The Success of “The Bible’s” Mark Burnett — Minus the Bible Stuff

Faith-filled viewers know Mark Burnett as one-half of the producing team — with Catholic wife Roma Downey — of “The Bible” and its spin-off “Son of God,” along with “A.D.: The Bible Continues,” “The Dovekeepers” and the recent remake of “Ben-Hur.” He and Downey also launched a family- and faith-friendly digital broadcast channel called Light TV (which we reported on here).

People say that Christians aren’t making it big in showbiz, but Burnett proves that isn’t necessarily so.

Of course, his success with faith-based entertainment is built upon decades of producing shows for the mainstream entertainment market. In large part, the credibility he built with shows from “Eco-Challenge” to “Survivor” to “The Apprentice” to “Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?” and “The Voice” allows Burnett to dabble in Bible tales without damaging his showbiz viability.

In fact, one reason that “A.D.: The Bible Continues” went to NBC instead of History Channel, like “The Bible” miniseries before it, was because NBC was in business with Burnett on “The Voice” and wanted to participate in his new venture.

Last week, entertainment trade publication Variety did an extensive portrait of Burnett, who’s currently president of MGM Television and Digital Group, and managed not to mention a word about his faith-based efforts.

But, it’s worth a read, if only to get a sense of how a former British paratrooper and nanny managed to build a showbiz empire. Read the whole thing here, but below find an excerpt:

Burnett has long been established as one of TV’s most formidable and innovative producers. But his career took a new turn 18 months ago when he was named president of MGM Television and Digital Group, after MGM acquired the remaining 45% interest in Burnett’s United Artists Media Group production venture with Hearst Corp. MGM’s total purchase price for Burnett’s banner was around $600 million.

The executive post at the studio was a surprise to the industry. Burnett had always been the maverick head of his own independent shingle, leaving him free to partner opportunistically with networks and studios as projects arose. Was TV’s ultimate entrepreneurial producer really ready to hang up his cargo shorts and IFB earpiece to sit behind a desk? Perish the thought.

Burnett has adapted the job of running a studio division to his own style, with the encouragement of MGM chairman-CEO Gary Barber. He’s typically in the MGM offices once or twice a week at most. He hasn’t given up his hands-on role as executive producer of NBC’s “The Voice” or ABC’s “Shark Tank,” among other shows. Burnett and his wife, actress-producer Roma Downey, travel frequently in connection with various productions and the couple’s many passion projects. And MGM TV’s president still doesn’t spend much time wearing suits.

Image: Courtesy Kate O’Hare

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