WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump sought prayers Thursday for Arnold Schwarzenegger over ratings for “Celebrity Apprentice” — the show Trump once hosted and which he said has become a “total disaster” since California’s Republican former governor took over the franchise.
Trump harkened back to his days as a reality TV sensation during an address to the National Prayer Breakfast.
“When I ran for president, I had to leave the show,” Trump told the audience of more than 2,000 people. “They hired a big, big movie star, Arnold Schwarzenegger, to take my place. And we know how that turned out. The ratings went right down the tubes.”
“It’s been a total disaster, and Mark will never, ever bet against Trump again,” the president said, referring to Mark Burnett, the show’s producer and longtime supporter of and participant in the annual breakfast. “I want to just pray for Arnold if we can.” Burnett introduced Trump to the audience.
Schwarzenegger responded quickly in a brief video on his Twitter account, in which he suggests that Trump switch jobs with him.
“You take over TV because you’re such an expert in ratings,” the “Terminator” star says in the video, captioned “The National Prayer Breakfast?” ”And I take over your job and then people can finally sleep comfortably again. Hmm?”
Schwarzenegger’s premiere night audience for his early January debut as the show’s host was a disappointing 5 million viewers, according to the Nielsen company. Viewership dropped to 3.9 million viewers in the second week.
The season-to-date average for the first month was 4.7 million viewers, compared to 7.6 million viewers for Trump’s final season in winter 2015.
The back-and-forth between the president and his reality TV show successor had the feel of a WrestleMania “feud” meant to drive up audience interest — and ratings. White House spokesman Sean Spicer said later Thursday that Trump was just trying to have a “light-hearted moment” with a personal friend.
Trump, who helped conceive and build the “Apprentice” franchise with Burnett, retains a financial stake in those TV shows and is listed as an executive producer.
Trump has said it’s a courtesy title for which he is doing no work. He has not detailed how much money he’s making from this season.
Financial disclosures Trump filed during the campaign show his company, Trump Productions, earned about $5.9 million from “The Apprentice” shows in 2015.
Thursday was not the first time that Trump has criticized Schwarzenegger over the show’s ratings. Trump tweeted last month that Schwarzenegger was “swamped” in his “Celebrity Apprentice” debut “by comparison to the ratings machine, DJT.”
AP Television Writer Frazier Moore in New York and Associated Press writer Julie Bykowicz in Washington contributed to this report.