Trump has been a fixture on "Celebrity Apprentice" for the program's entire history, and his candidacy would push competing candidates for the top U.S. government job to ask NBC for equal time.
It's not as if "Apprentice" by itself is likely to get the network back to being somewhat competitive. But ongoing, relatively low-cost, reality programs like "Apprentice" can be a key utility player for any network, and will be si for NBC especially after "Sunday Night Football" ends in the fourth quarter.
NBC ran into this problem before -- but to a lesser degree. When Fred D. Thompson entered the race for the Republican nomination in 2008, he quit his role on series "Law & Order." To insure that no competitors would claim equal time on the network, NBC also stopped airing reruns where Thompson appeared.
But on the flip side, NBC could surely use the attention of a Trump candidacy -- especially if, as rumored, he announces his intention to run on the May 22nd season finale of "Celebrity Apprentice." Trump's talk about running may be drawing more viewers into the Apprentice's orbit.
If Trump goes ahead, NBC may just give "The Apprentice/Celebrity Apprentice" a small break -- say sitting out the spring 2012 time slot. Spring has been its usual seasonal starting place. But it could be back by that summer. Early in 2012, in the heart of primary season, Trump"s fate could be sealed if he is far behind, registers a few quick primary losses, and pulls out.
But it's not just lost rating points that are a concern. "The Apprentice/Celebrity Apprentice" continues to be a big proponent of branded entertainment -- like NBC's other big reality show, "The Biggest Loser."
"Apprentice" continues to be a big friend of marketers looking for that extra piece of on-air and off-air viewer engagement. Those kind of deals can evolve into bigger advertising/marketing deals that span across the whole network.
Losing Trump, the "Apprentice" and a proven TV marketing platform will only make NBC's job harder on whatever road back it has planned.