The executive and reality producer said he was stepping away from MGM TV’s “day to day management” and returning to “independently creating and innovating” and plans to continue to oversee his legacy programs.
Burnett becomes the latest high-ranking MGM executive to exit following the retail giant/streamer’s $8.5 billion deal to acquire the studio behind franchises including James Bond, Rocky/Creed and The Handmaid’s Tale. Motion picture group chairman Michael De Luca and motion picture group president Pam Abdy also exited their roles April 27.
The news comes after Amazon officially closed its acquisition of MGM. Like De Luca and Abdy’s exits, Burnett’s departure was in some ways expected as industry observers questioned how the reality kingpin behind hits including Survivor, The Voice and Shark Tank would fit in with Amazon head Jennifer Salke. The latter exec has headed up Amazon since she departed as NBC Entertainment president in early 2018. Burnett, like Salke, reported to senior vp Mike Hopkins.
Hopkins and Burnett addressed the move to staff via internal memos on Monday. (Read both, below.)
The timing of Burnett’s exit arrives as Amazon is expected to hire a film head to run MGM. Sources tell The Hollywood Reporter that Amazon is in talks with former Warner executive Courtenay Valenti, who is considering her options.
Burnett joined MGM Television in 2015 and was promoted to worldwide television group chairman in 2018 as part of a new contract that was to run through this year. At the time, Burnett called the job the “most fun I have had in my career.” Burnett arrived at MGM TV with a slew of hits under his belt, including NBC’s The Apprentice (which paved the way for Donald Trump’s successful bid for U.S. president whose inauguration he would ultimately oversee). His tenure at the studio delivered a number of early sales — Fox’s Beat Shazam and CBS’ TKO — though none have come close to the type of breakout hits for which he is best known for delivering.
As previously detailed in a November 2020 THR story, Burnett was best known as an agent of chaos at MGM as the studio weathered high-level executive departures and at least one HR complaint. Sources said Burnett had tendency to meddle in areas in which he had no defined role and would frequently badger and criticize staffers and fellow executives. It’s also worth noting that MGM TV president Steve Stark — not Burnett — was the driving force behind MGM’s prestige TV hits including FX’s Fargo and Hulu’s Emmy-winning The Handmaid’s Tale. Stark stunned colleagues in February 2021 when he stepped down a year into his new contract after a decade with the studio as part of what sources described as the “Burnett-ification” of the company.
Amazon’s Hopkins and Salke will now oversee what to do with MGM’s sprawling film and TV library, which includes more than 4,000 feature titles and 17,000 episodes.
Here are the 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.
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.