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Tuesday, September 12, 2006

The Slug Talks to Mark Burnett

091206mark (AP Photo/HO.CBS)

Mark Burnett is a busy bee. The reality TV czar and stripe lover has a total of five projects ("Martha," "Gold Rush," "Survivor: Cook Islands," "The Contender" and "Rock Star: Supernova") either starting or stopping this week — not to mention the latest "Apprentice" that's wrapped but won't air until January. The Slug managed to get the executive producer on the phone to quickly ask him about all of them. Go!

The Slug: What can you tell me about tonight and tomorrow's "Rock Star: Supernova" finale?

Mark Burnett: Tonight's episode is fantastic. Really, really stellar performances. What you see is how over three months these performers have really matured and there's very little to criticize. Very little to criticize. Someone who's been previously dismissed gets brought back tonight to do an encore. That's interesting. The final four will perform. The public will vote. Wednesday night there'll be a bottom two. One of those is sent home and then we'll end up with the final three. From those, they'll sing one song each and then Supernova will chose their new lead singer and perform with them right there.

TS: I know you have no say in the decision, but who are you rooting for?

MB: All four of them could do a good job.

TS: How diplomatic of you. Are we gonna have "Rock Star" next summer?

MB: I'm hoping so. The ratings were great last week. It clearly won't be the No. 1 reality show of the week. I think that'll be "Survivor." But if I'm lucky, I could have the No. 1 and 2 reality shows of the week.

TS: What are your ideas for "Rock Star" next season?

MB: I was talking to CBS yesterday about ideas. Do we go back to season one and find a band that needs a new lead singer or do we form another band? CBS haven't yet green-lit season three. But I think everything's going well and they're really happy with the ratings as the season progressed.

TS: Now to "Gold Rush." Why do an Internet-based project?

MB: I've heard over the last few years from people that want to get on one of my reality shows and ask how can I help them. But I can't really help them. You've got to go through the casting process and the network and "Are you TV friendly?" and etcetera and etcetera. I thought, "How could I do something that anybody would have a legitimate chance to be on television?" And so I invented "Gold Rush," which relates to pop culture. Tomorrow, (the host) Mark Steines will send out 13 trucks across the country. Each truck will contain solid gold. The first 12 trucks will contain $100,000 in solid gold and the 13th truck will contain $1 million in solid gold.

TS: How do you feel about all the flack you've been getting about the "Survivor" racial twist?

MB: I'm not shocked. I just think truly any rational person would wait to see what happens. People that come out with very large statements about their point of view could look pretty stupid if it becomes the most positive thing for removing stereotypes. And I hope that the people who've made the loudest comments will, in the adverse, also be the loudest congratulators if they're wrong.

TS: Outside of the racial diversity, why are so many of this season's castaways in the entertainment industry or from California?

MB: A lot of them live in California but are really from somewhere else and have been here less than a year. You have to look at where they're really from, not where they live.

TS: What about the players that are in the entertainment industry, such as screenwriter-actor Jonathan Penner and that woman who's appeared on "CSI"? Why cast them?

MB: Jonathan Penner is a writer. We didn't want to discriminate against him. He's a massive, massive "Survivor" fan and we thought long and hard about it and decided he deserved a shot. And then the African-American woman, Sandra, who's appeared in a small role in "CSI," she really, really wanted to do "Survivor." She was so gung-ho and so fun.

TS: Do you regret doing the racial twist?

MB: No, I do not. Issues of race are very complex and emotional in this country. What I've done, I've brought this to the forefront. And I applaud the NAACP for saying they're gonna reserve judgment until they see the series. They don't necessarily like the idea, but they're gonna reserve judgment. That's the right approach. Anybody should watch a few episodes first.

TS: Right. You could merge them together at the end of the first episode.

MB: That's exactly right. If I did, and if everyone's loving everyone else and it's not down racial lines, are those big detractors going to turn around, apologize and applaud? Because, in the end, it's the most racially diverse cast ever, ever, ever on television.

TS: Well, why not just make it a racially diverse reality cast and leave it at that? You know, instead of separating the tribes down racial lines, even if it's just for a little while?

MB: It still may not cause any victory. You don't know. People do tend to hang out in their own ethnic groups socially. Not because of exclusion or hatred of others, it's just quite normal. Where I come from, you go to Santa Monica and certain pubs, it's nearly all English people. You go to Fairfax Boulevard in Los Angeles, it's all Ethiopian people. Go a little further up and it's Orthodox Jews. I mean, people do cluster in areas.

TS: How's "Martha" doing? I know she's got a lot more competition this season.

MB: She's doing great. I had a good chat with her yesterday. She seems happy. Obviously, it's not gonna be easy. It never is easy. Obviously, "Martha" has a very loyal audience that loves what she stands for and her knowledge.

TS: I know we're not seeing "The Apprentice" until January, but production is finished. What can we expect to see this time around?

MB: Trump was a lot of fun in Los Angeles. There's more stakes each week than simply getting fired.

TS: Oh really? Is there a different feeling in the boardroom now that Carolyn and George are gone?

MB: In a way. But you know we have Ivanka and Don Jr. You know, as Trumps, smart young Trumps, it's nice to have a change. George and Carolyn are fantastic. Who knows? They may come back in the future.

TS: What else is going on? Oh, I almost forgot about "The Contender."

MB: Next week is the finale on ESPN. It's interesting. As you look at "Survivor," you talk about that it's a really diverse ethnic cast. "The Contender" this season is a predominantly African-American cast. I haven't seen many people shouting, "Oh, good job." But that's part of your business, right? I'm not saying you personally, but generally, journalists write stories and editors write outrageous headlines without the writer's permission. That's just the way it goes.

TS: Will there be a third "Contender" series on ESPN?

MB: They're certainly enthusiastic about it. And we're certainly enthusiastic about it. It's just a matter of figuring out all the details.

TS: Out of all your current projects, what's your favorite?

MB: Honestly, "Gold Rush" because it's so new. It's really important to crack this because the modern meeting place of the most people in the world is the Internet. And another meeting we have is about pop culture. We talk about that more than anything else. It's just life. If you marry the two, it's smart to be going down that road and combining television and the Internet.

TS: For sure. Well, thanks for taking a few minutes to answer my questions. Now go take a break, Mark.

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