August 16, 2022

For the Producer of ‘Survivor’ and ‘The Voice,’ There’s No Sitting Still

His entry into the crowded singing-competition genre, “The Voice” on NBC, is the most-talked-about hit of the season. Last week, it again dominated on Tuesday night, with more than 12 million total viewers and a 4.4 rating among the commercially crucial viewers ages 18 to 49. The finale this week could score the best rating of the season for an entertainment show.

“The Voice” has given Mr. Burnett a third cultural phenomenon, after “Survivor” on CBS, which changed the landscape of the medium 11 years ago, and “The Apprentice” on NBC, which seven years ago gave that network one of its few recent bursts of ratings success.

Both of those series are still pumping out new editions, and combined with “The Voice” and another Burnett production, “Shark Tank” on ABC, form a foursome that is coming back to prime time next season.

No other producer has more currently running prime-time series. Last Thursday, Mr. Burnett added yet another: an ABC reality effort called “Expedition Impossible” — a throwback to his earliest entry, “Eco-Challenge,” a race through forbidding terrain involving eclectic teams. “Expedition Impossible” easily won its time period in its first outing.

From the start, Mr. Burnett’s work has drawn diverse audiences, turning his programs into valuable commodities for the broadcast networks and helping to set him apart financially from other reality producers. As part of his deal-making on “Survivor” in 2000, CBS granted him a fee of just under $1 million an episode on future editions of that series; he has taken in more than $20 million a year on that show alone during the last decade.

Beginning with “Survivor,” Mr. Burnett also began interacting directly with advertisers, many of whom committed to his shows before they made it to television.

“It’s a blend of his unique advertiser relationships and business terms,” said Paul Telegdy, the top NBC executive in the reality area. “He is also uniquely adaptive and grasps that not every deal can be the same.”

In the past, reality producers have been paid in the same manner as other producers — or performers — taking a fee for services. Now, Mr. Telegdy said, Mr. Burnett and other prominent reality show producers often do not make straight fee arrangements, but instead form partnerships with a network or a studio to share profits in a show.

Network executives have not disclosed the financial terms of Mr. Burnett’s many deals. But Mr. Telegdy said, “Let’s just say he is the subject of frank and lively negotiations.”

He added, “Increasingly these deals look more like partnerships. So you don’t feel like you’re paying endless premiums. But you know what? If Mark Burnett walks in with a 100 percent undeniable project, you spend with confidence slightly larger sums than you would with other producers.”

One reason: few other television producers generate shows with such a range of appeal. Viewers for “The Apprentice” are concentrated in urban homes, have good incomes and include a high percentage of African-Americans. They are also younger than average for NBC.

“Survivor” is mainly a middle-of-the-country show, but does even better with affluent viewers, though with less appeal among black viewers. It also has a younger profile than most CBS shows.

Viewers for “The Voice” are especially young, with a median age of about 42, excellent for network television. Both “The Voice” and “The Apprentice” do far better with women than men.

Besides his continuing projects, Mr. Burnett produced four seasons of the boxing show “The Contender” and two seasons of a previous summer music competition, “Rock Star.” He was also involved in assorted reality concepts like MTV’s “Bully Beatdown” (martial arts fighters providing payback to bullies); the History channel’s “Expedition Africa” (adventurers retrace Stanley’s search for Livingstone); TNT’s “Wedding Day” (couples get a dream wedding); CBS’s “Pirate Master” (would-be pirates seek hidden treasure); and Fox’s “On the Lot” (a collaboration with Steven Spielberg that featured filmmakers competing in weekly elimination competitions to win a million-dollar development deal.)

Many of these shows came and went during the period between the first “Apprentice” in 2004 and “The Voice” this year.

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