In the past, when Mark Burnett was going from success to success with shows like Survivor and The Apprentice, he wasn’t just a reality-TV contender, he was the genre’s heavyweight champ, the rock star of unscripted shows. Ratings roared, and marketers paid fortunes for “branded integration” on his shows. Then came The Contender and Rock Star: INXS. Those less-than-brilliantly performing shows brought out industry critics, whose toes might have been smarting from past encounters with the reality Bigfoot. Burnett got his comeuppance, they crow privately, and the Burnett brand can’t be relied on anymore to deliver the value to advertisers that it has in the past.
Burnett is having none of it. “When anybody is on top, it just becomes sport to try and knock them off. That’s all it is,” he says. “You have to take the ups and downs. When you get patted on the back so many times, it would be childish to take it personally when it goes the other way.”
He is dismissive of the idea that product placements on his shows that didn’t perform up to expectations were bad deals. “The fact of the matter is, everyone got treated right. You’ll see how many return to The Contender. ... We are one of the very few companies where the quality is guaranteed, more than just ratings.”
There’s a lot riding on his upcoming projects with Martha Stewart, but Burnett is already looking beyond them. “I’ve been doing this longer than anybody,” he says, vowing to still be in the reality
business 20 years from now. That comes out to, what, Survivor #127?