Mark Burnett was not even 18 when he joined the British Army’s elite Parachute Regiment. He admits to being under the influence of “too many ‘Rambo’ movies” when he signed up for the all-volunteer unit. But the four formative years he spent in the airborne infantry helped him become a trailblazing TV producer.

“It taught us how to achieve things with not enough information, food, water, ammunition, which is all good grounding for life,” he says. “I’m totally OK with going in (to production) having half of the stuff figured out, and knowing that if I surround myself with the right team, it will get figured out.”

Burnett’s regiment was deployed in the Falkland Islands war between Britain and Argentina in 1982. Tasked with repatriating prisoners of war, Burnett went into his mission angry over the casualties his unit suffered. But after spending time with the POWs, his attitude changed.

“We learned that these were people who really didn’t want to be at war with us,” Burnett says. “I realized that if you could speak to the people who might be your enemy, you’d be very hard-pressed to fight against them.”

Not long ago, Burnett was floored when one of those men reached out to thank him for the humane treatment. Through their correspondence, Burnett has come to understand how much the wartime experience “marked a very important shift in my life.”

Related links:
A journey from ensign to agent | HBO topper’s career guided by military service | Mark Burnett’s boot camp