Individually, Mark Burnett and Roma Downey have amassed a remarkable array of successes on television and feature films: Burnett, through his One Three Media shingle, has won eight Emmy Awards for producing such top-rated reality/competition series as “Survivor,” “The Voice,” and “Shark Tank.”
He recently began his tenure as president of MGM Television and Digital Group. Downey has earned two Emmy noms, a Golden Globe nomination and TV Guide Award for her starring role on the CBS drama “Touched by an Angel.”
But together, the couple, who married in 2007, have become a powerful producing entity for faith-based audiences with such successful television miniseries as the Emmy-nominated “The Bible” for History, “The Dovekeepers” at CBS, as well as “A.D. The Bible Continues” at NBC. On the theatrical front, their Lightworkers Media banner has released the 2014 feature “Son of God” through 20th Century Fox and on Aug. 19, MGM and Paramount will bring their new interpretation of “Ben-Hur” to theaters nationwide.
For Burnett, the core reason for their success in both arenas is a close personal bond, not in terms of their private life, but their business relationship as well.
“Roma and I are a very good team, and have lots of combined experience, but most importantly, we are in love and are best friends,” Burnett says.
As unadorned as the answer sounds, that connection has allowed them to overcome any hurdle, from location shooting in far-flung Morocco for “The Bible” and Malta for “The Dovekeepers” to choosing new projects that match their joint creative and personal visions.
“This has really helped us to be solution oriented as production challenges emerge,” Burnett says. “Roma has always said that between stimulus and response, there needs to be a space.”
These and other challenges have been also resolved through Downey’s unique combination of understanding and application in regard to bringing their projects to the screen.
|“Roma played an angel for 10 years on ‘Touched by an Angel,’ but an actual fact is that the sensibility of her character, Monica, is who Roma really is.”|
“Roma has her finger on the pulse of the faith and family community in the United States,” says Burnett, who describes that demographic as “greatly underserved” by the entertainment industry. “This [need] provided an opportunity to [produce] several projects over the last few years,” says Burnett.
To bring projects like “The Bible” and “Ben-Hur” to that audience has also required sensitivity and patience that Burnett says is the hallmark of Downey’s personality.
“Some of Roma’s greatest strengths are the grace that she brings to every negotiation, development and production,” he says. “Roma played an angel for 10 years on ‘Touched by an Angel,’ but an actual fact is that the sensibility of her character, Monica, is who Roma really is.”
When it comes to choosing what projects they will focus on and produce, Downey and Burnett put a lot of thought into what stories and subjects will provide the most compelling creative material for potential audiences, as well at which ideas gel best with their spiritual and religious beliefs.
“Everything we have worked on has had to have an appeal to our personal sensibilities,” says Burnett.
“Is it something we would want to watch? Do we believe it also appeals to a wide audience? Our joint projects have always remained very family friendly.”
With so many projects in various states of gestation, as well as Burnett’s slate of hit TV series and the prospective digital channel for Lightworkers, one may wonder where Burnett and Downey find the time to enjoy their marriage. That challenge of time and commitment to both sides of their lives was actually something that well-meaning peers expressed concerns to them in the early stages of their joint career.
“Lots of people were initially concerned when we decided to work together, believing it could have a negative effect on a marriage,” Burnett says. “However, it turned out to be a blessing. I am sure it’s not something every couple could or should do, but it works for us.”