Reality producer helps former VP candidate pitch series
Five years ago, Mark Burnett helped rehab Martha Stewart’s image and turn the polarizing jailbird into a mainstream star.Before that, Burnett took Donald Trump, the man people loved to hate, and turned him into a popular TV icon. Now, Burnett apparently has similar designs on Sarah Palin. Burnett and Palin spent the week pitching a documentary-style series about Alaska to network execs. Unless that show features Palin killing a grizzly with her bare hands (and who knows, maybe it does), it isn’t destined for primetime. But for Burnett, lining up with Palin has less to do with this specific project than about just being in the Palin business. As “Survivor” and “The Apprentice” age, and “The Martha Stewart Show” exits syndication for Hallmark Channel (without Burnett’s involvement), the reality uberproducer could use a new, huge hit. One exec noted that Burnett had benefited greatly from his Stewart relationship, and he may be following that playbook with Palin. Palin may see Burnett as a means to generate a more mainstream fanbase given his extreme image makeovers of Trump and Stewart. But after a week of meetings at ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox (along with two other nets), how serious is a Palin Primetime Extravaganza? The show Palin, Burnett and Palin attorney Robert Barnett are pitching centers on the people, geography, wildlife and wonders of Alaska — it’s not a reality show and it’s not about her family. The pitch alone wouldn’t have made it past a network switchboard operator. But this is Palin, and even if she were pitching a cooking show starring first dude Todd Palin, network execs would take the meeting. Reps and producers frequently trot out big-name newsmakers for meet-and-greets. And net execs gladly take those meetings, if only to meet said newsmaker. No matter what anyone thinks of Palin’s politics, she’s a fascinating character and someone most folks would jump at a chance to chat with. “Of course you meet with someone like that even if you’re looking just to take a gag photo for your Christmas card,” quipped one network insider. Palin’s meetings are reminiscent of former President Bill Clinton’s two 2002 flirtations with TV. Like Palin, he sat down with the networks. And, like Palin, he aligned himself with a bigtime TV entity (in one case, King World). Ultimately, nothing came from it other than a brief “Point/Counterpoint” tenure with Bob Dole on “60 Minutes.” It still seems inevitable that Palin will eventually host some sort of show on her own. And that may be where Burnett eventually steers her, unless 2012 aspirations get in the way. But don’t set your TiVo just yet.