President Donald Trump’s recently released 2005 tax return may not be the smoking gun of financial insight some had expected, but it does give us a look at just how important NBC’s “The Apprentice” was for him.
“The Apprentice,” Trump’s reality-TV show with the premise of people competing to fill a coveted job at one of his companies, premiered in 2004 on NBC. It was the result of a nearly 16-year relationship between NBC and Trump, and it premiered a year after Jeff Zucker, then the president of NBC, and “Survivor” producer Mark Burnett began discussing TV-show ideas with Trump.
But what does this have to do with Trump’s tax return?
CBS News asked accountants to look over the released form and found that it appears Trump paid significantly less taxes in 2004 than he did in 2005. That suggests that he made significantly less money in 2004 – an estimated $60 million, versus $152.7 million in 2005. That would represent a 154.5% increase in income for Trump in one year.
It’s also worth noting that in the same year “The Apprentice” premiered, Trump’s infamously ailing casino empire filed for bankruptcy protection as a result of being more than $1 billion in debt.
Reports about Trump’s hosting salary in the earliest days of the show have ranged from $50,000 to $1 million an episode. Regardless, his 50% ownership of “The Apprentice” would have brought him in a sizable pile of cash over the years, and some of that would be reflected in the tax return, since the show debuted in 2004 to a hit-making average viewership of 21 million people and its second season aired in late 2005 with an average of 16 million viewers.
At the time, Fox News also credited the show with providing Trump additional income from merchandise sales and promotion of Trump properties, as well as helping his book “How to Get Rich” become a best-seller.
One accountant made clear to CBS that there’s no way to identify the exact sources of Trump’s financial windfall in 2005 from the two-page Form 1040 because it doesn’t reveal a breakdown of his income, just the total.
But it’s certain that a significant portion of income came from earnings from the NBC reality show and Trump’s heightened earning power as a result of it, which helped him in years to follow.
Trump stepped down from his “Apprentice” hosting gig as he began his run for president in 2015. (NBC claimed it fired him.) But he still serves as an executive producer – and presumably still gets a share of profits on the show, which recently finished a season hosted by Arnold Schwarzenegger. Though Trump still has a role on the show, it didn’t stop him from lampooning Schwarzenegger for his lower ratings.