Emmy winning producer Mark Burnett has created thousands of hours of television programming airing in more than 70 countries worldwide. He is one of the very few producers to have a renewed series on each of the four major networks. Adding to his list of impressive career credits, this spring he and his actress wife Roma Downey produced the 10-hour History Channel miniseries The Bible to critical acclaim and colossal ratings.
Burnett and I had a long personal chat recently at the NBC Summer Press Day gathering at the Langham Huntington Hotel in Pasadena. He was there to promote the network’s ratings juggernaut The Voice, but there was a lot more to talk about.
Airing Mondays and Tuesdays on NBC, The Voice is a talent show that has four stages of competition. The first begins with blind auditions, with the spotlight on the strongest vocalists from across the country competing to be selected by the panel of judges based solely on their voice. The second stage features the battle rounds; the third stage has eliminations; and finally, the exciting live performance shows. In the end, one talented performer will be named “The Voice” and will receive the grand prize of a recording contract.
Burnett has had success with other contest/reality shows. His current network series include The Celebrity Apprentice on NBC, Survivor on CBS, and Shark Tank on ABC. It’s a stellar stable of successful competition shows.
Easily the king of the genre, Burnett admitted, “In the end, it doesn’t matter whether it’s scripted or unscripted, drama or comedy. It just matters it’s good. That’s the truth about television. People can tell the difference between TV that’s good and TV that’s average, and if it’s really bad. All I’m trying to do is being focused on things that I like, and I love this show. We’ve all become good friends, and it’s good fun. We just have a lot of fun doing this.”
All that was evident when watching Burnett with his judges/ coaches from The Voice: Adam Levine, Blake Shelton, Usher, and Shakira, along with host Carson Daly and social media correspondent Christina Milian. During the interview session with the panel there was so much joking and teasing going on, it seemed like the bunch of friends were kindergarten kids having a party. That plain old fun atmosphere we saw when the cameras aren’t rolling is the same genuine camaraderie they have when doing the show.
“It’s authentic. It’s real. They are having fun, and that’s what comes through on the screen,” Burnett said proudly, adding that you can’t fake that kind of chemistry. “It’s a feel-good show, and if you look at The Voice, you see it has clearly been claimed by young America. It’s young America’s show. It’s fresh. The music is current. The coaches are all current superstars. So this is not their day job. Their day job is touring, making music. Everybody knows it’s fresh, it’s now, and people just love it. Whether I’m traveling around and I’m in an airport or at a hotel or wherever, people come up to me off the street all the time and say, ‘I just love The Voice. I just love watching it.’ It’s a feel-good feeling for someone who has been at work all day and comes home and puts the show on. And people watch this in real time.”
The London-born Burnett served in the British Army, and when he emigrated to the U.S. he got jobs as a chauffeur and a nanny. After participating in an adventure competition, he launched his production career with the cable show Eco-Challenge, a grueling cross-terrain race under the most unforgiving conditions. The rest is TV history.
We talked about his past, but mostly traded stories about his wonderful wife, The Touched by an Angel star, who came to my assistance the last time I saw her. “That’s who she really is, as a person,” he praised Roma.
Burnett has been inducted into the Broadcasting & Cable Hall of Fame, and has his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He has numerous awards and is destined to add to them with his future projects. That’s sure to include more competition and awards shows (he has produced the Emmys and People’s Choice Awards), plus a follow up related to the Bible.