After trying for find a buyer for his Mark Burnett Prods. for the past several years, Mark Burnett has formed a “long-term media, production and events-based joint venture” with Hearst Corp., the two sides announced this morning. Under the deal, Hearst has acquired a 50% interest in Burnett’s company. Burnett will lead the new venture’s board of directors along with Scott Sassa, president of Hearst Entertainment & Syndication and former president of NBC West Coast.
Burnett has been looking to sell his company for the past five years, at one point even bringing in the now-defunct Bear Stearns to help facilitate a deal. After exploratory talks with the likes of Endemol and FremantleMedia, the closest Burnett came to a sale was in the summer of 2008, when IMG, under Chris Albrecht, was ready to shell out $250 million-$500 million for the company. The deal fell through as IMG changed directions, Albrecht left and Burnett became the target of a $70 million lawsuit by former business partner Conrad Riggs. The litigation, along with Burnett’s high asking price, had been keeping potential buyers away. Additionally, while constantly working (he has produced some 1,100 hours of programming), Burnett has not being able to land hits of the size of his early series, Survivor and The Apprentice. Those series will not be part of the new venture, which will share ownership on future Burnett projects only. “Survivor is to nonfiction what I Love Lucy is to sitcoms; it is the starting point for all of today’s storyline-based unscripted shows,” Sassa said. “This venture provides Mark a platform and freedom to continue and grow his unique type of innovation. Together, we have a vision to create shows that have 360-degree businesses built around them. We will create businesses around every screen that are both in- and out-of-home experiences, and linear and interactive in nature.” Burnett’s producing credits include Survivor, The Apprentice, Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?, Shark Tank, The People’s Choice Awards and The MTV Movie Awards. His upcoming series include The Voice on NBC, Expedition Impossible on ABC and the Audrina Patridge show on VH1.