MCEVERS: Think about it. Donald Trump was getting paid a salary by NBC to have this huge platform where he could promote his businesses, even when some of those businesses weren’t actually doing very well.
PRUITT: The brands, you know, like Taj Mahal – it was enormously difficult to promote that because you walk in there, and you see, you know, neons falling. It was the Ta Mahal or something. You know, there was no J because the neons were out (laughter). They just hadn’t had the opportunity to replace it yet. It wasn’t a priority because the carpets were already rotting, and, you know, it just stank to high heaven. So…
MCEVERS: But you mostly edit that stuff, too.
PRUITT: Well, also, the jet was, you know, questionable whether it would fly that week. The helicopter was up for sale, I believe. We didn’t know if we were going to have it next week.
MCEVERS: Huh. But that’s not the way you made it look…
PRUITT: Not at all.
MCEVERS: …In that opening sequence.
MCEVERS: Oh, my gosh. You created a fiction, a fictional billionaire.
PRUITT: Well, he had been a billionaire. I mean, everything we said about him was truthful. It’s what we didn’t say about him. Do you know what I mean? It was a convenient vacation of the truth.
MCEVERS: At the time of “The Apprentice,” Donald Trump’s companies had already been through four bankruptcies. And there were two more to come, including the Taj Mahal. But Bill Pruitt and the show made him out to be this wildly successful guy having the time of his life, a guy who millions of people started looking up to and even wanted to be like.
This is the thing that Bill Pruitt feels the most guilty about now. In helping make “The Apprentice,” Bill says he was a good con artist. He has the Emmys to prove it from other reality shows. And on “The Apprentice,” his con helped take Donald Trump all the way to the White House.
PRUITT: We told a story. We went with beginnings and middles and ends and villains and protagonists. And we went about the business of putting music and picture and sound together, the things that we thought we wanted to get up in the morning and do with our lives. And now, all of a sudden, we’re here. A cultural icon emerged because we weren’t necessarily truthful about our portrayal.