Starring as Himself, Donny Deutsch Trumps Donald

For his new show, Donny Deutsch—pictured in his New York home—knows that self-awareness sells. “If I wasn’t going to be the butt of the joke,” he says, “it wasn’t going to work.” Nicole Fara Silver for Newsweek

Meet Donald. A native of Queens and a graduate of Wharton, Donald now lives a posh life just off Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. Well over 50 years old, Donald has been married and divorced twice. He boasts an unnaturally thick mane for a man his age, and an even thicker wallet. While Donald has amassed vast sums of wealth in a previous career, he would be the first to admit that his father helped him get his start in the adult world.

Donald has already been the centerpiece of his own show in the NBC Universal ecosystem, but that apparently did not satiate his ego. He yearns for a grander stage. Oh, and he is well aware that having never met him, you probably think he is, well, kind of a jerk. "My entire life, from high school on," says Donald, who prefers to go by Donny, "if I had a dollar for every person I'd met who said, 'You're a lot nicer in real life,' I'd be a...."

His voice trails off. What? A multimillionaire?

Donny Deutsch, the star of the eponymously titled sitcom that premieres Tuesday (Donny!, USA, 10:30 p.m.), appreciates that he and a certain GOP front-runner have much in common. "I actually like Donald Trump, I used to be a tenant of his," Deutsch was saying on the eve of Trump's hosting of Saturday Night Live. "What he will do tomorrow is make total fun of himself. Donald is in on the joke."

As is Deutsch. Whatever recriminations you may hurl at the image that Deutsch has already projected in the media—narcissist, chauvinist, playboy—he and his showrunner, Angie Day, are one step ahead of you. Not five minutes into the pilot episode, his fictional executive producer, Pam (Emily Tarver), scrawls "Donny Douchebag" onto a legal pad as Deutsch drones on about himself.

What's the big idea, Donny Deutsch? How can we loathe you if we like you? "Self-aware is the highest compliment you can pay this show," says Deutsch, who truly is more likable in person. "If I wasn't going to put myself out there, be the butt of the joke, it wasn't going to work."

We are seated on the ground floor of Deutsch's five-story, modernist Upper East Side townhouse, which also serves as the primary set for his sitcom. Yes, that really is an original Keith Haring print alongside a Basquiat in the foyer. Deutsch is perfectly comfortable lampooning himself—he plays the most oblivious aging swinger since Austin Powers—as long as that Cialis-ad-ready physique appears in every scene.

"I've met so many people in the media who seem nice on-air," says Deutsch, who plays a B-list Dr. Phil–type character on Donny! "Off the air, though, some of them are jerks. I wanted to have some fun with that."

Deutsch has spent the past two years molding a quasi-reality show based loosely on his own existence, in the manner of Larry David's Curb Your Enthusiasm, Louis C.K.'s Louie or even, if you want to harken back a couple of decades, Jerry Seinfeld's Seinfeld. And while it may seem anathema to include his name alongside that colossal comic trio, Donny! is more charming, more self-deprecating than you might expect. Probably not unlike a first date with Deutsch, in many of which he has taken part (he has one with Christie Brinkley in the second episode). "I think Larry David is a comic genius, and I'm in awe of him," said Deutsch. "I've never met him other than to say hi to him at dinner once. I'm thrilled to even be compared to him."

Besides, let's face it, Deutsch is more telegenic than all three of them.

In Donny!, our titular protagonist is the center of the universe, orbited solely by a galaxy of strong female characters. Besides Pam, there are a trio of female assistants (Hailey Giles, Meera Rohit Kumbhani and Jessica Renee Russell, the last of whom truly sparkles), a tween daughter who is moody but not bratty (Fiona Robert) and a pouty Eastern European supermodel girlfriend (Tina Casciani), who may or may not be modeled after Trump's current wife, Melania.

"One of the premises of this show is that women rule," says Deutsch, who is seated next to his longtime publicist, Stephanie Jones. "I've always love to surround myself, professionally and personally, with women. They are not as much about ego."

Deutsch is aware that he exists in contrast to that feminist ideal, and he and showrunner Day exploit that theme. In the first two episodes, Deutsch appears topless more than once (the last male to prance around New York City so unabashedly proud of his shirtless self was King Kong). Is Deutsch lampooning his own vanity or is he using his show to collect more phone numbers? Perhaps a little of both.

"The thing about guys like Donny," says Day, "and this is what I tell my friends: You don't have to like him, but I love him."

For decades, Deutsch ran the advertising agency that his father, a former assistant creative director at McCann Erickson in the 1960s, launched in 1969. "My dad worked in the era of Mad Men and he basically had the same job as Don Draper," says Deutsch, whose father, David, passed away two years ago at the age of 84. "But he used to tell me it was nothing like that in real life."

Deutsch may share a given name and a kindred sense of ambition with Draper (Jon Hamm), but he relates more to Roger Sterling (John Slattery), the silver-haired rogue who happened to inherit his pop's business and then multiply its net worth exponentially. Roger eventually cashed out and ran away with Julia Ormond. Donny cashed out and, well...

The conversation returns to Deutsch's old friend, Donald Trump. Why does Deutsch believe the erstwhile boss of The Apprentice decided to make a serious run for the White House? "I think he woke up one day and thought, OK, I'm bored," says Deutsch. "Look at these assholes who are running. I could do that job better than they could."

And though Donny Deutsch does not come out and say it, well, if The Big Bang Theory is the No. 1 rated sitcom on television, he might as well make a run at them.