WashU Expert: The reality TV election: He ‘doesn’t get voted off island, he winds up owning it’

Richard Chapman on scripted vs. unscripted drama


Long before the 2016 presidential campaign, millions of Americans watched Donald Trump play the successful businessman on television – NBC’s hit reality show “The Apprentice.” Both the exposure and the experience served him well, said Richard Chapman, senior lecturer in film & media studies in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis.

  • Richard Chapman
    Richard Chapman

    Unscripted: “The role of television in shaping the public image of both presidential candidates speaks to the issue of ‘scripted’ versus ‘unscripted’ content,” Chapman said. “Donald Trump has a long history of unscripted improvisational public speaking, mixing elements of standup comedy, insult humor and prosecutorial attack. He’s the guy on the next barstool, issuing extreme opinions and colorful tirades.”

  • Unfazed: “Trump also assumes a Mr. Fixit stance.  He expresses pride and exudes confidence that he’ll apply the same MacGyveresque common sense that’s made him a business titan to the problems facing his/our country.  And he doesn’t need help.  Expert advisors only slow him down. Amidst a cast of ambitious losers, Trump not only doesn’t get voted off the island – he winds up owning it.”
  • ‘Madame Secretary:’ In contrast, “Hillary Clinton’s campaign content was carefully scripted. An hour with her looks like an episode of ‘Madame Secretary.’ Her narratives are built from rational thought and detailed research, often in collaboration with an ensemble of experts and political allies. Lately, those narratives have featured dramatic Third Act cameos from the President and First Lady. The Obamas, with their sharp scripts and elegant production, have been on-air for eight seasons and at times Secretary Clinton’s campaign seemed — by her own choosing — to be a worthy spin-off.”
  • ‘Freakish must-see TV:’ “If President-elect Trump’s electronic image is an eccentric blend of freakish must-see TV in which anything goes,  the Clinton campaign is ‘Not TV. It’s HBO.’ It’s Hillary Box Office, a brilliant mélange of policy potpourri, glass-ceiling-shattering historical importance, and even a hint of the wacky, wise grandmother.  She’s been in our living rooms for decades. Her image is Carol Burnett on Mensa.”
  • Hillary on hiatus: “The question is, will last night’s cancellation be permanent or is she merely on hiatus, waiting for a new show on the next digital outlet.  Whatever her future, this election shocker delivered an overdose of reality for everybody.”

Editor’s note: Members of the media interested in interviewing Chapman can reach him by email at rchapman@wustl.edu or by telephone at (314) 935-8238.

Read more from our experts on Election 2016.

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