Mark Burnett: Producers Want In on Ad Action

NEW YORK Mark Burnett called for reality producers to be allowed a seat at the table when network execs talk about their programming with advertisers.

During a gathering of reality hitmakers at a Hollywood Radio & Television Society luncheon in Beverly Hills on Wednesday, Burnett was asked by moderator Jeff Probst what is the most frustrating aspect of dealing with networks.

“The biggest problem is the massive disconnect…between creative producers and ad sales,” the “Apprentice” creator said. “The dumbest thing in the world is that the people who are trying to sell advertising — the entire reason for this business–are explaining what the content is after hearing about it third-hand. We’re not there to say, ‘Here’s what the show is, here’s my vision, here’s the feel of it, and here’s how I think some of your products could integrate seamlessly without harming the experience for the viewers.'”

Burnett acknowledged that he’s sometimes allowed more access than typical producers on shows like Survivor because of his longstanding relationship with CBS. Yet he emphasized that all parties would benefit from producers being permitted into the ad sales process — while acknowledging the challenge of getting everybody on board with the idea.

“It would take a massive amount of confidence on the part of the ad sales because they’re paranoid about their commissions,” he said.

Reality TV’s ease of delivering product integration was cited as one of the clear benefits of the genre, with panelists expressing considerable optimism about the future. With veteran series such as The Bachelor and American Idol continuing to perform, Hell’s Kitchen producer Arthur Smith said, “This is the best time to be in this business.”

“Unscripted television is in a better position to take advantage of the changes in the business,” Who Wants to Be a Millionaire executive producer Michael Davies said. “We’ve reached a level of maturity.”

Producers also called for networks to take another look at Saturday night, a popular evening of viewing in the U.K. that’s all but ignored stateside.

“With the economy, people are spending more time at home with their families,” Burnett said. “There’s an opportunity for a Saturday night block.”

Related: “Q&A With Mark Burnett, an Interview With Mediaweek’s Marc Berman”