Trump's reality TV playbook: Seven ways it changed 2016 election

We all know 'The Apprentice,' but Americans underestimate how much Donald Trump has drawn on reality-TV methods to shape this election, experts say.

Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP/FILE
Donald Trump poses in January 2015, as host of the television series "The Celebrity Apprentice."

The 'reality' rulebook

When commentators pause to describe presidential candidate Donald Trump, they often mention his background in reality TV. Yet for all the puzzling over his ascendency in the Republican presidential race, little attention has been paid to the playbook of a reality show and how that might influence a man who hosted a series that ran for more than a decade.

It’s ripe for a closer look. The elements of this artificially “real” form of televised drama are actually ubiquitous in Mr. Trump’s campaign.

So here it is: from conflict to “confession rooms,” a run-down of the obvious and not-so-obvious ways Mr. Trump has internalized reality-show conventions and in turn, how they are playing out across the entire presidential campaign landscape as a result. If a presidential race might earn the title, “Survivor: Oval Office,” what Trump is adding is the Hollywood game plan.

“The Trump campaign has used a whole bunch of tricks from reality television to run his campaign and extend control over other people’s campaigns,“ says Robert Thompson, founder of the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University in New York. The reason this has worked so well for Trump, Professor Thompson says, is that “even though it’s not exactly like his TV show and he doesn’t control everything, he is playing by the rules of reality TV, and the people covering him are largely unconsciously playing by the same reality show rules as well.”

Of course, this is just one lens through which to view the Trump campaign. His success also reflects the role that nativist and populist insurgencies play as a periodic force in US politics, and voter hunger for “outsiders” in an era of frustration with Washington elites. But prominent features of Trump's candidacy align perfectly with his chosen television genre. Here are six big ways.

1 of 7

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.