Former "Celebrity Apprentice" host Donald Trump is trashing successor Arnold Schwarzenegger — and billing himself as the true "ratings machine" — in a pair of scathing tweets.
It's a curious jab by President-elect Trump, who remains an executive producer on the long-running business competition reality show. He didn't hold back Friday morning — hours before he was set to get an intelligence briefing on Russia — slamming Schwarzenegger and the program's skimpier ratings. Viewership dropped 44 percent from the first episode of the last season, when Trump was still the host.
Schwarzenegger, the former Republican governor of California who favored Ohio Gov. John Kasich in the GOP primary, responded to Trump on Twitter, saying that "there's nothing more important than the people's work" and he hopes Trump works "for ALL of the American people as aggressively as you worked for your ratings."
Variety reported last month that Trump would remain an executive producer on the star-studded version of "The Apprentice," which is produced and owned by MGM and airs on NBC, receiving a per-episode fee in the "low five-figures."
Trump tweeted in response that he would have "zero time" to devote to it.
But his decision to troll "The Apprentice," the show that helped rebuild his brand, may be more calculated than it appears, said Jason Mittell, the author of the book "Television and American Culture."
"Any publicity is good publicity, and this is a no-loss situation," said Mittell, a professor of film and media culture and American studies at Middlebury College in Vermont. "If he mocks the new 'Apprentice' and highlights how Schwarzenegger is a loser and those ratings continue, then it makes him look good. If he mocks Schwarzenegger and he drives people to watch it more, than he gets paid anyway."
Mittell added that Trump's personal brand is more important than a reality TV show over which he has no real control. NBC severed business ties with Trump in June 2015 over his "derogatory statements" about immigrants while on the campaign trail.
"It's always about him," Mittell said. "To me, what he's basically highlighting is this constant message that he's a winner and everyone else is a loser. And Schwarzenegger, too, because he didn't support him."
Mittell also pointed out that it isn't all that fair to compare the first season of "The Apprentice," which aired in 2004, to this latest celebrity incarnation.
"Primetime ratings were all much higher back then," he said. "Fewer people are watching conventional television today."