From Donald Trump to the Son of God, Mark Burnett Preaches Family Entertainment

Interview

Friday, March 07, 2014

Mark Burnett pretty much invented reality TV as we know it. He made huge hits out of Survivor, The Apprentice, and The Voice. But his latest big show — and the surprise hit of 2013 — was something else entirely: the 10-hour miniseries The Bible. The show aired on The History Channel and reached more than 10 million people each night (beating out AMC’s hit The Walking Dead).

Now Burnett and his wife, the actress-producer Roma Downey, have carved a feature film out the series, focusing on the life of Jesus. Even before Son of God opened, it had sold nearly 500,000 tickets through church groups, organized by megachurch pastors Rick Warren, Joel Osteen, and others. “Son of God and our other work, Roma’s Touched by an Angel, and my shows: they’re all family-friendly,” Burnett suggests. “I think what the message here is: family-friendly really works, if you want big audiences.”

Movies about Jesus have been scarce in mainstream cinema for years. Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ (1988) was criticized by many believers; Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ (2004) was criticized for its brutality and for a view of the Jews widely seen as anti-Semitic. Burnett and Downey were determined to avoid those missteps, and won an endorsement from the Anti-Defamation League, whose director called it “the antidote to the poison” of the Gibson film.

A biblical epic may seem like a departure for the producer that brought us the ruthless, dog-eat-dog competition of Survivor and Donald Trump’s Apprentice. But Burnett doesn’t see it that way. “Survivor is a very moral game,” he insists. “You get that million dollars given to you by the very people that you eliminated. You can manipulate your way to near the end in most endeavors in life, but you won’t win when you’re relying upon other people. Everyone gets that it’s a game. They don’t mind you being clever, but outright lying to them, and betraying them — those people tend to never win.”

Burnett and Downey’s next series is a sequel: AD, set to premiere on NBC in 2015. Burnett describes its logline: “How did 12 guys take down Rome?”

    Music Playlist
  • Jesus Walks
    Artist: Kanye West
    Album: The College Dropout
    Label: Roc-A-Fella
    Purchase: Amazon

Guests:

Mark Burnett and Roma Downey

Produced by:

Jenny Lawton

Contributors:

Khrista Rypl

Comments [21]

Bobbi from Rural VA

I find it difficult to take people like the guests for this segment serious, but I was disappointed that the host didn't pay close enough attention to his guests to hear Roma Downey say their movies aren't 'robes and sandals'. Granted I would find interacting which people such as them akin to dental work minus Novocain, but it was a pretty glaring error.

Mar. 27 2014 09:06 AM
Cervantes

@ Michelle from New Castle- i don't know how, in the hell Kurt could be seen as being anti-catholic?! he was criticizing the ideas of two people that happen to be Catholic,and espouse ideas that seem very anti Christian, to me. the fact that he was "nicer" to another Catholic sort of proves that point,doesn't it? also,why not be proud of the fact that Catholicism is secure enough in itself, that it CAN be criticized. do you really want a closed fascistic repressive belief system,that allows no challenges? if kurt was being cavalliere,who cares;get over your closed minded dogmatic self-importance for gods sake..!

Mar. 23 2014 11:50 PM
Michelle J from New Castle

I waited to leave a comment because I was surprised with the disrespectful tone of the interview after listening to the show for years. But I entirely agree with Molly from Madrid. Kurt, it appears that your real disagreement is with Donald Trump and you took advantage of your time with Mark Burnett and Roma Downey to air your displeasure. I also am not a fan of Donald Trump and a lot of his activities, but this was not the platform to vent your grievance. On this morning's show (3.22.14) you interviewed another practicing creative Catholic and was more respectful. What was the difference? Can you explain - I would really appreciate your response? Respectfully Michelle

Mar. 22 2014 08:03 AM
Jacklyn B

As a couple of other people have stated, the Catholic Church does not believe in literal Creationism. I'm not sure what the Sisters of Mercy in Ireland taught to her, but she must've come to believe in creationism in spite of her Catholic education.

Mar. 18 2014 03:32 PM
Cervantes

if i were god for a day i would destroy "reality" TV in Six seconds,and cast Mark Burnett on a never ending Twilight Zone episode, in which he is forced to apprentice lucifer for all of eternity.

and, i'm being quite literal...

Mar. 17 2014 06:22 AM
Molly from Madrid

I have been listening to Studio 360 for about four years, and I love the show. However, I was very disappointed by this interview. I'm not religious, in fact I'm quite skeptical of organized religion, but I found Kurt's attack of his guests to be unnecessary and off-putting. It makes me wonder if something else more inflammatory happened that was later cut from the interview?

Mar. 11 2014 06:35 PM
bill

The Catholic church seems to think that some of the bible is allegorical and that the world wasn't really made in 3 days. Why do these film makers think like evangelical protestants and blame it on their Cathlolicism?

Mar. 11 2014 12:12 PM
bill

The Catholic church seems to think that some of the bible is allegorical and that the world wasn't really made in 3 days. Why do these film makers think like evangelical protestants and blame it on their Cathlolicism?

Mar. 11 2014 12:09 PM
Helene

I appreciated this interview, as I knew very little about the film's makers. Now that I do know more, enough to be made uncomfortable, I will not support it by watching it in the theatre.

Mar. 11 2014 01:01 AM
James Roe from Fort Worth

I want to voice a complaint about the interview with Mark Burnett and Roma Downey. It lacked depth. The questions sounded like attacks and Burnett was handily able to defend himself. Your questions came off as snarky, and trivial. You were picking at details of their answers and easily dismissed by a media mogul with long experience in interviews.

I'd preferred to hear a line of questioning addressing how Downey & Burnett see themselves as Christians in popular culture. Burnett's made millions by highlighting avarice, vanity, pride and who knows what other of the seven deadly sins. Is being honest about being greedy make up for the greed itself? He says the Bible is literal, does he think the non-converted are going to Hell? Is the show evangelical, intended to convert sinners? Does he think Jesus looked like the actor in his show?

Granted, it must be hard to conduct an interview when your jaw keeps hitting the floor because your guest defends the Christian ethics of Donald Trump and Survivor.

Mar. 10 2014 12:52 PM

Christianity was not 12 guys who took down Rome. They were 12 guys who became and continue to act like Rome.

Mar. 10 2014 12:07 PM
Bagel Balzac from bred Philly live China

Kurt- I love you but I must say that I was also a bit put-off by your manner at a couple of moments during the Burnett interview. I have never before taken any particular offense to anything I have ever heard on the show before in my decade-plus as a listener, and I have never had anything but admiration and simpatico for and with you since my Spy reading college days (the funny years). But, all that aside, I really think if you went back to the tapes and listened critically and impartially, you would hear yourself indulging in cynicism, flippancy, contempt and downright ungraciousness. Which is cool- I mean, I tend to feel very cynical and scornful about religion and its faithful, but I'M NOT a radio "HOST"-for the very reason that f I were interviewing such people, I myself would have a difficult time 'toeing the line' between my own personal eye-rolling and contempt (on one hand) and the unyielding professional respect that is parcel to making real welcome for one's guests. Much like the biblical Noah, drunken and naked before his son- big fan, due respect but I gotta say I think you played yourself and showed your ass in letting seep out what you could have kept to yourself. Another literary reference to gently but precisely frame the tenor of your transgression- remember when Scout Finch invited little Walter Cunningham over for 'dinner' and he poured molasses all over his meat and veg...?

Mar. 10 2014 01:59 AM
Kurt Andersen from Brooklyn

Beth DeRoos:

Given that Mark Burnett came on the show to discuss his film about Jesus and his own devout Christianity, and that he's also partners with Donald Trump in making a hugely successful TV program that embodies inarguably un-Christ-like values, I thought it was interesting and legitimate to ask about that contradiction. As you heard, Burnett took my question good-naturedly, and he professed himself pleased with the interview generally. And yes, I certainly would have asked the same question of any highly religious maker of any religious film (including, despite your dubious suggestion otherwise, "a black Christian") who also produced of The Apprentice.

Mar. 09 2014 06:32 PM

This interview shows me how segmented US popular culture has become. Certainly "Son of God" is a good topic for Studio360, but I don't know how an interview with these producers can be anything but unsatisfactory -- how can you have a conversation with people that think Donald Trump is anything but a (lucrative) joke? You're operating from different realities. A third-party interview with someone who studies the history of media representations of Christianity aimed at non-church audiences would have been more interesting, and my eyes wouldn't ache from rolling them through Downey's nice-lady chirpings and her hubby's smarm.

Mar. 09 2014 05:37 PM

In this piece, you say to Mr. Burnett that he's proving that bringing "explicitly religious" material to mainstream media can work - in fact, his material is explicitly *Christian* (or perhaps Judeo-Christian) - BIG difference, as any of the millions of Muslimes, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, and any number of adherents of other religions in America, can attest.

Mar. 09 2014 12:42 PM
Sally Carmer from Syracuse, NY

Mr. Andersen completely missed the boat at the very end of the interview by not following up on what was the most salient and disturbing point of the entire conversation, when Mr. Burnett described his new TV series as "How did 12 guys (referring to the apostles) take down Rome?" Sounds to me like the series will be an insidious, ongoing sly call to action to so-called Christians to subvert what many of them view as an overreaching, left-leaning government. That Mr. Andersen let that slide and ended the interview without calling Mr. Burnett on it was quite disappointing.

Mar. 09 2014 11:48 AM
B.L. Zebub from Hell

The guy who lowered the standards of mainstream television—an amazing feat in itself— and his annoying wife are all into God. Awww.

Kurt wasn't rude enough to these horse's asses.

Mar. 09 2014 11:35 AM
Beth DeRoos from California

As an educated Christian I was offended by the interview with Mark Burnett and his wife Roma Downey. The host was down right rude.

Every one probably has friends who have qualities they dislike in some way, yet one doesnt throw the friendship away. Thus the nasty dig at Donald Trump was unneeded. Even Christ spent time dining with those that the holier than thou types avoided. Tax collectors, lepers, prostitutes.

Would the host have made rude comments if a non Christian movie and it's makers were Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist or some other non Christian religion? Or even a black Christian? I doubt it. I

Mar. 09 2014 05:46 AM


So the people who made "Son of God" think that the Earth is 6000 years old and every word of the Bible is literal, and Donald Trumph is Christlike.

Their defense of Trumph shows how out of touch modern American Conservative Evangelicals with what the Bible and Jesus were *really* all about...and they really are all about a love of money and power...

Mar. 08 2014 05:06 PM
B

The exchange at the end of this interveiw was extremely disappointing. The comment made by the interviewer regarding Donald Trump seemed unnecessary; but what seemed most disturbing was his attack of his guests when they did not seem to agree with his assessment. If I listen in the future, it will be with a greater level of caution than I usual.

Mar. 08 2014 03:04 PM
Larry from Arlington

Thanks to Kurt for not pulling punches on the interview with the producers of Son of God. Their defense of the Christ-like qualities of Donald Trump bordered on the surreal. Kurt's incredulous reaction echoed mine exactly. He was admirably polite throughout the interview nevertheless. Well done.

Mar. 08 2014 02:38 PM

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