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Republican National Convention Parallels Reality Television


Here something we're reminded of this week - Donald Trump is not only a presidential candidate. He's also a former reality TV star. He hosted "The Apprentice" for 14 seasons. And as NPR TV critic Eric Deggans says, that experience seems to be filtering its way into the Republican National Convention, right, Eric?

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: That's right, Audie. In fact, here's exhibit A. Why wait for the final night to take the stage like past candidates?


QUEEN: (Singing) We are the champions.

DEGGANS: Trump made a dramatic entrance to a Queen song on the very first night to introduce his wife Melania.

CORNISH: And, of course, we know that speech took on a life of its own.


MELANIA TRUMP: From a young age, my parents impressed on me the values that you work hard for what you want in life, that your word is your bond.

DEGGANS: And before that, a bunch of reality TV stars took the convention stage, including Scott Baio.


SCOTT BAIO: Let's make America great again, but let's make America America again.

DEGGANS: And don't forget the unplanned dramatic moments, like Never Trump delegates shouting from the convention floor on national television.


DEGGANS: And, Audie, there's more.

CORNISH: All right. All right. All right. I want to take some time to actually talk to you about all of this because a lot of people are drawing this parallel between the convention and reality television. Is that hyperbole?

DEGGANS: You know, I don't think it is. What's interesting here is that Donald Trump has always been known as a reality TV star. And then when he started a campaign, he was seen as the reality TV candidate. And now he's presented a convention that's a lot like reality TV. We don't have the established stars from the GOP. They've mostly stayed away. Instead, we've got these B- and C-list stars from actual reality TV, like Scott Baio and Antonio Sabato, Jr., and the guy from "Duck Dynasty."

And we have this convention which is supposed to be the slick infomercial for the candidate. And instead, it's been upended by these unexpected controversies, whether it's the controversy over Melania Trump's speech or Ted Cruz on Wednesday deciding not to endorse Donald Trump in a showcase speech. This is the kind of stuff that happens on reality TV, where you expect it to go one way, but unexpectedly, it takes a dramatic turn in a different way. And this is something that we've seen unfold on our TV screens now as part of this convention.

CORNISH: All right, but how much control do we really think that Donald Trump has - that his campaign has - over what's going on here?

DEGGANS: Well, I think that's the ultimate question here. I mean, when you're watching these shows as a TV viewer, you have a sense that you want to see some kind of narrative that's being presented to you. But it seems during this convention that it's constantly being upended. These moments that they didn't quite plan for kind of erupt, and then you have to sort of deal with them. There's a sense that these guys don't necessarily put together a plan that's working as smoothly as it could have.

CORNISH: What about the ratings? Are people actually tuning in this year more than they have to pass conventions?

DEGGANS: Well, Nielsen sent over some ratings figures. And for example, if you look at Tuesday's ratings, about 19.8 million people watched the coverage over the top the three broadcast networks - ABC, CBS, NBC - and also the top cable news channels. And that's down from 2012, when we had more like 21 million people watching.

But the thing that's quirky about the numbers is that the numbers this year don't include PBS. And the convention was delayed because of a hurricane that came near Florida and forced them to move the convention and cancel the first day on Monday. So it's hard to compare the two years and the convention coverage because it's so different for so many different reasons.

CORNISH: Before I let you go, Eric, I want your review. Is this actually good television?

DEGGANS: Well, you know, it's interesting. I think it's train wreck television in a way, and I'm not sure that's the kind of television they wanted to present. But I also think it's compelling to people who've been following this story because in a way, it's the story of how Donald Trump's campaign has unfolded. And when you look at the coverage of it, the cable news channels and the networks have these bevies of pundits that are ready to dissect every moment the minute that it happens. And you're told how to feel about something almost from the minute that you see it, and I think it also alters the coverage. So it's compelling as a train wreck, not necessarily compelling as well-crafted television.

CORNISH: That's NPR TV critic Eric Deggans. And, Eric, thanks so much.

DEGGANS: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Eric Deggans is NPR's first full-time TV critic.