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Mark Burnett, MGM’s TV chief, leaves amid Amazon reorganization

Amazon announced Monday that reality television producer Mark Burnett, who served as MGM’s television president for eight years, was leaving the company amid Amazon’s efforts to integrate MGM into its own studio operations.

Burnett is best known for introducing “Survivor” and “The Apprentice” with Donald Trump to U.S. audiences. In recent years, he has served as chairman of MGM’s worldwide television group, overseeing a slate of original programs including “The Voice,” “Survivor,” “Shark Tank” and “The Handmaid’s Tale.”

The move comes eight months after Amazon purchased MGM for $8.5 billion, a key component of the e-commerce giant’s efforts to bulk up its content library for Amazon Prime Video subscribers.

Mike Hopkins, Amazon’s senior vice president of Prime Video and Amazon Studios, and Burnett jointly announced that Burnett was departing the company “to resume his work as an independent creator and producer,” according to an email to staff sent by Hopkins.

Burnett’s contract was set to expire by year’s end. On Monday, Hopkins told Amazon’s staff that “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.”

Burnett, a Briton who got his start in Los Angeles more than 25 years ago hawking T-shirts on the Venice Beach boardwalk, scored with his first major show, “Survivor,” launched on CBS. But his career achieved even greater heights after “The Apprentice” premiered on NBC in 2004. Ratings soared, and Trump became a nationwide sensation with his signature line: “You’re fired.”

Burnett’s tenure at MGM had been stormy at times, including clashes with other executives. And in the fall of 2016, MGM faced calls to release outtakes from the filming of “The Apprentice” so that voters could get a view of Trump’s unvarnished behavior. The studio refused.

On Monday, Burnett sent a lengthy email to the staff, lauding their contributions to MGM’s recent television success. He noted that he had sold the majority stake in his companies to MGM in 2014 when he came aboard as the studio’s television president. He added that he later “sold the rest of my companies for MGM stock and became Chairman of MGM Global Television because I believed in the value of MGM.”

In 2015, MGM took full control of United Artists Media Group, which was a joint venture of MGM, Burnett, his wife, Roma Downey, and media giant Hearst, for $234 million. Burnett and Downey received $120 million for their 23% stake.

The deal boosted MGM’s television properties.

Burnett’s departure was expected. Other MGM executives, including Michael De Luca and Pamela Abdy, who had served as the heads of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios’ film business, left immediately after Amazon’s takeover.

“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,” Burnett added.

“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,” Burnett wrote.

Burnett helped rebuild MGM’s television operation with his own productions, including the series “The Bible,” which he co-produced with Downey for the History Channel.

“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,” Hopkins wrote in his memo. “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.” LA Times

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