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‘Shark’ mirrors Mark Burnett’s journey

Brit-born entrepeneur can relate to contestants

At his core, Mark Burnett is an entrepreneur who came to this country from his native U.K. to seek his fortune.

While he’s known for populating TV with reality series, none seem so close to his heart as “Shark Tank,” the ABC project about pitching and selling innovative ideas to investors.

“His is the perfect production company to handle this project, because that’s his spirit and that’s his personality,” says Manatt, Phelps and Phillips attorney Jordan K. Yospe, former general counsel and head of business and legal affair at Mark Burnett Prods. “To take nothing and create something is what Mark is all about.”

ABC tried this theme in 2006-07 with “American Inventor,” but that series never really took flight. The Alphabet is banking on Burnett’s knack for getting viewers invested in the contenders.

“Mark has really figured out a way to play out emotions in his characters,” says ABC’s John Saade, who heads alternative series, specials and latenight programming with Vicki Dummer. ” ‘Survivor’ is a big canvas, but it lives in the close-ups. And that’s where television excels.”

Shark Tank,” scheduled for a Aug. 9 premiere, is an adaptation of the popular Japanese series “Dragons’ Den,” which then morphed into a U.K. version now currently airing Stateside on BBC America.

What appeals to Burnett in this economic climate is seeing the American spirit coupled with the opportunity of shucking the corporate harness.

“Small businesses are the lifeblood of America, and right now people can barely get a mortgage, much less a small business loan,” Burnett says. “Here’s the ultimate opportunity to pitch wealthy investors (and get them) to part with their own money. We don’t use TV money. This is real money from the investors.”

London-born Burnett has a hardscrabble story made for Hollywood, building himself into the king of reality programming from working-class beginnings. He has been on both sides of the pitch table and believes the drama comes from people risking everything, not just the actual setup of pitching a product and picking a winner.

Each week of “Shark Tank” will be a closed-end episode where all, few or none of the contestants will sell their notions.

“This is a multifaceted drama about people putting everything on the line — their houses, their children’s college accounts — to fulfill a dream,” Burnett says. “It can be harsh when the investors say they don’t believe in your dream or thrilling when the sharks want your idea and will go up against each other to get it.”

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