“Next Trump?” The Drudge Report asked Thursday, linking to an announcement about erstwhile Real Housewife Bethenny Frankel’s new show on HBO Max. Titled “The Big Shot With Bethenny,” Frankel’s new series does appear to be heavily inspired by “The Apprentice,” right down to Mark Burnett’s involvement as a producer.
Drudge’s question isn’t entirely unfair. Unlike Trump, whose fame predated “The Apprentice,” reality television launched Frankel’s entire empire. Before being cast on the “Real Housewives of New York City” in 2008, Frankel appeared on an “Apprentice” spinoff hosted by Martha Stewart in 2005.
Frankel’s tenure as a housewife ended last year, but spawned several Bravo spinoffs and a network talkshow over the last decade. (She’s also made regular appearances on “Shark Tank.”) Most importantly, Frankel used those TV platforms to grow her “Skinnygirl” brand into a massively successful business.
That, of course, is a fairly Trumpian maneuver. The president famously used his “Apprentice” franchise to similar ends. While it’s commonplace for reality stars to use their appearances to launch business ventures in 2020, Trump and Frankel were early adapters of the technique, and arguably found the most success.
Should she utter a tagline reminiscent of “You’re Fired,” Frankel will be in familiar territory. Like Trump, her persona is definitively brash and nonsense-averse. Her housewife tagline was once, “If you can’t handle the truth, you can’t handle me.” Labeled a “know-it-all” by another castmate on a beach vacation in 2015, Frankel memorably shot back, “Maybe I know it all.”
“If you want to know anything, come to me,” she quipped.
Both Trump and Frankel have purposefully placed a shrewd and insatiable sense of entrepreneurship at the center of their brands. They share a shamelessness about money and candor. Both also emerged from the electric reality television ecosystem of the mid-aughts, and are native New Yorkers.
Like Trump, Frankel is comfortable talking politics. Her Federal Elections Commission record reveals roughly $100,000 worth of contributions to Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and the Democratic National Committee. But Frankel was also openly unhappy with the Trump-Clinton binary in 2016, telling Andy Cohen during a RHONY reunion, “I didn’t like this election, I didn’t like my choices, I didn’t think it was an ideal situation.” She’s made occasional appearances on Fox News and Fox Business over the years.
While she’s been a tabloid fixture for more than a decade, Frankel is not a billionaire, although her path to success started from humbler roots. Her time as a Real Housewife laid bare Frankel’s tumultuous personal life, but also exposed, on occasion, the entrepreneur’s softer, feminine side.
In the sense that Trump pivoted right and used his reality television stardom to fuel a wild journey straight from NBC to the Oval Office, Frankel seems unlikely to follow a similarly offbeat path. In our fragmented entertainment landscape, she lacks Trump’s status as a household name. (And a show on HBO Max won’t help.) She’s also shot down suggestions she run for president or mayor of New York City.
With Trump in the White House, however, Frankel is positioned as a clear heir to his vacant slot in the pop culture landscape: a brash New York entrepreneur-turned-TV mogul whose business success defines her brand. She’ll also be hosting a show with same basic premise as Trump’s.
It’s a comfortable fit for Frankel, who’s perhaps the smartest woman to ever appear on the “Real Housewives” franchise (which has been home to a surprisingly sizable number of smart women). Wherever she ends up, one thing will almost certainly be true—Frankel knew exactly what she was doing en route.