Mark Burnett Biography
Birth Name: Mark Burnett
Birth Place: Dagenham, England, GB
Birth Place: Dagenham, England, GB
Arguably one of the most successful and prolific figures in television programming history, Mark Burnett produced some of the most popular and ground-breaking reality series of the new millennium, including "Survivor" (CBS 2000- ), "The Apprentice" (NBC 2004- ), "Shark Tank" (NBC 2009- ) and "The Voice" (NBC 2011- ). Burnett's productions, which hinged on the concept of everyday people elevated to greatness through their own physical, mental and motivational talents, struck a chord with both viewers and television executives, who responded to the overwhelming ratings numbers and award nominations - over 95 in all - generated by his projects by shifting the focus of programming away from scripted dramas and comedies to reality television. Though not every one of Burnett's productions were met with the same degree of response - for every "Survivor," there were a host of also-rans or never-weres like "My Dad is Better Than Your Dad" (NBC 2008) or "Stars Earn Stripes" (NBC 2012) - his greatest successes slipped beyond the limits of hit television to become fixtures on the cultural landscape, equal parts entertainment and pop philosophy, and contributed to his inclusion in Time magazine's 100 Most Influential People List in 2004. His first effort at scripted television, the 10-part miniseries "The Bible" (The History Channel 2013), performed similarly well, and underscored Burnett's status as a television mogul with an unlimited Midas touch.
Born July 17, 1960 in London, England, Mark Burnett was the only child of Scottish Ford Motors factory workers Archie and Jean Burnett. Raised in the factory town of Dagenham, Burnett enrolled in the British Army at the age of 17 and became a Section Commander - the equivalent of a corporal in the American Armed Forces - in its 3rd Battalion, Parachute Regiment. He saw active duty in both Northern Ireland and the Falkland Islands before leaving the military in 1982. Unsure of his next career move, Burnett accepted a job as a military advisor in Central America. Though encouraged by his mother to turn down the position due to its high potential for danger, Burnett left the United Kingdom in 1982, but upon reaching Los Angeles at the halfway point of his trip, he had a change of heart and decided to remain in the United States. With the help of a friend, he found work as a live-in nanny in Malibu. From there, he embarked on a series of business ventures - first as an insurance salesman and then as a T-shirt vendor on Venice Beach - that proved successful enough for Burnett to launch his own marketing and advertising firm. By the early 1990s, he had become a millionaire.
In 1991, Burnett read about a French adventure competition called the Raid Gauloises, which pitted five-person teams from various countries against each other on a grueling two-week marathon of physical exertion across rugged and exotic terrain. Burnett struck upon the idea of launching a similar race in America, and underwent three consecutive Raid Gauloises between 1992 and 1994. By the following year, he began pitching his competition idea, which he called Eco-Challenge, to various networks. MTV broadcast the first "Eco-Challenge" (1995-2002) before the show transferred to ESPN and then the Discovery Channel, where it won a Sports Emmy for Best Program Achievement. The series then moved to the USA Network, where it earned another Emmy nod before coming to a close in 2002.
While working on "Eco-Challenge," Burnett purchased the rights to a Swedish reality series called "Expedition Robinson" (SVT/TV3/TV4, 1997- ), which deposited contestants on a remote location to test their survival and strategy skills. Burnett's version, titled "Survivor," found no takers on the major networks until 2000, when CBS aired the first season. It proved to be an immediate and overwhelming success, drawing some 50 million viewers to its final episode, in which Richard Hatch was named the winner of its million-dollar prize. "Survivor" would become not only one of the most successful reality series in television history, but also set the bar for the wave of competition and reality programming that followed in its wake.
"Survivor" remained Burnett's flagship franchise, netting two Emmys and a host of nominations. However, subsequent efforts did not match its unparalleled level of success, including "Boarding House: North Shore" (The WB 2003) and "The Restaurant" (NBC 2003), which followed celebrity chef Rocco DiSpirito's attempt to launch an eatery in New York City. But Burnett's next effort, "The Apprentice," returned him to the winner's circle. The series, which featured teams of business hopefuls who competed against each other for the top prize of working with real estate tycoon Donald Trump. The program was another unqualified success, spawning two spin-off series, "Celebrity Apprentice" and The Apprentice: Martha Stewart" (NBC 2005). As before, follow-up programs did not meet its level of success, most notably "On the Lot" (Fox 2007), a competition series produced with Steven Spielberg about aspiring filmmakers. But "The Contender" (NBC/ESPN/Versus 2005-08), a boxing competition series with Sylvester Stallone and Sugar Ray Leonard, and the light-hearted "Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader?" (Fox 2007-09), found small but devoted audiences.
Undaunted, Burnett continued to produce dozens of series while applying his brand of high-concept, high-energy television to existing franchises. Beginning in 2007, he served as director and/or producer for the MTV Movie Awards, and oversaw such long-running award series as the Emmy and People's Choice Awards. Burnett also stepped into the daily talk show ring with "Martha" (syndicated/Hallmark Channel 2005-2012), which earned two Emmys for Outstanding Lifestyle Program.. But his greatest achievements remained in the reality competition field. In 2009, he scored a huge hit with "Shark Tank" (ABC 2009- ), which introduced aspiring entrepreneurs to a panel of wealthy investors led by Mark Cuban. Two years later, he struck pay dirt again with "The Voice" (NBC 2011- ), a singing competition that quickly overwhelmed the venerable "American Idol" (Fox 2002- ) in both audience and critical response and took home the 2013 Emmy for Outstanding Reality Competition Program. While shepherding his vast empire, Burnett stepped into scripted programming with "The Bible" (The History Channel 2013), a ten-hour miniseries co-produced with his second wife, actress Roma Downey. Covering the text from the Book of Genesis to Revelation, "The Bible" was seen by over 100 million viewers over the course of its week-long run, but also generated controversy over allegations that Mehdi Ouazanni, the Moroccan actor who portrayed Satan in the project, bore a resemblance to President Barack Obama. Burnett and Downey denied the accusations, preferring instead to focus on its three Emmy nominations and a proposed edit of the project that would be release to theaters.