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Mark Burnett, Keeping It Real

The Mastermind: A peek behind the reality TV curtain with 'Survivor' creator Mark Burnett
The Mastermind: A peek behind the reality TV curtain with 'Survivor' creator Mark Burnett (Jonathan Alcorn for The Washington Post)

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By Marc D. Allan
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, July 27, 2008

Mark Burnett expects the first line of his obituary to read: Found the American Dream.

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Not the mastermind behind "Survivor," "Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?" and "The Apprentice." Not the man who made reality TV a staple of American network programming.

"Think about it," the British-born Burnett said. "I came here with 200 bucks, no education, and was given a chance because, in America, everyone gets a chance."

Burnett's latest endeavor is "Jingles," an hour-long series in which eight teams vie to create the best ditties for commercials. The winners get $100,000 and, perhaps, jobs with an advertising agency. The weekly-elimination talent contest is set to premiere on CBS later this year.

TV Week recently spoke to Burnett about the upcoming series, his legacy and how he'd fare as a contestant on one of his biggest hits.

I had to laugh hearing the "Survivor" music while I was on hold.

That's so funny, because I'm not on hold that much. So I forget it's there. But I'm so happy that exists. That show has been so great for this company [Mark Burnett Productions]. It's hard to believe we're about to shoot Season 17 and we're prepping 18. Who would believe there would be 18 seasons of "Survivor"?

True. The lifespan for unscripted shows can be pretty short.

I'm very lucky. . . . Through this year, we will have shot "Survivor" 18, and in a few months we'll have shot "Apprentice" 8. "Martha Stewart," my daytime show, is ordered for Season 4. We just did "The Contender" Season 4, the boxing show, and "Are You Smarter?" Season 3. In a world that seems to be transient, we've done quite well.

Tell me about "Jingles."

We can all remember [he sings]: "Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there." "Rice-A-Roni, the San Francisco treat." "Folgers in your cup." "I don't want to grow up, I'm a Toys 'R' Us kid." These are all incredible jingles. Well, here's a show with eight teams and a sponsor. The sponsor will come in and present -- "Here is what we're looking for, here is what this product stands for. Go out there and create a jingle that would be the sound of this campaign."

For all your shows: Do you come up with the ideas, or do people pitch you?


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