“Survivor” and “The Voice” executive producer Mark Burnett had never tackled a dating show — until now. His new Fox series “Coupled,” which debuts tonight, positions itself as a more female-empowerment version of the usual dating format (a.k.a. “The Bachelor”).
On the show, 12 women meet a single guy, and decide whether they want to pursue him — or wait back at the bungalow for the next dude. The show also looks to update how modern young couples now communicate — yes, there’s a lot of texting (visually shown) on the show.
Besides being a producer (he’s also behind the upcoming feature “Ben-Hur”), Burnett’s a busy executive these days, having been named president of MGM Television and Digital Group in December. We caught up with Burnett to find out what attracted him to “Coupled” and what’s next. (And we also found a topic he was less interested in discussing.) A condensed version of our chat follows.
There have been a lot of dating shows over the years; what drew you to this particular take on the format?
Burnett: It’s not just a dozen women and one guy, and each week a woman is being eliminated. I like the idea of a show where every woman could find love, and men are coming regularly by helicopter and by speedboat in a very dramatic fashion. No one is being chosen. Women are not like someone’s property.
How would you say “Coupled” is different?
Burnett: The women have a lot of power. And it’s a real two-way street. I really like that the show feels young and relevant, with the texting and the video sharing. You’re watching the show and if someone is aware of modern American dating, it looks like real life… And also, for these women, it’s not like their life is over if they don’t meet the right guy. They’ll still have a great life. Women journalists watch the show and say ‘well done,’ showing women in the light that they should be shown. But this isn’t like ancient times where some guy says ‘Hey, you, come with me.’
You also cast diverse bachelors on the show.
Burnett: It’s never, ever been seen on that other show. You know that, right? I think that’s so important. This show is truly diverse and reflective of our nation.
Your host, Terrence “J” Jenkins, is young enough that the women mistake him for one of the bachelors.
Burnett: He’s not like some rule setter who’s going to make these comments to women. You know when he walks away and tells the women, “Don’t look at my butt when I walk away”? It’s like normal life. This is fresh.
How tough is it to launch a new unscripted show, in a world where have pretty much seen it all?
Burnett: On “The Voice,” people said that there was no way another singing show could work. It’s now the last one standing. The most beloved singing show in America. Obviously it’s never easy to launch something. But I think this show
has a real chance to connect with viewers. All my shows look great and they
make sense. You can’t guarantee every show will be a hit, but I’ve got a better
record than most.
Why did you wait until now to do your first dating show?
Burnett: I was the one who went to Fox and said, “OK, I want to make my first dating show. I want to do this with you.” I didn’t go around pitching the show.
It’s fresh. The women form their own society in the bungalows. Just when
they’re sitting around having another cocktail and talking about their love
life, they hear that noise of the helicopter, and they’re, “Whoa! Another
man is coming!”
Next up, you have a new Steve Harvey show for ABC, where entrepreneurs will compete for seed funding.
Burnett: I have a real relationship with Steve. I know him, I love his values, Roma [Downey, Burnett’s wife] knows him. He likes the idea of telling people how to live their dreams entrepreneurially. This show, an audience gets to select with entrepreneur gets the funding.
There’s never been a better time to be in business with Steve Harvey, right?
Burnett: Yeah, and there’s never been a better time to be in business with Mark Burnett.
Also coming soon, what can you tell us about your new hip-hop music competition show for MTV?
Burnett: There’s no guaranteed winner. There is no stage element. It all takes place inside the recording studio. I’d say it feels like “Straight Outta Compton,” the music competition. The way you saw Eazy-E, Dr. Dre and these guys get their start, it feels more like that. There are no shiny floors on this show. It’s part music show, part documentary, part real life.
One more question: what’s the status of your previously announced Faith and Family digital channel?
Burnett: We’re working on it every day. I believe there will be an announcement very soon. This is a huge priority. Roma and I have spent eight years in this space. We believe strongly. Four years in a row we produced premium stuff in this space: “The Bible,” “The Dovekeepers,” “A.D.,” “Ben Hur.” Believe me, there will be big things coming around our Faith and Family channel.
And Mark, you know I can’t let you go without asking you about your former “Apprentice” host Donald Trump. He’s now the Republican presidential candidate. Your thoughts?
Burnett: There was one more question, right? I’ll talk to you later! Bye!
“Coupled” premieres Tuesday, May 17, at 9/8c on Fox.
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