If you recognize names like “The Voice,” “Survivor” and “Shark Tank,” you’re already familiar with Mark Burnett. This producer and show creator is the man behind some of the biggest and most successful reality TV shows in history. Burnett just added another award to his mantle at the 2015 Emmys when “The Voice,” which he is the executive producer of, won outstanding reality competition program. This was the show’s second Emmy win in this category, but the eighth Emmy win for Burnett.
This successful multimillionaire’s award-winning career has also earned him a net worth of close to half a billion dollars, reported Forbes. Burnett earned $86 million from June 2013 to June 2014 alone; during the four years before that, his earnings added up to $249 million.
So, what does it take to become so successful in the reality TV show business? Here’s a look at the seven biggest successes that Burnett has helped create and produce, from “The Voice” to “Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?”
1. ‘The Voice’
This reality show is a giant of prime-time TV, airing Mondays and Tuesdays at 8 p.m. Hosted by Carson Daly, this singing competition pulls in some of today’s hottest music artists to act as coaches on “The Voice.” From Adam Levine, Gwen Stefani, and Cee Lo Green to Blake Shelton, Christina Aguilera, and Pharrell Williams, this hit show features some of the biggest names in the music industry. The strength of this star power combined with the compelling blind-audition format of the show has made it an audience favorite.
Backstage after the Emmys, Burnett stated that he thinks the feel-good tone of the show has helped it resonate with a wide audience.”Times have changed,” he said according to Entertainment Weekly. “‘The Voice’ is kinder, and the coaches get so personally invested in these people.”
This popularity easily translates into impressive ad revenues for the show. On Mondays, only “The Big Bang Theory” has a higher average ad rate, with $344,827 per 30-second spot, compared to the $274,157 average ad rate “The Voice” charges during the same time, according to Ad Age’s survey TV commercial pricing for the 2014-2015 season. “The Voice” commands the highest ad rate in its Tuesday slot, however, earning $274,157 on average for each 30-second ad.
Since its debut in 2000, “Survivor” has proven to be a juggernaut franchise for both Mark Burnett and CBS, which owns the show. Pitting tough-as-nails contestants against each other in a remote location, “Survivor” promises a $1 million reward for the cast member who can “outwit, outplay, outlast” all others.
Hosted by Jeff Probst, “Survivor” introduced a game-changing format of competition reality TV, a feat that earned the show, and Burnett, the 2001 Emmy for outstanding non-fiction program (special class). And the show has persisted through 15 years of two cycles each, with its 31st season premiering in September 2015.
“What’s amazing now is the amount of families that are watching this, and the kids have only started watching in the past few years,” said Burnett in an interview with Entertainment Weekly for the show’s 15th anniversary.
Part of that is the high ad revenue “Survivor” continues to bring in for CBS, charging $134,358 on average for each 30-second spot during the 2014-2015 season. This rate puts “Survivor” in the top-earning spot of its Wednesday, 8 p.m., slot, barely edging out ABC’s “The Middle,” which averaged $133,425 for a 30-second spot. Overall, “Survivor” has maintained a consistent and strong audience and proved it deserves a spot as a staple of prime-time TV.
3. ‘Shark Tank’
In “Shark Tank,” multimillionaire investors like Mark Cuban, Kevin O’Leary, Robert Herjavec, Daymond John, Barbara Corcoran and Lori Greiner hear pitches from small-business owners looking for funding. The investors can choose to invest in businesses that impress or reject offers altogether.
Unlike “Survivor,” the success of ABC’s “Shark Tank” was more of a slow burn than an overnight phenomenon. As executive producer, Burnett helped adapt the format created by a successful Japanese show “Dragon’s Den” to a U.S. audience,and gave it an updated name. The show’s ratings were lower in the first few seasons, but Burnett expected that. Slowly but surely, the show gained viewers.
“It was always what ABC and myself thought would happen,” Burnett told The Hollywood Reporter.
Adding celebrity entrepreneur Mark Cuban to the group of Sharks during the third season helped it gain further traction, and by 2013, “Shark Tank” earned $147 million in ad revenue for the year. Now, the show rules the ratings on Friday evenings. It brought in an average of $109,878 per 30-second spot during the 2014-15 season, according to Ad Age. “Shark Tank” also took home an award during the 2015 Emmys for outstanding structured reality program, making this the second year in a row that the show won this category.
4. ‘The Apprentice’
Burnett created “The Apprentice,” a competition that pitted business people against each other to earn a lucrative $250,000 contract to work for celebrity real estate mogul and billionaire Donald Trump. With the big personality of Trump heading the franchise and Burnett producing the show, “The Apprentice” became a much-needed success for NBC and continued to be successful through seven seasons.
In the 2010 season of “The Apprentice,” the show was still a decent moneymaker for NBC, bringing in an average of $99,074 per 30-second spot in its timeslot of 10 p.m. on Thursdays, reported Ad Age. This is a solid ad rate for the show, but it still fell behind shows on other networks that aired at the same time, like CBS’s “The Mentalist,” which commanded an average of $156,001 for a 30-second ad.
5. ‘Celebrity Apprentice’
After six seasons of “The Apprentice,” Burnett saw an opportunity to update its format and create a wider appeal. Instead of having businessmen and women compete for a job, stars and celebrities would face off in similar business challenges to earn cash for charities of their choosing. This was how “Celebrity Apprentice,” also on NBC, was born.
The fresh take on the competition helped breathe new life into the franchise and brought viewers back for more. The show’s most recent season continued to bring in decent ad revenue, with rates averaging at $64,900 per 30-second spot, according to Variety. The recent fallout between NBC and Donald Trump, however, meant that Burnett was set with the task of finding a new face for “Celebrity Apprentice.”
“It’s such a great franchise on NBC and clearly a change had to be made,” Burnett told showbiz news outlet Deadline.
Arnold Schwarzenegger was announced to be the new host of “Celebrity Apprentice,” with a new season set to premiere during the 2016-2017 season. Having a new, popular celebrity like Schwarzenegger could give the show a boost in ratings and earnings alike. “Arnold is a lot of fun, he loves the show and he’s really engaged in a huge way,” said Burnett.
6. ‘The Bible’
Airing on The History Channel, Burnett’s 10-episode miniseries drew in shockingly huge numbers. The finale of “The Bible” even beat out ratings for the heavy-hitting shows like “Game of Thrones” and “The Walking Dead.”
Burnett used the success of the series to create more opportunities. Pulling scenes from “The Bible” that focused on the life of Jesus Christ, Burnett created the feature film “Son of God,” which went on to gross $60 million domestically. “The Bible” also paved the way for a multimillion-dollar deal with a major network, NBC, for Burnett to produce the series “A.D. The Bible Continues,” which premiered on Easter Sunday in 2015.
As a religious program outside a major network, many people were shocked to see the series pulling in an average of 10 million viewers each week — though Burnett wasn’t surprised. “This nation was built under the Bible and free enterprise,” Burnett told Forbes, adding that as a producer, he understands what appeals to “middle-of-the-country” audiences. “I think we understand our viewers.”
7. ‘Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?’
Yet another hit among Burnett’s creations is “Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?” The show challenges adults to answer grade-school questions to win the competition. Hosted by comedian Jeff Foxworthy, the show premiered in 2007 with decent success, earning ad revenue at a rate of $105,000 per 30-second spot, according to Ad Age.
This rate dipped significantly to $59,900 by the show’s second season. The show aired on Fox from 2007 to 2011, but recently returned to Fox as part of its summer lineup.
“You bring in these super-smart contestants, some of them went to law school or great universities, lawyers, and they cannot answer first, second, third, fourth, or fifth grade,” Burnett told Examiner about the show’s return. “It’s an amazing show, because what it does, it makes the kids feel empowered. It raises up kids, and that’s what happened for years on television with this, and it’s coming back.”