Born in London, England, on July 17, 1960, Mark Burnett started his professional life as a soldier in the British Army. After immigrating to the United States in his early 20s, Burnett worked as a nanny and in sales before creating and producing the adventure competition television series Eco Challenge. He has gone on to produce a variety of hit TV series, including Survivor, The Apprentice, The Voice, Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?, Shark Tank, Sarah Palin's Alaska and The Bible.
Early Life and Career
James Mark Burnett was born on July 17, 1960, in London, England. His father, Archie Burnett, is a former member of the Scottish Navy and worked at the Ford Motor Company. His mother, Jean Burnett, worked at a battery compound.
Growing up, Mark Burnett was a big fan of American television series, including Starsky and Hutch and Bonanza. At the age of 17, he joined the British Army and became a section commander in the Parachute Regiment. After several years of service, in 1982, Burnett gave up his military career and moved to California, where he would take on a number of odd jobs, including as a nanny for wealthy families and selling T-shirts on Venice Beach, before finding success in TV.
Burnett experienced his first successful career venture in the early 1990s, when he created Eco-Challenge, a multi-day team competition including racing, trekking, diving and horseback riding, and taking place in Utah. According to Burnett, the event was inspired by the French expedition race Raid Gauloises (in which he later competed—in the 1992 Oman Raid, the 1993 Madagascar Raid and the 1994 Borneo Raid—as a member of Team American Pride). The first Eco-Challenge event was held in 1995. That same year, Burnett created and began producing a show documenting the event for USA Network, Eco-Challenge (1995-2002).
In 1999, Burnett received a Sports Emmy Award for best program achievement for his work on Eco-Challenge.
Reality Television Success
In 2000, Mark Burnett acted as executive producer for Survivor, a reality TV show airing on CBS and loosely based on The Lord of the Flies, the award-winning novel by William Golding. On the series, individuals compete for food and survival on an island for a $1 million cash prize. The show became an immediate success, reaching 50 million viewers for the final episode of Season 1. Survivor has maintained a strong audience ever since, with its 28th season premiering in early 2014.
Burnett went on to find more success with the hit show The Apprentice, starring Donald Trump. On the series, which began airing in 2004 on NBC, contestants compete for a one-year contract to run one of Trump's companies. A new Burnett creation, The Voice, a singing-competition show similar to American Idol, began airing on NBC in 2011. With stars like Adam Levine, Cee Lo Green and Christina Aguilera, the series immediately gained wide acclaim, entering its fourth season in 2013.
'The Bible' and 'Son of God'
Also in 2013, Burnett created and served as executive producer of the popular History Channel miniseries . According to Burnett, he and wife Roma Downey, a Bible co-producer, feel that they were spiritually "called" to create the miniseries.
"There were many people in Hollywood who said, 'You have several hit television shows. Why take on the Bible?' They failed to realize that it's not a business for us. This is a calling for us," he said, adding some words of advice: "Keep checking in. Ask yourself, 'Am I on the right path? Is this what I was called to do?' Most people who hear a call fail to take action or fail to keep checking their map. They get further and further away from their goal, their destination, and soon they are off course. Always check in."
Burnett shared similar sentiments about Son of God, his 2014 film adaptation of The Bible, stating that the movie—for which he also shared production duties with Downey—represented a personal calling. "We feel pretty sure, over the next 30 or 40 years, not only will this movie be a regular, annual TV event, we expect this to be in 100 countries in 100 languages, and we're already discussing with people how to do that," Burnett said in a 2014 interview published by TheBlaze.com.
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