Reality guru maps road to ‘Recovery’

Eye has pilot in hand, considering show for fall 2004 sked

HOLLYOOD — Mark Burnett is looking to launch a reality show with the most dramatic endgame yet: Rescuing kidnapped children.

Unscripted supremo has wrapped production on a pilot for “Recovery,” a CBS hour which follows a team of military and law enforcement vets — led by ex-CIA operative Bazzel Baz — as they attempt to find stolen children and reunite them with their parents. Project has been in the works for 18 months, but has been kept under wraps so as to not endanger the secret rescue missions conducted for the pilot.

Eye has the pilot in hand and will consider the show for its fall 2004 lineup.

“It’s been the most amazing journey you can imagine,” Burnett said of his experience working on the pilot. “There’s nothing bigger than this. It’s more than just television.”

Thousands of children go missing each year in America, and “Recovery” stems from Burnett’s belief that law enforcement doesn’t have the means to adequately follow each abduction. “They’re tied up with terrorism and war right now, and there’s only so much they can do,” he said.

Baz has been quietly leading volunteer rescue missions for years. Burnett has commando experience in Northern Ireland and the Falklands, and knows many of the players involved in such missions.

Both men started talking about ideas for shows a couple years ago when the idea came up for a skein devoted to rescuing missing kids.

“The show is like ‘Without a Trace,’ but it’s with a kid who really has been taken,” Burnett said, noting that each episode will follow one or two cases.

In addition to Baz, skein features an ex-Scotland Yard detective, a former Secret Service officer, a former S.W.A.T officer and an analyst.

Burnett’s previous hits — “Survivor,” “The Apprentice,” “The Restaurant” — went straight to series. CBS only made a pilot commitment to “Recovery,” and is still mulling whether to go to series.

“I’m an impatient guy, and it’s been a very unique experience going through the pilot process when I’m used to getting series orders,” he said. “CBS has such a strong lineup, getting on the air is hard. Who knows if it’ll get picked up?”

He said he’s “waiting to see what happens,” but if CBS doesn’t pick it up, Burnett still hopes to remain involved in rescuing children. “Maybe there’s a way corporate sponsorship could be used to find a way to start an organization to do this,” he said.

Whatever the fate of “Recovery,” Burnett has one of the busiest unscripted slates in town. In addition to more seasons of “The Apprentice” and “Survivor,” he’s working on “The Contender” for NBC and “The Casino” for Fox.

What’s more, there’s already strong early buzz surrounding next month’s season two premiere of “The Restaurant,” which Burnett exec produces with Ben Silverman.

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