Reality Mogul Mark Burnett Is a Brit Living the American Dream
Today's cuppa: iced tea with mint (from my balcony)
Before he became the producer of such successful reality-TV franchises as "Eco-Challenge," "Survivor" and "The Apprentice," Mark Burnett was a young Brit with no college education but combat experience as a member of the British Army Parachute Regiment.
He landed in Los Angeles in 1982 and took the only job he could find -- as a nanny. He also launched a small business selling T-shirts on Venice Beach. After becoming an American citizen in 1990, he went on to create the "Eco-Challenge" adventure race and produce it for television.
While not everything he's done has become a hit -- "The Restaurant" and "The Casino" leap to mind -- Burnett has forged forward, placing shows on a variety of networks and cable channels and racking up Emmy nominations and awards. Now he's finally landed a show on ABC, called "Shark Tank."
It's an American version of a Japanese franchise called "Dragon's Den" -- the U.K. version can be seen here on BBC America -- in which entrepreneurs pitch their ideas in front of a panel of potential investors (the U.S. ones are pictured below) asking tough questions before putting up their own money.
"Shark Tank" premieres Sunday, Aug. 9, and I'll have a feature story coming out at that time. In the meantime, here's some comments on Burnett on why he's such a big fan of his adopted country and the American Dream.
"There are 300 million people here," Burnett says. "It is a country built on small businesses, and there'll be so many more deals (on 'Shark Tank'). (Small businesses) are the best lot of America.
"Look at where I started. I was selling T-shirts on the beach. I started with a small business, and I learned who I was and learned the values of America and the American Dream. Those skills, selling on the streets, selling T-shirts on Venice Beach and at swap meets -- which I did for years -- paid off for me.
"So I've got a lot of compassion and understanding for these entrepreneurs."
Asked if he thinks shows like "The Apprentice" and "Shark Tank" will remind folks that, despite the economic downturn and political upheaval, the American Dream is still alive.
"Yes," Burnett says. "I think 'Apprentice' and 'Shark Tank' are both shows that will remind Americans by the millions of what the country stands for. I love this country, and I found out who I am here, because of scrimping and saving and trying to sell T-shirts.
"It is what America stands for: the right to own a business, however small; the right to take risks and not be ridiculed; the right to try to buy your own home.
"These small businesses wind up paying more taxes, supporting the entire place and employing people."
Burnett is a long-time California resident, and when asked what advice he'd give to state legislators and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on how to deal with the state's current budget woes, Burnett says, "You know, I don't know enough detail on the issues to speak to it. I've been so busy this summer making show; I haven't really looked into it.
"It seems to me that you can't have programs that are unaffordable. It's the equivalent of having a house and a family and trying to do things that are just not affordable, that you haven't got the money for.
"So, the more you want to do things, certain things have got to be cut. It's just a fact."
He's also in favor of lowering tax rates.
"I do think that lower taxes stimulate the economy," Burnett says. "On the other hand, it's going to be what it's going to be, and hopefully it won't be taxes higher like other socialist countries, which end up being almost un-American, to the point where they don't stimulate small businesses to get going.
"These people need tax breaks to get business going, to employ people. That's what America's always done."
When he has time, Burnett tries to share what he's learned.
"With limited time on my hands, I do give some speeches," he says. "I literally started with nothing and had lots of small businesses and struggled and have learned. So, I want to pass that on."