The Unholy Alliance: How Jeff Zucker Powered Donald Trump’s Rise From Reality TV Star to US President Open Access

O'Keefe, Kathleen (Spring 2018)

Permanent URL: https://etd.library.emory.edu/concern/etds/bk1289934?locale=en
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Abstract

This thesis will examine the past and current intersection of entertainment and politics within the television industry, and call into question where exactly cable news channels’ priorities lie—with the education of the general public or with ratings? One example of the convergence of entertainment, politics and cable news today is the symbiotic relationship between Jeff Zucker and Donald Trump. In 2004, Zucker was one of the executive producers at NBC Entertainment to greenlight The Apprentice, thus further foraying the network into the realm of reality TV and successfully replacing their most popular show at the time, Friends. Zucker helped Trump transition from real estate tycoon to reality TV star, shaping The Apprentice into an initial massive success. Then in 2013, Zucker accepted the role of President at CNN Worldwide, and took on the daunting task of resurrecting CNN from their most severe ratings downturn ever. By successfully implementing his three pillar plan and exploiting Trump for the ratings attraction and publicity machine he knew he was from past experience, Zucker brought CNN to their most-watched year ever in 2016. However, CNN was not alone in their accomplishments. The presidential election was beneficial for all three major news channels, boosting Fox News Channel 36%, CNN 77%, and MSNBC 87% from 2015 to 2016 in total viewer ratings (Nielsen). The Trump coverage across the general media was incredibly negative in tone, heavily focused on the horserace and controversies, and always more than any other candidate. Additionally, this paper aims to dissect the relatable and intriguing personality traits that Trump continually displayed from The Apprentice to his presidential campaign, and also how Zucker used Trump in his production scheme to maximize entertainment within CNN’s cable news television. Overall, Trump dominated the press in 2016, and as a result, greatly improved the ratings and financial success of the cable news networks. The argument finds that CNN was one of many cable news channels to benefit from the 2016 Presidential Election, and both Jeff Zucker and Donald Trump have used each other to immensely advance one another’s careers over the past fifteen years. 

Table of Contents

INTRODUCTION:………………………………………………………………………………8

CHAPTER ONE:

NBC’S Foray Into Reality TV: What Brought the Network To Trump’s The Apprentice……27

A History Of Jeff Zucker: From NBC to CNN…………………………………………..42

CHAPTER TWO:

The Apprentice Case Study Season 1 Episode 1: “Meet The Billionaire”…………56

           CNN Case Study: The First Presidential Debate.………………..………………………68

CHAPTER THREE:

Capitalizing On The Spectacle: Trump’s Coverage Across The General Media And How CNN Used The Three-Pillar Strategy…………77

CONCLUSION: ………………………………………………………………………………100

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