James Hibberd
January 13, 2016 AT 06:31 PM EST

What made NBC forgive Donald Trump? You can probably guess. 

Last summer NBC cut all business ties with the Republican presidential candidate amid a terse statement denouncing his “derogatory statements” and declaring that “respect and dignity for all people are cornerstones of our values.” Then, a few months later, Trump was hosting Saturday Night Live and guesting on The Tonight Show. So what changed? 

NBC’s entertainment chairman Robert Greenblatt and his executive team were pressed by reporters on the subject Wednesday morning at the Television Critics Association’s press tour in Pasadena. And to the Greenblatt’s credit, he candidly admitted they underestimated Trump. 

“I think what we said is we wanted to be out of business with him,” Greenblatt said. “We had a couple businesses that we were doing with him — Apprentice and the [Miss USA and Miss Universe] pageants. We got out of both of those businesses and that was July, when most of us thought he would be sort of waltzing into the background of the political arena. And lo and behold, he’s [now] the frontrunner. The poll numbers are astounding, and he’s everywhere. He’s on every news show, every morning show, every nightly show, every cable news show. He’s been on Colbert, he’s been on Fallon. He was on SNL and I think that reconciles quite easily with — we’re not in business with him, but he’s one of the most, love it or not, one of the most important political figures of our time, and he’s on our shows.

Added programming president Jennifer Salke: “Those shows have a responsibility to bring on relevant guests whether you love them or hate them, and they’re going for that — especially SNL.” 

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Added Greenblatt: “Is that ‘being in business’ with us? We book thousands of guests on shows year round … I don’t think the public was confused as much as the press and some special interest groups.” 

But then things got tense in the hotel ballroom when a critic pressed the network brass, noting said they ditched the candidate and reality star due to “recent derogatory statements … regarding immigrants.” So how has that changed?

“Well, I think that if we were in the business of never having anyone guest on the network that had views that disagreed with our views, we would be out of business,” Greenblatt said. “And I’ll go back to what I said before, whether we agree with him or not, he is in a very visible position in our electoral process coming up.”

When the reporter pressed the executives further on the matter, late night and alternative programming president Paul Telegdy tersely jumped in: “That doesn’t prevent you from booking someone who’s in the public eye on a news program or an entertainment program, if they’re either newsworthy or if you think they’re entertaining. Does that answer the Donald Trump question? It is as clear to us and as it is to the people who produce our news and our entertainment programs, what that division is.” 

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