The eight-part series, which premieres Tuesday, follows the “True Lies” sidekick in his maniacal quest to find damning footage and audio recordings of Donald Trump, proving once and for all he’s unfit to serve as president.
But why Arnold? “No one ever thought of me as an investigative journalist, then again, no one ever thought of Donald Trump as a president,” he says in the show’s opening. “He’s the same kind of old-school dumb ass as I am, and I sure as hell don’t think a guy like me should be president.”
Through each half-hour episode Arnold jokes about his impulsive personality, multiple marriages and B-list TV ventures, proclaiming there’s no one more ill-equipped — yet tailor made — for the job.
Arnold’s goal is to uncover raw footage from “The Apprentice” in which Trump allegedly used the “N-word” while on set of the reality show competition, and the alleged Russian prostitute “pee tape” (his words, not mine) which became a national obsession after the Steele Dossier went public.
In Episode 2 of the Viceland series, former “Celebrity Apprentice” contestant Penn Jillette tells Arnold he heard Trump say on set “homophobic, racist, misogynistic things that made me sick to my stomach.”
When Jillette presses Arnold on the reality of his mission, he reveals what the scrappy show is about — the futility many Americans feel in the face of a runaway presidency.
The leaked “Access Hollywood” tape revealed Trump bragging about sexually assaulting women and it didn’t dissuade voters, says Jillette. “What could possibly be worse than that?,” he asks Arnold. “Even if you find them all… what does it do? Does it get Trump out of the White House?”
Probably not, given that a recent poll by the Economist and the YouGov polling firm found that 77% of white Trump voters agreed that “it is possible that a person who uses the ‘N-word’ while in office can still be a good President of the United States.”
So what exactly does the “Hunt for the Trump Tapes With Tom Arnold” do other then give Arnold a platform to turn his particular brand of crazy into Viceland-worthy programming?
It does what few others in Hollywood or the TV industry have: it demands accountability from “The Apprentice” producer Mark Burnett.
Burnett crafted Trump’s image as a competent leader over 14 seasons, and in that 12-year period likely spent more time with the real estate mogul than Melania. Yet of everyone in Trump’s orbit who’s taken a fall for him since he took office, or who’s been thrown under the bus or who is one early-morning tweet away from total ruin, Burnett – the creator of “Survivor” — has remained virtually unscathed.
In the Viceland show, Arnold protests with a group outside the producer’s offices, chanting “Give up the tapes!” Burnett, who’s now president of MGM Television and Digital, failed to appear. He no longer owns the tapes since MGM bought “The Apprentice” archives from Burnett’s company in 2015, but Burnett didn’t need the footage in hand to speak publicly about Trump’s character before or after the election. Many saw the silence of this devout Christian whose faith has informed the films and TV series he’s made such as “Son of God” and “The Bible,” as the ultimate shirking of civic responsibility and overall accountability.
So reliable an ally was Burnett to Trump that when former “Apprentice” contestant and White House aide Omarosa Manigault-Newman released a book reiterating accusations that Trump used the N-word on set, the president defended himself by name-checking the show’s producer: “Mark Burnett called to say there are NO TAPES of the Apprentice where I used such a terrible and disgusting word as attributed by Wacky and Deranged Omarosa,” he tweeted.
Burnett remained silent, again.
(Ironically, in his role at MGM Television, Burnett has overseen Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale,” a dystopian series about the collapse of America into a patriarchal, fascist regime where women are subjugated and journalists are enemies of the state.)
Burnett did issue a statement in 2016 disavowing the “hatred, division and misogyny” of Trump’s campaign but declined to take the next step and tell American voters — many of whom rooted for contestants on Burnett’s shows “The Voice” and “Shark Tank” — what he knew about the man who described himself as a “ratings machine.”
Someone did. Soon after the “Access Hollywood” tapes leaked, producer Bill Pruitt from “The Apprentice’s” early seasons tweeted that there was more offensive, raw footage to come: “#trumptapes there are far worse. #justthebeginning.”
But here we are, two years and a dozen constitutional crises later, and one of the only industry figures willing to challenge media powerhouse Burnett is an actor who self-admittedly has little to lose at this stage in his career.
But from the guest on the Viceland show who claims to have transcribed everything Trump has said on tape starting with a 1980 Rona Barrett interview (“He’s said ‘believe me’ 1,185 times,” claims the expert) or the “transparency activists” who give Arnold transcripts of every Trump appearance on Howard Stern’s show (it’s there he bragged about spying on naked beauty queen contestants back stage: “I sort of get away with things like that”), Arnold’s futile endeavor is the true gag.
The producers of Arnold’s show claim they had seven former “Apprentice” crew members confirmed to talk on the show about their experience with Trump, but all of them pulled out at the last minute because they were scared they’d be sued or blacklisted.
Arnold gets the news while he’s in the restaurant where they planned to interview the crew. He asks the young employees there — servers, cooks — if they wouldn’t mind reading the anonymous quotes that the no-show “Apprentice” sources gave to his producer in pre-interviews.
“Crew member No. 1,” says Arnold, instructing the waitress to read the anonymous crew member’s quote. She looks embarrassed as her eyes scan the page … then mad: “After a female crew member walked off set he said, ‘Would you [have sex with] that?’ He said, ‘I wouldn’t [have sex with] that,” she read aloud.
Another server read the quote: “I heard Trump say the N-word several times.”
After they’d read the material, Arnold asked them how they felt about Mark Burnett.
“It’s not fair for people in the public to be in the dark about this,” said one young woman. “We need to know everything about this man that we’re entrusting our country to.”
‘The Hunt for the Trump Tapes With Tom Arnold’
When: Tuesday, 7:30 and 8 p.m.; 10:30 and 11 p.m.