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Ed Bailey  /  AP
"Dateline NBC" plans roughly two hours of stories about Donald Trump's reality television show "The Apprentice" surrounding its finale next month.
updated 3/25/2004 3:59:13 PM ET 2004-03-25T20:59:13

“Dateline NBC” plans roughly two hours of stories about “The Apprentice” surrounding its finale next month, including a profile of star Donald Trump.

The plan may kindle a debate about whether television networks are using news programs less for news than for promotion.

“I think it’s a disgrace,” said Larry Grossman, a former NBC News president. “It’s clearly using the news division to hype the network’s entertainment schedule. I can’t imagine it’s a serious, legitimate news issue, unless they’re going to expose the program for some sort of scandal, which I don’t think will happen.”

(MNSBC is a joint venture of Microsoft and NBC.)

David Corvo, executive producer of “Dateline NBC,” said “The Apprentice” has become a cultural phenomenon that has fascinated his audience.

Between commercials on the network and stories in the press, most TV viewers will be well aware of “The Apprentice” finale on April 15 before the “Dateline NBC” stories run the days before and after, he said.

“We’re trying to respond to the interest,” Corvo said. “They don’t need us to inspire the interest. It’s sort of backwards.”

“The Apprentice” was the fourth-most popular show on television last week, attracting 17.5 million viewers. Corvo said “Dateline NBC” hasn’t reported on the show yet, although it has done three stories about Fox’s “American Idol,” with another in the works.

Trump will be everywhere
The full hour of “Dateline NBC” on April 14 will be devoted to a behind-the-scenes look at the boardroom game. The Trump profile will run April 16. About half of a two-hour “Dateline” that night will likely be about “The Apprentice,” he said.

The newsmagazine will report on how business schools are using the reality show as a teaching tool, he said.

And there will be even more Trump on NBC that week: Three days before “The Apprentice” finale, NBC is airing the “Miss USA” pageant, which is partly owned by Trump; preceding it will a “Miss USA”-themed edition of “Fear Factor.”

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NBC executives applied no pressure for a tie-in, Corvo said. Jeff Zucker, a former “Today” show executive producer, is responsible for both NBC’s news and entertainment divisions.

“We have the access that some others don’t have because we’re on the same network, and I’m trying to take advantage of it,” Corvo said. “I’d be nuts to let ‘48 Hours’ do it, wouldn’t I? And I’m sure they would if they could.”

Crossover between network news and entertainment is hardly new, and it’s particularly evident on the morning shows. Each Friday, “The Early Show” on CBS interviews the “Survivor” contestant eliminated the night before, and it routinely gets the show’s highest ratings of the week.

“Today” has brought Trump on to “judge” contestants for the next edition of “The Apprentice,” and ran its own version of the game by “firing” interns. “Today” has also run an “American Idol”-like talent contest.

Polls show that Americans over the past 15 years increasingly believe news organizations are motivated more by profit than public interest, said Tom Rosenstiel, director of the Washington-based Project for Excellence in Journalism.

“If you do things that just reinforce the idea that you’re only in it for the buck, that’s not good,” he said.

There’s nothing unethical about what “Dateline” is doing, but it raises questions about the kinds of news stories that are being ignored, Rosenstiel said.

Grossman, in a speech he gave recently at Louisiana State University, said that except for “60 Minutes,” prime-time network newsmagazines have abandoned news “for a continuing diet of frivolous nonfiction entertainment that focuses on the latest rape victim, child kidnapping, rock star profile, Hollywood scandal and movie opening.”

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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