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Mark Burnett on Jamie Foxx, ‘American Idol’ and His Record Week Ahead

Variety logo Variety 5/22/2017 Daniel Holloway
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Mark Burnett has just stepped off the set of “Beat Shazam,” his new primetime game show. The series premieres Thursday on Fox with Academy award winner Jamie Foxx as host, and a buoyant Burnett can’t be accused of underselling it.

“I always think of Jamie Foxx as an Academy Award winner, as an actor from ‘Ray’ and ‘Django Unchained.'” Burnett says. “But then you see him on ‘Beat Shazam.’ He loves music and he loves an audience. And the audience — when he walks onto the stage, it’s like nothing I’ve ever seen. He’s such a big star. The audience goes crazy.”

The premiere of “Beat Shazam” — in which contestants go head-to-head with the app in trying to guess the titles of popular songs — is part of a week that is, like Jamie Foxx in front of a studio audience, unlike anything ever seen on TV. The super-producer and MGM Television president will have new episodes of shows premiering on broadcast television every weeknight, starting with part one of “The Voice” season finale on NBC Monday and part two on Tuesday. Wednesday brings “Survivor” on CBS — as well as new episodes of MGM’s “Fargo” on FX and “The Handmaid’s Tale” on Hulu. Thursday is the “Beat Shazam” debut. Then a new episode of “Shark Tank” premieres Friday on ABC.

Though not a certainty, it is possible that Burnett could go into the weekend having executive produced the No. 1 rated show on every night of the week. It would be a high achievement for Burnett, whose career as a groundbreaking reality producer and now a studio head at MGM has been full of them.

“When you look at that lineup objectively, it’s all quality,” Burnett says. He adds that all the unscripted series — save ‘Shazam,’ which has yet to be seen by a television audience — are hits, something that hardly needs pointing out. “Survivor” helped create the broadcast reality TV genre when it premiered more than a decade and a half ago. “The Voice” reinvented the singing-competition format and has become the most watched unscripted program on TV. And “Shark Tank” has been, with “The Bachelor” and “Dancing With the Stars,” an unscripted pillar of ABC’s schedule for years.

Burnett has no trouble touting the individual series’ success, but he’s reluctant to take too much credit himself.

“If I looked at how I’ve done it, it’s really not me,” Burnett says. “It’s the people I’ve hired on the shows.” When his adult children come to him now for advice, he adds, “My best advice is hire people who are better than you.”

Having bestrode the TV landscape for so long, Burnett has witnessed — and created — no shortage of programming fads. But he brushes off the notion that the last two decades have seen the pendulum swing slowly back and forth between scripted and unscripted shows.

“I’ve heard that said,” he says. “I haven’t personally experienced it, when you think of all my renewals.” Burnett is a believer in the continued power of unscripted, particularly in its importance as a broad platform that network can use to provide strong lead-ins to fledgling unscripted shows, as NBC does regularly with “The Voice.”

He points to ABC’s recent decision to revive “American Idol” as an example.

“It’s a very risky move by ABC,” he says. “Sometimes risky moves pay off. But it does show you how important those hours per week are as a lead-in for launching scripted shows. Clearly what everyone’s looking for is the great new show that captures the imagination of America. I think bringing back ‘American Idol’ was a bold, highly risky, expensive move. But sometimes that pays off.”

As for his own franchises, Burnett recognizes the rarity of the moment he’s in — four unscripted shows on four different networks potentially dominating each of five different nights of the week.

“It’s a wonderful week, and I’m smart enough in my mid-50s to know to enjoy it,” he says. “It goes by so fast. I just know to enjoy the moment.”

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