In Depth

The Icon: Mark Burnett

Producer and head of Mark Burnett Productions

The closest thing reality TV has to an Uncle Miltie, Mark Burnett was the first superstar of the current golden age of unscripted television. Nearly a decade after “Survivor” exploded, he remains a major force and an undisputed icon.

TVWeek’s Real Power

While not an in-front-of-the-camera figure like Simon Cowell, Mr. Burnett’s early emergence as the guru of competition-based reality shows allowed him to step out from behind the cloak of anonymity reserved for most producers. He quickly proved that he was no one-hit wonder. In 2004, he teamed with Donald Trump to launch “The Apprentice,” a game-changer that kept NBC in the Thursday night game for a few more years. He turned boxing into a reality show with “The Contender,” which didn’t last on NBC but has remained in production at both ESPN and Versus. His CBS series “Rock Star” was a cult favorite that lasted two seasons and was more successful than most “American Idol” clones. He moved into syndication with “Martha” and teamed up with Zoo Productions for the successful Fox game show “Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?”

Mr. Burnett’s most significant contribution to reality TV, however, has been the skill with which he’s made product placement and ancillary revenue streams key aspects of most of his shows. He doesn’t just produce shows. He creates businesses.

Favorite shows not involved with: In May, Mr. Burnett told RealityWanted.com he’s a fan of “American Idol,” “Dancing With the Stars” and “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.”