Reality check for Burnett
'Survivor' creator's new projects for the tube already causing a stir
By HAL BOEDEKER
Knight Ridder Newspapers
LOS ANGELES - Don't call Mark Burnett the King of Hollywood. He doesn't buy it.
"That's pretty strong," the 44-year-old producer says. "Jerry Bruckheimer is the King of Hollywood," he says, referring to the mogul behind "CSI," "Without a Trace" and numerous big-screen blockbusters.
What about the King of Reality?
The tan, confident Burnett doesn't shy away from that title at a noisy network party. Standing next to his girlfriend, Roma Downey of "Touched by an Angel," Burnett launches into an explanation for his success.
"Choose the right projects. Don't spread too thin. All my projects now are really well-managed by the right people. And it would take something very, very serious for me to consider another project."
At the very least, Burnett is television's man of the moment. For next season, he will deliver the ninth and 10th editions of "Survivor" to CBS. He will make the second and third versions of "The Apprentice" for NBC.
He will produce a boxing show, "The Contender," that NBC is counting on to pound Fox's "American Idol." For CBS, Burnett will search for a singer who can live up to the title "Rock Star." Also for CBS, Burnett will enlist law-enforcement veterans to search for missing children in "Recovery."
All those shows are in the reality fold. The big question on Burnett's schedule is "Commando Nanny," a WB sitcom inspired by his own life. He moved from the British Army Parachute Regiment to child care when he arrived in California in 1982.
Two decades later, the buff Burnett is a soldier in the showbiz trenches, energetically promoting his programs. He's a master charmer, yet "Commando Nanny" could be beyond his skill. Many television critics, in Los Angeles to preview the fall lineup, found the sitcom insipid and unworthy of the genius behind "Survivor."
Network powerbrokers take a more generous view. After all, they want to be in business with Burnett.
"He's dependent on the writers. In reality, he isn't," says Les Moonves, who oversees CBS as co-president of Viacom. "But he is a good showman. He clearly has shown that. I wouldn't bet against him."
On the strength of "Survivor" and "The Apprentice," Moonves grades Burnett an A-plus producer. "The two hottest producers in prime time are Burnett and Bruckheimer," he says.
Burnett is so hot that his programs became a recurring theme of the 16-day TV critics tour. "The Apprentice" will be the vital piece holding together NBC's "Friends"-less Thursday lineup.
"It's the most valuable show there is," says Jeff Zucker, president of the NBC Universal Television Group. "We can charge more money for that show than any show on television."
That's because "The Apprentice" is tops among viewers in the 18-to-49 age group who make more than $75,000 a year, Zucker says. With 36 new hours of "The Apprentice" next season, Burnett will fill NBC's coffers.
Burnett is savvy. He knows when to turn on the showmanship and when to shut it off. In a session before critics on "The Apprentice," he plays mild-mannered sidekick to star Donald Trump.
Trump later says Burnett didn't meddle when it came to deciding which job applicant would hear, "You're fired!"
"He always said, 'You have to do the right thing,"' Trump says. "I think that's why the show became so successful, because of credibility."
NBC will keep the Burnett connection going with "The Contender." The setup: 16 boxers seek champion status and a $1 million prize.
Jeffrey Katzenberg, co-founder of DreamWorks, brought the idea to Burnett. The producer initially resisted, saying boxing was dead. Katzenberg persuaded him to do the show anyway.
Sylvester Stallone serves as host, and jokes that he will dismiss boxers with, "You're unconscious." Sugar Ray Leonard plays a boxing mentor in the show, which will debut in November.
"It's a great dream team to provide the audience," Burnett says. "I feel it's going to be very hard to creatively top the audience's experience of what we're about to provide."
KRT FILE PHOTO
Mark Burnett encourages the teams at the bilibili rafting put in during the 2002 Eco-Challenge in Fiji.http://www.timesleader.com/mld/timesleader/entertainment/9372851.htm
Posted on Fri, Aug. 13, 2004