Q&A: Mark Burnett
Mark Burnett, the Emmy-winning producer of such reality shows as"Survivor," "The Apprentice" and "Are You Smarter Than a 5thGrader?" is at it again. His latest venture, ABC's "Shark Tank,"premieres Aug. 9 and offers entrepreneurs the chance to have theirproducts become reality, if they can convince a panel of real-lifebusiness moguls -- the sharks -- to part with their money.
Speaking to THR's James Hibberd from an undisclosed location in theSouth Pacific where the 19th season of "Survivor" is being filmed,Burnett chatted about his new series, the need to change Emmy rulesand the iconic show he calls "part 'Swiss Family Robinson,' 'CastAway' and 'Lord of the Flies.' "
THR: You executive produced the recent MTV Awards. Inretrospect, was the Bruno stunt a good idea?
Burnett: The Bruno and Eminem moment was great. It's MTV.You're allowed to take risks. You're allowed to have fun. I had noidea what Sacha (Baron Cohen) was actually going to do. He's thenext Charlie Chaplin in some ways. He really is a clown and agenius but that means he's on a different planet. No matter what hemight say to you ... it could be very, very different. We buckledour seatbelts. We were on this wild ride and we didn't know if wewere going to crash or if we were going to (succeed). Theadrenaline was insane.
THR: Do you think it's significant that"Shark Tank" is the only new reality show that has made it to thefall broadcast TV schedule?
Mark Burnett: "Shark Tank" is an extremely high-quality(show). The people at ABC and Disney love it. It feels like (it)belongs up there with great dramas. (The contestants) are high anddry. They've got great ideas or existing small businesses that theycan't take to the next level. At the same time these wealthyinvestors are looking to invest. It really is that goldenopportunity -- and maybe the last opportunity -- for some of thesepeople, so you really can feel the genuine tension and drama in theair.
THR: Reality shows used to be consideredcounter-programming. On the fall schedule, if nothing changes,there will be three reality shows, including "Shark Tank," on atthe same time. Does that worry you at all?
Burnett: If you can't play in the big leagues then you canonly make it when you play against weak opposition. You're nevergoing to win the championship. Two or more shows can make it in thesame time slot. I'm not frightened by it. Only a weak person wouldbe not willing to go forward unless it was easy.
THR: Now that the season is over, do you prefer "TheApprentice" as a one-hour show or would you rather NBC continuedstretching it to two hours next season?
Burnett: I loved the two-hour "Apprentice." Everywhere Iwent during "Apprentice," people came up to me and were soopinionated about everything from Dennis Rodman, Joan and MelissaRivers ... it went on and on and on. That's when I knew we hadlightening. No one ever said to me "it felt too long." We have agreat team and we're fully ready to continue with the two-hourformat.
THR: There were some discussions at NBC about whether or notthe show would return to the "everyday people" format next seasonor continue with a celebrity cast.
Burnett: I think we could do both. I don't think that we'djust go and do a regular one but I think we could alternate seasonswith it. There's certainly a real place there for finding peoplewho've lost jobs but who are really smart and driven -- it's just abad economy -- and that would be a good thematic season: givingpeople another chance. On the other hand, "Celebrity Apprentice"has done so well, there's no way we're going to move off that rightnow. Only a fool would chance success.
THR: I've heard you're considering something special for the20th season of "Survivor," like an all-star version with some sortof format change.
Burnett: There's so much being discussed. No decisions havebeen made. Clearly it's 10 years (and) 20 seasons. We'll dosomething really cool but we certainly won't be making any bigformat changes.
THR: There are a lot of different reality shows coming upsuch as "More to Love," "Crash Course," "Undercover Boss" and"Somebody's Gotta Go." Are there any that you think are good ideasor stand a chance at success?
Burnett: I think "More to Love" has a really big chancebecause most of the population are not cover girls or male models,therefore it's relatable. Everybody deserves love, everybodydeserves a chance. I wish I'd thought of it. It takes some elementsof "The Biggest Loser," some elements of "The Bachelor" and mergesthem. You can never underestimate Mike Darnell.
THR: What's your favorite reality show to watch -- that'snot one of your own?
Burnett: "American Idol." I've got three kids and it's agreat shared family viewing experience. I'm sure it's why"Survivor" is so successful. "Survivor" is also a great sharedfamily viewing experience. You won't see on "Survivor" unnecessarynudity or certain language choices.
THR: The Emmy nominations are coming up. Which reality showdeserves to win?
Burnett: I do feel that the reality category needs to beexpanded. I understand why they don't because despite the fact thatmore viewers watch reality, there are no actual stars and they'reconcerned about the TV broadcast having star-quality red-carpetstars. But, actually half of the top 10 shows on television arereality series. I feel that lumping a talent show like "AmericanIdol" in with an adventure/competition show like "Survivor" -- andeven with something like "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition," whichhas got no elimination, just an hour of really cool, dramatic,heartwarming TV -- it's almost the same as putting a sportsprogram, a comedy and a drama in the same category.
THR: Is it true you're selling your company?
Burnett: No! I'm happily making television and a lot ofpeople say a lot of things, you know. I'm happy puddling alongmaking good television. If the right opportunity came along toacquire the right companies or do something really exciting andinteresting that complements what I'm doing then I would totallyconsider it, but nothing right now.
THR: You're the first reality producer to get a star on theWalk of Fame.
Burnett: It really is a very big thing because (the star)lives on, on that street that my grandchildren can be taken to seeway after I'm dead and gone. I came to this country, worked hardand the American dream came true. That star in the pavement (is theproof).