MGM and Mark Burnett released a joint statement Monday night claiming they are not able to release raw footage of Donald Trump during his time on the show "The Apprentice" because of contractual obligations:
“MGM owns Mark Burnett’s production company and ‘The Apprentice’ is one of its properties. Despite reports to the contrary, Mark Burnett does not have the ability nor the right to release footage or other material from ‘The Apprentice.’ Various contractual and legal requirements also restrict MGM’s ability to release such material. The recent claims that Mark Burnett has threatened anyone with litigation if they were to leak such material are completely and unequivocally false. To be clear, as previously reported in the press, which Mark Burnett has confirmed, he has consistently supported Democratic campaigns.”
"Apprentice" co-producer Mark Burnett is the current CEO of MGM Television & Digital and MGM finalized the purchase of his production company to MGM in 2014. But the brief comment on the footage has not quelled calls from critics of the "The Apprentice" host Donald Trump, who suspect that buried in the raw footage from the show's production are comments more damaging than the ones released last week from an interview with "Access Hollywood."
Although it took a few days for MGM to respond to media requests for the footage, sources tell me the company had been aware for awhile that it might be sitting on a potentially explosive archive of campaign-killing comments. Access to the footage had always been limited, in part due to the "spoiler" nature of the show. And also because the footage - like nearly every other aspect of the show - was controlled by contracts that split production between Burnett's production company and the Donald Trump organization.
The initial deal that set up the show was nothing more than a handshake agreement that split control of the show 50/50 between the two parties. That deal was reportedly updated and tweaked a few times during the run of the series, with the most recent agreement being signed in 2014. That deal reportedly gave Trump less of an equity percentage in the series and made the real estate developer essentially a silent partner in the show and its various incarnations. But the contract did leave in place language that gave Trump wide latitude to block uses of any footage that included him in it. According to one source, MGM lawyers read the language as being clear enough to block the company from releasing any unaired footage without a court battle.
Over the past week, efforts have been made at MGM TV to better handle the expected media pressure to release tapes. A search of the archives was completed in an effort to track down all the existing footage that included Donald Trump. The search was complicated by an apparent mandate to better quantify the types of footage without having anyone look at specific conversations. "I think they were afraid that the more people who knew about specific footage, the more likely it would be something might leak out." At the same time, access to the footage archive servers were limited and on Tuesday they were apparently shut down completely.
One thing that isn't clear from my discussions with a few insiders is the extent of the archive footage. There seems to be some dispute about what is still available, with one source telling me they had heard that MGM executives were "surprised" at that was found. But it's not clear at this writing what that means.
While no outtakes from the show has surfaced, some of the show's contestants and crew have begun speaking about their experiences on the reality series. As I reported on Monday, several people claimed to have heard Donald Trump use the "N Word" during off-camera periods during the show's production. Others said they had not heard him use that word, but had overheard discussions in which he used racist or misogynistic language.
Much has been made of producer Mark Burnett's political leanings, but nearly everyone I've spoken with who worked with him in the past don't attribute the reluctance to release "Apprentice" outtakes to some political agenda. "Burnett is all business about this stuff," claimed one current MGM employee. "If there's a buck to be made, he wouldn't let his Presidential preference get in the way."