Eye keeps ‘Survivor’ torch burning

CBS reality skein will endure through 2006

The 10th edition of “Survivor” won’t bow until February, but CBS has already picked up seasons 11 and 12 of Mark Burnett’s unscripted powerhouse.

Renewal means TV’s longest-running primetime reality skein will stay on the air through May 2006 — key extension for CBS in its effort to retain its demo dominance on Thursday nights.

Most recent installment of “Survivor” averaged roughly 20 million viewers and a 7.4/20 in adults 18-49. That makes it the most-watched reality show on TV.

“It’s a critical part of our lineup,” CBS senior exec VP Kelly Kahl said of the skein, citing its “unparalleled stability (and) demos” and praising Burnett and his team of producers.

“It’s been a key piece of our resurgence as a network,” he added. “It was the early linchpin for us to establish a toehold on Thursday and ultimately establish leadership on the night.”

Burnett attributes “Survivor’s” rating survival to its constant evolution.

“We’ve been willing to keep it fresh each year while not changing the core values of the show,” Burnett said. “It’s like receiving a letter each week from a friend: The handwriting on the outside is the same, but what’s inside is always different.”

Kahl said the “longevity of the show is nothing short of extraordinary” but that the Eye still sees plenty of life in the franchise.

“It’s only been on four years. We think of it as still being in its prime,” Kahl said.

Burnett promises season 10 of “Survivor” will once again shake up expectations. It’s already been revealed that there will be 20 contestants rather than the usual 18.

“It’s a completely new take on how to begin ‘Survivor,’ ” Burnett added, declining (as always) to offer more specifics.

Producer also said a lack of network involvement helps keep all of his reality shows fresh.

“My kind of television is like making a movie,” Burnett said. “We shoot everything, then edit it all together in post, with very minimal interference from the networks. Scripted shows have so many people with their fingers in the pie, most of them never get a chance to blossom.”

Burnett remains one of the most active producers in TV, scripted or unscripted.

He’s prepping “Rock Star” for CBS this summer. Skein will run a whopping 38 episodes in three months.

“The Apprentice” wraps its second season Thursday, while NBC’s big-budget boxing skein, “The Contender,” bows in late February. Burnett is also working on a new syndicated show for Martha Stewart (Daily Variety, May 14).

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