Donald Trump's obsession with his ratings, even when he's wrong, is nothing new

 trump celebrity apprentice

Donald Trump's fascination with TV ratings as proof of his popularity -- and his willingness to exaggerate them in self-serving and wholly inaccurate ways -- is nothing new.

Both NBC executives and reporters dealt with this phenomenon while Trump was hosting "Celebrity Apprentice." The show was in the top tier of ratings during its heyday, but by the end of Trump's run as host, its Nielsen numbers had fallen dramatically.

Nevertheless, Trump continued to proclaim the series the No. 1 show on television as late as January 2015, when he appeared at the Television Critics Association tour to promote the new season.

At the time, the reality program had slipped to an average of about 7 million viewers, per Nielsen data, meaning that it wasn't just not number one among primetime network series, but in fact ranked in the 40s.

Many of the TV press in attendance mocked Trump's claims on Twitter, with one calling him "delusional" and another saying he "has no fear about facts." Mediaite assembled the comments under the headline, "TV Critics Laugh at Trump for Wrongly Boasting About Apprentice Ratings."

But that was only one example of a long-running campaign by Trump.

Television reporters, including former colleagues of mine at Variety, spoke of receiving phone calls from Trump to spin "Apprentice" ratings during its run.

In interviews with CNN's Gloria Borger last June, former NBC executives also spoke about Trump's persistence in saying the show was No. 1 long after its numbers had declined.

Related: 'Alternative facts:' Why the Trump team is 'planting a flag' in war on media

"In his mind, if you were number one once, you are always number one," Jeff Gaspin, who oversaw reality programming for the network at the time, told Borger, adding that there was "no point" in correcting Trump because the goal was to keep him happy and willing to perform and appear at network events.

Jim Dowd, who oversaw publicity for the show at NBC, added, "I've never seen anyone in the television industry, and I've been in it 20 years, who cared as deeply about ratings, positive or negative, as Donald Trump."

Trump's false claims about "Apprentice" ratings dominated the public portion of the TCA session in 2015, but he was also asked about his involvement in politics. Trump said he had no interest in running for governor of New York, and that he was devoted to his businesses.

Taking questions after the session, though, Trump said he was still seriously considering a presidential run, and that the season finale of "Celebrity Apprentice" in February would afford him plenty of time before making a decision without violating equal-time rules that would force him to give up hosting the show.

"The last thing we need is another Bush," he said.


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