Burnett’s departure from the MGM fold is not a surprise. The producer, known for enduring unscripted hits including CBS’ “Survivor,” NBC’s “The Voice” and ABC’s “Shark Tank,” has not served as a conventional TV executive during his nine years with MGM and was not expected to stick around after the sale.
Moreover, as a significant equity holder in MGM, Burnett profited handsomely from the Amazon deal. In the nine years since he first sold his One Three Media production banner to MGM, Burnett has reaped an estimated $900 million.
In a memo to MGM staffers, Burnett said he intended to pursue new ventures as a producer. He also emphasized that he worked hard to ensure that MGM TV’s roughly 150 staffers were offered positions after the Amazon sale. MGM now operates as an autonomous film and TV production entity under the umbrella of Amazon Studios, headed by Jennifer Salke. MGM chief operating officer Christopher Brearton will work with Salke and Mike Hopkins, senior VP of Amazon Prime Video and Amazon Studios.
“After months of collaborative transition efforts, we have thoughtfully re- organized our teams so that they all have the opportunity to prosper under the leadership of Mike Hopkins, Jennifer Salke and Christopher Brearton. In these days of media layoffs I am proud to say that everyone in the TV division has been offered a way to continue to contribute. No one was left behind,” he wrote.
Burnett has maintained his power trio of broadcast TV hits during his time at MGM but he has not been as prolific a hitmaker as he was during the previous decade. MGM TV shows that came on Burnett’s watch include the Jamie Foxx-hosted Fox game show “Beat Shazam” and the revival of the Jeff Foxworthy quiz show “Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader.” There were short-lived efforts to add a big-budget reality-competition series to the roster with CBS’ “The Worlds Best” and “TKO: Total Knock Out.”
Burnett’s time at MGM also coincided with the scrutiny of his personal and professional relationship with Donald Trump, the former star of Burnett’s long-running NBC hit “The Apprentice.” Burnett tried to relaunch “Celebrity Apprentice” in 2017 — after Trump’s election as U.S. President — with former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger at the helm. But that was also short-lived amid low ratings and ongoing controversy about Trump and his behavior during his “Apprentice” days.
During the furor of Trump’s first year in office, Burnett and MGM were called on by many in politics and in entertainment to release any outtakes from “Apprentice” that showed the President using racial slurs and other unsavory behavior. MGM noted more than once that the legal and practical hurdles of combing through 14 seasons of raw footage were insurmountable — nothing could be released without Trump’s approval — but that didn’t quiet the calls for Burnett to “release the tapes.” MGM acquired all rights to “The Apprentice” franchise with its purchase of Burnett’s firm. Now Amazon is the keeper of the vault.
Burnett, not surprisingly, will remain attached to existing shows that he produces under the MGM banner.
Hopkins told Amazon staffers that more details on an operational structure for MGM would be coming soon. He thanked Burnett “for his countless contributions to our success and, on a personal level, for his partnership and counsel throughout the integration,” and Hopkins praised the maverick producer as “one of the most innovative, creative, and prolific television producers in our industry.”
Here are the full memos from Burnett and Hopkins:
We’ve worked together for a very long time, in some cases for decades. We’ve innovated new shows and maintained our legacy hits with one of the highest renewal rates in global television. I get a lot of praise for that. But we all know it’s not about me. It’s about all of you.
It takes great teams of talented people to produce more than 3,200 total hours of television including long-running hits like Survivor, The Voice and Shark Tank and innovative scripted series like The Bible, which together have garnered 143 EMMY nominations.
In 2014 I sold a majority of my companies to MGM and came to this storied, 100 year-old studio as President of Television. Later I sold the rest of my companies for MGM stock and became Chairman of MGM Global Television because I believed in the value of MGM.
I had a clear strategic vision to build and grow MGM’s television division with my dynamic team, which included buying great companies like Evolution and Big Fish, adding international scripted and unscripted teams, and starting a documentaries unit. We took calibrated risks and hired great people – and the business grew.
That growth was critical to MGM’s future, because MGM needed to maximize its value in order to attract a global streaming partner and be ready for its next 100 years. I am proud to have been part of the team that achieved the historic sale to Amazon in 2022.
Now, after months of collaborative transition efforts, we have thoughtfully re-organized our teams so that they all have the opportunity to prosper under the leadership of Mike Hopkins, Jennifer Salke and Christopher Brearton. In these days of media layoffs I am proud to say that everyone in the TV division has been offered a way to continue to contribute. No one was left behind.
As I step away from day to day management and back into independently creating and innovating, I will continue to oversee my legacy series and be available to all of you and to Amazon for guidance and support.
Thanks team – I literally could not have done any of this without each of you.
Here is Hopkins’ note:
Hi team –
As you likely just read, Mark Burnett has decided to leave Amazon and MGM to resume his work as an independent creator and producer. I wanted to follow up by thanking him for his countless contributions to our success and, on a personal level, for his partnership and counsel throughout the integration. I know you’ll all agree that he is one of the most innovative, creative, and prolific television producers in our industry, and we have been extraordinarily fortunate to have him on our team.
Mark’s stepping aside of course raises both opportunities and questions about how we’ll be organized moving forward. You’ll be hearing more about this shortly.
I am incredibly proud of the outstanding television and film content that we produce, and look forward to 2023 and beyond, when as a fully integrated team we continue to build on this legacy. Thanks for all your commitment and dedication as we head into a dynamic and successful future together.
(Pictured: Mark Burnett and Christopher Brearton)