MGM’s Mark Burnett: ‘The Best Producers Deserve to Be Paid Properly’

Mark BurnettTune In! Variety's TV Summit, Panel, Los Angeles, USA - 13 Jun 2018
Michael Buckner/Variety/REX/Shut

Super-producer Mark Burnett has no problem with the nine-figure paydays being pulled down by his fellow super-producers.

“It makes me feel great,” Burnett said Wednesday at Variety‘s Tune In! TV Summit. The MGM television and digital group president joined Variety managing editor Cynthia Littleton for a keynote conversation about the six-figure deals signed in recent months by TV producers such as Shonda Rhimes, Ryan Murphy, and Greg Berlanti.

“That’s appropriate for the Ryan Murphys of the world,” Burnett said. “They’re brilliant. In the end you can have an idea, ‘Oh, I wish I was making a TV show that was so great.’ Then go out, find the best people, and pay for it. It’s really, really hard being Kevin Hart or Ryan Murphy. They deserve it. The best producers deserve to be paid properly. The best writers, the best directors, the best actors deserve to be paid properly.”

Hart and Burnett are collaborating on the upcoming reality competition series “TKO” for CBS, with the comic hosting. Burnett didn’t put a number on Hart’s fee for the project, but acknowledged that it’s large.

“If you’re dealing with the best talent in the world you better be ready to pay them properly,” Burenett said. “In terms of fee and back end.”

Burnett, one of the most dominant forces in reality television for more than two decades, spoke about the trend toward luring top-tier talent such as Hart and “Beat Shazam” host Jamie Foxx into unscripted TV. He noted that with Hart, he walked into the meeting with a straight to series order from CBS in hand — meaning the comic wouldn’t have to invest time into a project that may not make it to air.

And, Burnett added, his success has been self-perpetuating.

“I have an advantage in the I’ve had long career and it’s likely that talent of the level of Kevin Hart will at least take a meeting with me,” he said. “I can at least get int the room.”

Burnett declined to go into specifics about how a show like “TKO” with presumably high talent costs makes money, but assured that MGM, Hart, and CBS are all benefitting financially from the project.

“I always make money,” Burnett said. “Since I’ve been selling t-shirts on Venice Beach I’ve been making money.” He recalled how, decades ago, when he first arrived in Los Angeles, he made money by buying damaged t-shirts at $2 a piece and selling them in Venice Beach for $18 each.

“The margin was great,” Burnett said. “It allows you when some have been damaged by the sun from being on the beach, I could sell a certain percentage of them for $1, half what I paid, and still get a profit because I had such a giant profit margin. Trust me, I could peel an orange in my pocket.”