Mark Burnett Talks ‘Survivor’ and ‘Wedding Day’


An official Reality TV Hall of Fame doesn’t exist at this time, but when it does, the first-ballot inductee would have to be Mark Burnett. Alongside exhibits such as Pedro Zamora’s peanut butter jar and Ryan Seacrest’s hair products you’d be sure to find a special section (or perhaps even a wing) for Burnett’s reality juggernauts such as “Survivor,” and “The Apprentice.”

We had a chance to talk to this reality pioneer about his new show “Wedding Day,” which celebrity he’d love to see step into “The Contender” ring, as well as a few interesting future locations for “Survivor.”

Gordon Holmes: As a former paratrooper and the man behind such grueling shows as “Eco-Challenge” and “Survivor,” what drew you to the “Wedding Day” concept?
Mark Burnett: Well it was first brought to my attention by (Executive Vice President, Head of Programming for TBS, TNT, and TCM) Michael Wright, and I had the same question. I said, “Wow, that’s new for me. I’m not sure I’d be good at it.” And once I got into the casting and saw the stories, it became clear to me how important this show is. We’ve all seen the big celebrity wedding shows and they’re all tearing people down, they’re showing the bad behavior of brides. This show is of the times. The country is going through turmoil, people are struggling, and on this show people who have given so much through their jobs as cops, military, teachers, or are currently doing charity work, and can’t afford a great wedding for themselves. So, here’s a show where we’re rewarding them. Here we have a show where good deeds are rewarded. We tell some amazing stories, and it really kind of brings you up.

Holmes: Do you receive more of a sense of personal fulfillment from a show like this then with standard reality fare?
Burnett: I think “Survivor” is very uplifting.
Holmes: I wouldn’t disagree with that.
Burnett: In “Survivor” to get the million dollars, the people you got rid of still have to like you enough to give you the money. I’m not doing any shows that I don’t like. Everything I do has an uplifting, positive approach.

Holmes: Now this is TNT’s first unscripted drama. Why do you think they took the leap with “Wedding Day?”
Burnett: Michael Wright is really smart. It has a couple of things going for it. It’s relatable to the core TNT audience. He got me to make it, which will assure it quality, and it’s a great way to take your first steps down the unscripted drama path.

Holmes: “Survivor” just finished up its 18th season. What do you see in the future for that franchise?
Burnett: On the last Thursday, “Survivor” beat “CSI.” “Survivor” is untouchable on Thursdays at eight. Everything that’s thrown at it, they don’t come close. If a show stays on, it stays on. “America’s Most Wanted” has been on for 20 years, there’s no reason “Survivor” won’t be on for 20 years.
Holmes: Any dream locations you’d like to see the show tackle?
Burnett: Papau New Guinea, there’s a tropical island in Japan I’ve been looking at. I’d like to do “Survivor” in Vietnam. The world is so great, there’s so much out there. And, I’m really still having a great time making it.

Holmes: “Celebrity Apprentice” came to a much-talked-about finish recently. What are your thoughts on the Joan Rivers vs. Annie Duke feud that was going on?
Burnett: They’re both great people, very different people. Both very smart, and between them they raised a ton of money for charity. And it was completely Donald Trump’s choice.
Holmes: Maybe if you had a “Celebrity Contender” the two of them could duke it out.
Burnett: I’d love to do a “Celebrity Contender.” Oh my gosh, I’d have such fun with that. There are so many people I’d love to see in the ring together!
Holmes: Now if you use that I get some credit.
Burnett: I’d also like to see “The Contender” with certain journalists.
Holmes: Are you talking about me particularly? Cause that’s rude…
Burnett: (Laughs) No, I’m not talking about you. But certain journalists…
Holmes: What celebrity do you think would fare the best in a boxing ring?
Burnett: Someone like Jose Canseco.
Holmes: He’s got the experience now.
Burnett: He’s also someone who’s very controversial.
Holmes: You could do some cross promotion and get Jeff Probst vs. Donald Trump.
Burnett: (Laughs) That would be funny.

Holmes: Now back to “The Apprentice,” do you think after the success of “Celebrity Apprentice” it’d be possible to go back and do a season with unknown contestants?
Burnett: Yes, I do and probably will. The format is a great format, it works.

Holmes: I assume just being who you are, everybody you talk to has some kind of reality show pitch for you. Now, aside from my pitch “Celebrity Contender,” which is brilliant, what are those pitches missing?
Burnett: You can imagine it never stops. Some people think because there’s no script, you just turn the cameras on. But, that’s not the case at all. There’s a reason “Survivor” has run twenty seasons. There’s a reason “The Apprentice” has run eight seasons.
Holmes: Not to gush, but your shows do seem to set a much higher standard than some of the other reality fare out there.
Burnett: And I’m not going to change it. I’d rather not do it. And if you look at “Wedding Day” the quality is there too.

“Wedding Day” premieres Tuesday, June 16, 2009 at 8 p.m. ET on TNT.

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