something everyone knew because it was. The press had widely reported these allegations and Trump himself openly bragged about them. The producers knew of the problems when they hired him, but Fremantle and NBC didn’t seem to think these claims were important enough to disqualify Trump for their makeover.

Pruitt explained, in an email to Vanity Fair, “some clever producers were putting forth a manufactured story about a billionaire whose empire was, in actuality, crumbling at the very same time he took the job, the salary, and ownership rights to do a reality show. The Apprentice was a scam put forth to the public in exchange for ratings. We were ‘entertaining,’ and the story about Donald Trump and his stature fell into some bizarre public record as ‘truth.’ This is nothing new, and the impact it’s having on the history of the world is best depicted in the Academy Award-winning film Network, a satire.”

What they were doing was so lucrative that in 2005, a year after the first season aired, the company pushed The Apprentice out to a global audience. The show went out to 40 other countries then and development would soon start on a foreign version of the show. The show runs today all over the world.

Pruitt described the fruit of their labor to Vanity Fair. “We are masterful storytellers and we did our job well. What’s shocking to me is how quickly and decisively the world bought it. Did we think this clown, this buffoon with the funny hair, would ever become a world leader? Not once. Ever,” he wrote. “Would he and his bombastic nature dominate in prime-time TV? We hoped so. Now that the lines of fiction and reality have blurred to the horrifying extent that they have, those involved in the media must have their day of reckoning.”

Incidentally, when other Presidential candidates called for tapes proving Trump’s behavior behind the scenes (in order to show to the American public) neither Fremantle nor NBC complied.

A Blueprint for the Lewd and Racist Leading Men

Trump is not the only Fremantle host who is dogged by misconduct and even assault claims. While the Articles of Impeachment against Trump were making their way through the U.S. House of Representatives, word of two other Fremantle shows seeped into the news. More racist, sexist behavior reported from the company’s protected white men.

On November 22, news broke that NBC was replacing Gabrielle Union on the hit show America’s Got Talent. A few days later, rumors surfaced that Union was fired for speaking out against racist practices off-camera. The website LoveBScott quoted NBC sources as saying, “They only replace the women and blacks at Simon’s whim. She wouldn’t walk away from $12 million because she’s ‘busy.’”

The narrative the took shape — Union standing up against racist behavior, thus crossing the show’s judge and executive producer Simon Cowell. Union had uncovered the company secret. Its pattern of protecting the fragile male leads (hosts, producers, showrunners, etc.) even if that means continued harassment and even termination for the person making the complaint.

On December 16, Orlando Jones posted a video statement where he announced that he was fired from the STARZ show American Gods back on September 10. Jones said that he was fired because the new showrunner named Charles Eglee wanted to write a different narrative for “Black America”.

“The new Season 3 showrunner is Connecticut-born and Yale-educated, so he’s very smart, and he thinks that Mr. Nancy’s angry, get s — done is the wrong message for black America. That’s right, this white man sits in that decision-making chair and I’m sure he has many black BFFs that are his advisers and made it clear to him that if they did not get rid of that angry god Mr. Nancy, he’d start a Denmark Vesey uprising in the country.”

Orlando Jones speaks out about being fired from the Fremantle show ‘American Gods’ due to racism and at the behest of a white showrunner.

Later Jones went on The Blerd Gurl Podcast and expanded upon his video statement. His story began in Season 2 of the show, in 2018 when the showrunner was Jesse Alexander. Then, Jones began rewriting what he called “problematic” storylines for first his own character Mr. Nancy, and then for all the other characters of color on the show. This was done at the behest of other producers, but the work set Jones at odds with Alexander and others. Like Union, Jones’s story describes running afoul of the men who are allowed to influence show decisions based on their fragile egos.

But Wait…There’s More

The company has a long and lascivious history of protecting hosts and producers at huge costs to people of color and women. Trump certainly wasn’t the first. He was simply the result of decades of practice. The model used to create the man had been honed for decades. Just look up the many lawsuits for other Fremantle hosts like Cowell. Bob Barker, Richard Dawson, and Chuck Woolery are just a few examples of hosts who Fremantle protected despite the damage done to other people employed under them. Producers and showrunners have been placed in this bubble of protection as well. The story Jones tells about his time at American Gods is an example. A more powerful testimony is this one by British actress, writer, producer Michaela Coel.

Trigger Warning — Coel discusses racial violence and a sexual assault that took place while she was writing and filming her show Chewing Gum produced by the Fremantle-owned production company Retort.

Michaela Coel speaks at the Edinburgh TV Festival about her experience writing a show for the first time, ‘Chewing Gum’. Although she does not name them in her talk, Fremantle is the company ultimately responsible for her show.

And there are several others with more stories, including choreographer, singer, producer, and show host Paula Abdul; model, actress, and reality television star Claudia Jordan, and rapper, producer, and show host Nick Cannon. The list is long. I traced claims back to the 1970s before stopping due time constraints.

The Impeachment Exposes the Probelmatic Pattern

Trump, the Impeachment, as well as all the horrific claims we are hearing (and will continue to hear) about white men that Fremantle protects are the result of our long and sordid history with misogyny and white supremacy. The company regularly dismisses, ignores, or sanities these issues because the profits and ratings are far more important. The impeachment proves this, as much of the behavior that Trump is accused of stems from the problems that Fremantle and NBC knew the man had before they cleaned him up and presented him as the model man for America.

If their plan had truly worked, then Pruitt should have never been horrified that the man they “made” was put in charge of the free world. But, Pruitt was afraid and he was not alone. In the film The Confidence Man, he and others discuss how they now feel that their work for Fremantle and NBC was a “scam”. They also peel back the layers of that made image to expose Trump to be just like the rest of Fremantle’s protected men: racist, sexist, privileged white men. All of these men have fragile egos and the power to endanger the lives, well-being, and jobs of women and people of color who dare to challenge their fragility.

Fremantle will continue to protect their men and each time when you watch the Fremantle shows, you will help enable their behavior for one more season.

Written by

Jonita Davis is a writer, film critic, and professor. She’s a member of NABJ, AAFCA, a Rotten Tomatoes critic, and an adjunct professor.

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