Amazon announced Monday that reality television producer Mark Burnett, who served as MGM’s president of television for eight years, is leaving the company amid Amazon’s efforts to integrate MGM into its own studio operations.
Burnett is best known for bringing “Survivor” and “The Apprentice” with Donald Trump to American audiences. In recent years, he served as president of the MGM Worldwide Television Group, overseeing a number of original programs including “The Voice,” “Survivor”; “Shark Tank” and “The Handmaid’s Tale.”
The move comes eight months after Amazon acquired MGM for $8.5 billion, a key component of the e-retail giant’s efforts to boost its content library for Amazon Prime Video subscribers.
Mike Hopkins, senior vice president of Amazon Prime Video and Amazon Studios, and Burnett jointly announced that Burnett is leaving the company “to resume his work as an independent creator and producer,” according to an email sent to Hopkins staff.
Burnett’s contract was set to expire at the end of the year. On Monday, Hopkins told Amazon staff that “of course Mark’s retirement raises both opportunities and questions about how we will be organized going forward. You will hear more about that soon.”
Burnett, a Brit who got his start in Los Angeles more than 25 years ago hunting for TV T-shirts on the Venice Beach boardwalk, scored his first major show, “Survivor,” on CBS. But his career took off even higher after “The Apprentice” debuted on NBC in 2004. Ratings soared and Trump became a national sensation with his signature “You’re fired.”
Burnett’s tenure at MGM had been stormy at times, with clashes with other executives. In the fall of 2016, MGM faced calls to release footage from the set of “The Apprentice” so that voters could get a glimpse of Trump’s erratic behavior. The studio refused.
On Monday, Burnett sent a lengthy email to staff praising their contributions to MGM’s recent television success. He noted that he sold a majority stake in his companies to MGM in 2014 when he came on board as the studio’s president of television. He added that he later “sold the rest of my companies for MGM stock and became president 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 between MGM, Burnett, his wife Roma Downey, and the Hearst Company for $234 million. Burnett and Downey received $120 million for their 23 percent 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 been heads of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s film business, left soon after the Amazon takeover.
“After months of collaborative transition efforts, we have carefully reorganized our teams so that all have the opportunity to thrive under the leadership of Mike Hopkins, Jennifer Salke and Christopher Brearton,” Burnett added.
“As I step away from day-to-day management and return to creating and innovating independently, I will continue to oversee my legacy series and be available to everyone and Amazon for guidance and support,” Burnett wrote.
Burnett helped rebuild MGM’s television operation with his own productions, including “The Bible,” which he co-produced with his wife Roma 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 advice throughout the integration,” Hopkins wrote in his note. “I know you will all agree that he is one of the most innovative, creative and prolific television producers in our industry, and we have been incredibly fortunate to have him on our team.”