Q&A: Reality honcho Burnett dives into "Shark Tank"

Thu Jul 9, 2009 5:52am EDT
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By James Hibberd

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Mark Burnett, the Emmy-winning producer of such reality shows as "Survivor," "The Apprentice" and "Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?," is at it again.

His latest venture, ABC's "Shark Tank," premieres August 9 and offers entrepreneurs the chance to have their products become reality, if they can convince a panel of real-life business moguls -- the sharks -- to part with their money.

Speaking from an undisclosed location in the South Pacific, where the 19th season of "Survivor" is being filmed, Burnett chatted about his new series, the need to change Emmy rules and the iconic show he calls "part 'Swiss Family Robinson,' 'Cast Away' and 'Lord of the Flies.'"

The Hollywood Reporter: Do you think it's significant that "Shark Tank" is the only new reality show that has made it to the fall broadcast TV schedule?

Mark Burnett: "Shark Tank" is an extremely high-quality (show). The people at ABC and Disney love it. It feels like (it) belongs up there with great dramas. (The contestants) are high and dry. They've got great ideas or existing small businesses that they can't take to the next level. At the same time these wealthy investors are looking to invest. It really is that golden opportunity -- and maybe the last opportunity -- for some of these people, so you really can feel the genuine tension and drama in the air.

THR: Reality shows used to be considered counterprogramming. On the fall schedule, if nothing changes, there will be three reality shows, including "Shark Tank," on at the same time. Does that worry you at all?

Burnett: If you can't play in the big leagues, then you can only make it when you play against weak opposition. You're never going to win the championship. Two or more shows can make it in the same time slot. I'm not frightened by it. Only a weak person would be not willing to go forward unless it was easy.

THR: You executive produced the recent MTV Awards. In retrospect, was the Bruno stunt a good idea?   Continued...

<p>Television producer Mark Burnett signs autographs after accepting a star on the Walk of Fame in Hollywood, California July 8, 2009. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni</p>