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HOME > The Apprentice > The Apprentice 1

By Wade Paulsen, 04/13/2004 

In the 1980s movie Wall Street, the main character (Gordon Gecko) opines, "Greed is good." Apparently, NYC real-estate baron Donald Trump was listening.

The surprising success of NBC’s The Apprentice, the breakout hit of the 2003-04 television season, has led Trump to renegotiate his acting salary for the upcoming The Apprentice 2 and The Apprentice 3. But is The Donald now the highest-paid actor on prime-time TV, just for playing himself?

According to a report in the Los Angeles Times, Trump has confirmed that, for the first season of The Apprentice, he made $50,000 per episode for his appearance in each of the show’s 15 episodes, or $750,000 total. The Times reported that, according to sources, The Donald would make “at least” double that for the next two series, which will be 16 episodes each and air during the 2004-05 television season.

Thus, according to this report, Donald Trump will be paid at least $3.2 million to appear as an actor next season – nice for a side project, but not as much as the stars who lead series. By contrast, the six stars of NBC’s Friends, which is ending after this season, have been the highest-paid stars on TV, making $1 million per episode for the last two seasons, or $22 million a year (since a Friends season consists of 22 episodes, 10 less than next year’s Apprentice). Based on those numbers, it appears that Donald Trump as an actor is a huge bargain for Donald Trump as The Apprentice's co-executive producer.

However, the most important words in the LA Times report may be “at least.” According to a report in today’s NY Post, “sources close to The Donald” report that his salary for next season will be comparable to the salary of the Friends six: $1 million per episode. If so, then The Donald’s per-episode take will be the highest on TV next year … and the $32 million that he will earn in total will be the highest salary ever paid to any prime-time TV actor for one season. Not bad for just being yourself ... especially when you don't have to give up your day job to earn it.

Trump's salary is still less than the estimated $180 million per year paid to talk-show queen Oprah Winfrey. But, of course, salary isn’t The Donald’s only source of income from The Apprentice. As co-producers of the show, Mark Burnett (and Mark Burnett Productions) and Donald Trump (and Trump Productions LLC) split the production fees and licensing fees. They also split the royalties from Apprentice merchandise, such as that being hawked by NBC on its website. Included in that merchandice is Trump’s new best-selling book, Trump: How to Get Rich, which includes an extensive discussion about the concept for and the making of The Apprentice. Trump also has been licensing a line of T-shirts and tank tops to Bloomingdale’s.

Last but not least, the fact that the TV show has often seemed like little more than an infomercial for Trump products (ranging from Trump Ice bottled water to the foundering Trump Casinos and lots of points of “Trump luxury,” such as the Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, in between) has provided The Trump Organization with millions and millions of dollars worth of product placement advertising at no cost. The advertising boosts everything from Trump's flagship real-estate projects (which have been suffering through a high-end sales slump in Manhattan) to memberships at Trump ventures such as Mar-a-Lago and the Trump National Golf Courses.

Thus, in the first season of The Apprentice, his $750,000 acting salary was a very small part of the total compensation package that The Donald received from the show. Leave it to Donald Trump to ensure that his acting salary wouldn’t be a small part of his total compensation for the second season. Note that, if the NY Post report is accurate, the “big salary” of $250,000 per year for one year that the contestants were playing for is only one-quarter of what The Donald will make for one episode of the show.

Poor NBC. First, the “Fab Five” from NBC/Bravo’s Queer Eye for the Straight Guy renegotiated their contracts before the second season. And now Trump. Of course, that's the price a U.S. network pays for having successful shows -- a problem that Disney's fourth-place ABC network only wishes that it had to worry about.

However, we note that, even before his raise, Trump's per-episode acting salary was equal to the renegotiated salary for ALL FIVE of the "Fab Five." Considering that Trump was already among the wealthiest people in the U.S. before The Apprentice, all we can say is that, as the old saying goes, the rich get richer.

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