Amazon could own unaired Trump 'Apprentice' tapes after buying MGM, but it probably still can't release them
Amazonjust announced that it is acquiring MGM Studios in a deal worth $8.45 billion.
- Through MGM, Amazon could own the rights to the unaired footage of then-reality TV star
- MGM said in 2016 it was legally prohibited from sharing the tapes, and that's unlikely to change now.
Amazon announced on Wednesday that it is acquiring MGM Studios in a deal worth $8.45 billion that would hand over the Hollywood giant's trove of more than 4,000 feature films and 17,000 TV shows. The companies did not immediately provide a complete list of every title covered in the deal.
Among MGM's properties is "The Apprentice," which made Donald Trump a regular presence in households across the US and helped him launch a political career.
"The real financial value behind this deal is the treasure trove of IP in the deep catalog that we plan to reimagine and develop together with MGM's talented team. It's very exciting and provides so many opportunities for high-quality storytelling," said Mike Hopkins, senior vice president of Prime Video and Amazon Studios, in a statement.
There's one story that Amazon may not be able to tell, even though it could end up owning the footage needed to tell it: what went on behind the scenes of "The Apprentice" that never made it to air?
If the deal closes, and barring any side deals by MGM, Amazon is likely to be the new owner of the show's archival tapes that some cast and crew have said could reveal Trump behaving badly.
When a clip from "Access Hollywood" surfaced just before the 2016 election, in which Donald Trump boasted about groping women, "Apprentice" producer Bill Pruitt suggested there were tapes containing "far worse."
In response to mounting calls to release the material in the interest of national security ahead of the election, MGM said it was legally prohibited from sharing the tapes. The show's creator, Mark Burnett, whose production company was partially acquired by MGM Television in 2015, also said he was unable to release the tapes, even though he wanted to.
Eric Talley, a professor at Columbia Law School who focuses on corporate deals and governance matters, told Insider that the structure of the deal matters when considering Amazon potential ownership of the "Apprentice" tapes. In a normal merger, all of a target company's legal obligations transfer to the buyer, including any contractual restrictions that might exist on sharing "Apprentice" footage.
But some major transactions are structured as asset sales, where the parties cut certain divisions or properties out of a deal, for example, to avoid transferring legal risks. Without knowing the details, it's impossible to say what Amazon could do with any Trump tapes it acquires, Talley said.
"It's conceivable to me...that an asset sale could wash some of this footage from various types of restrictions or contract obligations that just don't get assigned," he said. "On the other hand, that is just a possibility."
Amazon referred to its deal with MGM as a "definitive merger agreement" in its announcement, but the details aren't publicly available on the Securities and Exchange Commission's website yet.
It took a two-year court battle, a judicial order last year, an appeal, and a deal to reveal specific outtake footage from just two episodes purported to show Trump and his children making false claims about a video phone service.
On Tuesday night, comedian Stephen Colbert weighed in, saying "Holy Mother of DVD extras! The private footage of a TV billionaire is going to belong to an actual billionaire."
Colbert implied that Bezos' ongoing personal grudge with the former President motivated Amazon to pay a premium for the studio that has recently faced financial struggles, including bankruptcy. There's no evidence to support this theory.
"Soon Bezos could release the most racist thing in the MGM catalogue," Colbert said, "other than Gone With The Wind."
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