Ray Richmond is contributing to Deadline’s TCA coverage.
Reality TV megaproducer Mark Burnett may have caused a few eyes to widen this morning during a TCA panel promoting the new midseason CBS business competition series The Job (premiering February 8th) when he said at the outset of the discussion that the series “proves a kinder approach on television does work.” This, from the man who helped to pioneer the reality competition genre with the cutthroat Survivor, which launches its astonishing 26th cycle this year. “No one’s ripped down” in The Job, Burnett went on. “America doesn’t want to see people ripped down.” The Job gives candidates from around the country a chance to win positions at top companies. Hosted by Lisa Ling, each episode features a handful of candidates who endure several rounds of elimination challenges before a panel of executives while competing for their dream job. After the panel, Burnett was asked to elaborate on his “kinder, gentler” declaration and he maintained that the bigger point he was trying to make was that shows designed to make people look foolish — as American Idol helped turn into an art form — are simply no longer in vogue and helps explain the big success of programs like The Voice and Shark Tank. “I just don’t think that watching public humiliation is cool (anymore),” Burnett stressed. “In the past it worked very well, but there’s a wave of change. Humiliating people seems spiteful. And I think The Voice proved by being the Number 1 music show in America that you don’t have to do that. You can make good TV without that. The Job is great TV without making anybody look bad.” He also disagreed that Survivor is at its core a nasty show, despite its backstabbing and scheming alliances. “The whole premise is is that you get a million dollars if people want to give it to you. So if you screw people over relentlessly, you won’t get the million.”
Burnett also discussed his history with his fellow exec producer on The Job, Michael Davies, who produced Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? and famously rejected Survivor before it was picked up by CBS while he was in charge of ABC’s alternative programming. “Michael thought that only one million-dollar prize would work on television,” he said. “But we’ve stayed friends.” After the panel, he also addressed how he’s managed to remain on top as a reality producer since hitting the big time in 2000 with Survivor. Basically, he said, he’d good at figuring out how to work with good, smart people rather than fools. Burnett works to avoid the ignorant and the dangerous “because they don’t know what they don’t know. And when given the gift of primetime television, you have to treat every hour like it’s a hundred-million-dollar movie. When you (partner) with people who know what they’re doing, there’s a higher likelihood of success.” He also figures that’s why producers like he and Davies keep getting hired over and over. “Networks are nervous,” he emphasized, “and like to get insurance policies.” Burnett briefly addressed his own favorite shows as well. They include Dancing with the Stars, Extreme Makeover, Homeland, Game of Thrones, Big Bang Theory and How I Met Your Mother.