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Mark Burnett’s bizarre statement about Apprentice footage

Mark Burnett’s bizarre statement about Apprentice footage
Mark Burnett at CES 2016, promoting his Intel-sponsored show, America's Greatest Makers. (Photo by USC's Entertainment Technology Center)

Mark Burnett “does not have the ability nor the right to release footage” of The Apprentice, specifically unaired comments from Donald Trump, according to a statement. That follows pressure on him to release footage that may reveal more of Trump’s behavior or thinking.

MGM bought Mark Burnett’s production company and shows late last year, so The Apprentice—along with shows such as Shark Tank and Survivor—now are part of MGM Television. And MGM Television’s president is Mark Burnett.

A joint statement from MGM and Mark Burnett said:

“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.”

A few thoughts about that statement, which was released this afternoon:

  • The part about “various contractual and legal requirements” has the most information in it: it most likely refers to some kind of legal arrangement with Trump, who was a business partner on the show and thus has some control over the footage.
  • But the preceding part is weird. Saying they don’t have “the right” to release it makes sense if there’s a legal agreement in place, but they also don’t have “the ability” to release it? Because 1) there either is or isn’t footage, and if there is footage, 2) they can physically release it. They’re a television studio that bought a mega-producer’s shows and library! And now Mark Burnett runs MGM Television! So of course they can physically distribute footage that they own. This reads like a 7-Eleven store manager saying, We don’t have the ability to release any Big Gulps. 
  • The part that denies “Mark Burnett has threatened anyone” with a lawsuit is referring specifically to a BuzzFeed article that quoted an anonymous person saying Burnett “is pro-Trump and has made clear to his teams that he will sue anyone who leaks.”
  • The last sentence also seems to be a response to the part of that BuzzFeed claim that he “is pro-Trump.” However, it is notably cagey. It doesn’t say I don’t support Trump; it only refers to past support of candidates. There is nothing about the present here.
  • This statement does not, however, address the reporting and tweeting—often poorly worded—about the contract crew members signed, which has a $5 million penalty for leaking information about a show. That’s a penalty similar to contestant contracts, though that clause may not be enforceable.

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