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Donald Trump Is Losing His Touch. So Is the TV Producer Who Shaped His Image.

Did you catch Steve Harvey’s “Funderdome” on ABC? How about “The World’s Best” on CBS, “The Contender” on Epix, or “World’s Toughest Race: Eco-Challenge” on Amazon Prime? Or the Christian-themed dramas “A.D. The Bible Continues” on NBC and “Messiah” on Netflix?

No? Well, you’re hardly alone. And the man behind the string of flops is Mark Burnett, the legendary TV producer who shaped Donald Trump’s image from “The Apprentice” through his 2016 inauguration. Like his greatest creation, Mr. Trump — who sought and then lost an idiotic television ratings war on Thursday night with Joe Biden — Mr. Burnett seems to be struggling to keep his grip on the cultural moment.

Mr. Burnett’s story has been told often, and until 2016 he was eager to help tell it — how he reshaped American television with “Survivor” in 2000 and how, with the 2004 start of “The Apprentice,” he “resurrected Donald Trump as an icon of American success,” as The New Yorker put it. He’s been in Mr. Trump’s ear ever since: He held a planning meeting for the 2016 inauguration in his Ritz-Carlton apartment, the event’s planner, Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, wrote. His associates produced the Republican National Convention this summer, Michael Grynbaum and Annie Karni reported for The New York Times. When President Trump took the presidential helicopter from the hospital to the White House this month, panicked Twitter commentators compared an official video of his triumphal return to the work of the Nazi propagandist Leni Riefenstahl. But Mr. Burnett was the artiste whose influence really shined through on the video, though a spokeswoman said he did not consult on it.

“The level of production coming out of the White House is something we would have appreciated having,” Bill Pruitt, a producer on the “The Apprentice,” said of the video’s specific camera angles and its particular obsession with helicopters, a longtime favorite prop of Mr. Burnett’s dating back to “Survivor.” “As is customary for this, the reality TV version of a presidential campaign, it seems they’re not striving as much for ‘four more years’ as they are ‘Season 2.’”

But that style may have fallen out of fashion. Mr. Burnett, 60, the defining TV impresario, salesman and deal maker of the aughts, hasn’t put his stamp on a bona fide hit since the debut of “The Voice” in 2011. He shaped reality TV’s bombastic, gimmicky and sometimes cruel early years. But the genre has matured and shifted in the streaming age to what are sometimes sweeter and more positive productions, like Netflix’s “Floor Is Lava” and “Tidying Up With Marie Kondo.”

And Mr. Burnett, until 2016 one of the most prominent figures in Hollywood, has gone dark. His Trumpian gift for telling his own story — about his triumphant reinvention of a once-great studio, MGM, and his plan to bring Jesus Christ to entertainment — has foundered on the reality of corporate infighting, creative struggles and a religious streaming network that never got off the ground.

“The impact that he was going to have on the film and Christian community has kind of gone bust,” said Peter Bart, who was a top executive at MGM before a long run as editor in chief of the trade newspaper Variety. “If that’s your main mission and your legacy is Trump and maybe the failure of the next MGM — that’s not a good chapter in his life.”

The current chapter of Mr. Burnett’s career began in earnest when Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, the once-great studio that had recently emerged from bankruptcy, bought out Mr. Burnett’s production company in 2015 for $120 million, consummating an earlier $400 million deal. That put him in charge of the studio’s television division. MGM got his stake in long-running shows like “The Voice” and “Shark Tank,” and the promise of more of his magic. MGM’s chief executive, Gary Barber, blessed the acquisition in high corporate gobbledygook: “We believe this synergistic transaction will be very accretive,” he said in a statement.

But with Mr. Burnett inside, Mr. Barber now had a charismatic rival for the affection of the chairman of the company’s board, Kevin Ulrich. One source of tension between Mr. Burnett and his new boss, two former executives said, was the enthusiasm of Mr. Burnett and his wife, Roma Downey, for faith-based programing. The couple are outspoken Christians, and in 2013 they had produced “The Bible” for the History Channel, with Ms. Downey cast as the Virgin Mary. They then founded Lightworkers Media, which MGM now controls, and had hopes that MGM would turn it into a powerhouse.

But MGM never invested enough in Lightworkers to turn it into more than some scattered programming and a little-watched television channel, Light TV, showing family-friendly reruns. MGM’s biggest bet through Lightworkers, the $100 million 2016 film “Ben Hur,” lost money. Repeated promises of a high-powered streaming service never materialized.

Mr. Burnett’s relationship with Mr. Trump has also shadowed his run at MGM. He had long been part of a kind of media industry kitchen cabinet for the developer, along with CNN’s chief, Jeff Zucker, who had put “The Apprentice” on NBC, and the talent agent Ari Emmanuel. He and Ms. Downey had typically supported Democrats (Ms. Downey wrote a check to Marianne Williamson’s 2014 California congressional campaign), and he said in 2016 that he wasn’t actually supporting his friend’s White House bid.

But although Mr. Burnett promised associates that his friendship with the president would be great for business, he was also intensely sensitive to criticism of his old friend. He objected in particular, two people present at the time said, when an MGM board member, Jason Hirschhorn, began sharply criticizing Mr. Trump in his newsletter, REDEF in 2016. Katie Martin Kelley, MGM’s spokeswoman, said Mr. Hirschhorn’s “public statements at the time caused friction for many people at MGM,” and Mr. Hirschhorn, who left the board in 2017, declined to comment.

Since the 2016 election, Mr. Burnett has gone to great lengths to keep a public distance from Mr. Trump, batting away suggestions that he helped with the Republican National Convention. “They are not in communication and he had no involvement with any of the president’s public activities around his hospitalization for Covid-19,” Ms. Kelley said in an email.

Mr. Trump is just one thread in the internal tension at MGM involving Mr. Burnett. He’s always been a difficult boss, and even before the pandemic, he was a man-about-town deal maker — not an office-bound manager. He’s had so little input in the successes of the company’s scripted division, including “The Handmaid’s Tale” and “Fargo,” that the division’s leader, Steve Stark, was recently forced to clarify to The Hollywood Reporter that he still reports to Mr. Burnett. He played a role in the messy 2018 ouster of Mr. Barber, which has left the company operating without a chief executive. Now, MGM is subject to perennial acquisition rumors and dependent on factors it can’t control: It is hoping theaters will be packed for the release of a new James Bond film next year and that the culture will be ready for the return of “Live PD,” a Burnett acquisition that was canceled this summer amid the wave of revolt at police violence.

After Mr. Barber’s ouster, Mr. Burnett announced that he and Ms. Downey would raise $100 million to start a Lightworkers subscription service. But those plans, Ms. Kelley said, have been delayed by the coronavirus pandemic, though “conversations have and are expected to continue.” For now, Lightworkers is just producing content for MGM, and recently completed production on a feature film called “Resurrection.” It also scaled back its digital presence in July, taking much of its content off the internet, including articles by Charlotte Pence Bond, the daughter of Vice President Mike Pence. (One had the headline, “Are You Narcissistic? Let’s Find Out.”)

Mr. Burnett didn’t respond to interview requests directly or through an MGM spokeswoman. After years in the headlines, he is keeping his profile low, and his name didn’t even appear in a recent, gloomy Wall Street Journal assessment of MGM’s finances. Some of his old partners, like Les Moonves at CBS and Paul Telegdy at NBC, have been forced out of their positions, and a new generation of network executives doesn’t jump quite so quickly at his calls. But if he’s not quite the producing star he once was, he’s still closing deals. In 2018, Amazon Prime resurrected a show called “Eco-Challenge,” which Mr. Burnett started producing in the 1990s, though Amazon has dropped plans for a second season, MGM confirmed. When I asked MGM’s chief communications officer, Ms. Kelley, about the perception that Mr. Burnett had lost his creative touch, she responded with a litany of his long-running shows.

“In his capacity as an executive producer, he has produced more than 70 seasons of shows for ABC (‘Shark Tank,’ 12 seasons), CBS (‘Survivor’ 40 seasons), Fox (‘Beat Shazam,’ 4 seasons), NBC (‘The Voice,’ 19 seasons), and the most recently launched ‘World’s Toughest Race: Eco-Challenge’ on Amazon Prime,” she said. “Combined, programs where he serves as an EP have generated 18 Emmy wins, and 150 nominations. Burnett’s TV division is consistently amongst the most profitable divisions of MGM.”

But the last great question for Mr. Burnett, of course, is Trump TV. Journalists often imagine that Mr. Trump will start a 24/7 news channel to the right of Fox News should he lose the presidency. But the best move of Mr. Trump’s career, tax returns obtained by The Times showed, was in reality, not news — his partnership with Mr. Burnett in “The Apprentice.” My colleague James Poniewozik wrote once that Mr. Trump’s problem is that “now there’s no Mark Burnett to impose retroactive logic on the chaos.”

People who have worked with Mr. Burnett say they can’t help imagining that he’s working all the angles on the final, realest reality show of all, following a former president back into the real world.

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MGM Remakes Orion Pictures to Tell More Inclusive Stories

LOS ANGELES — Checks have been written to racial justice organizations. Training programs for Asian, Black and Latino filmmakers have been created. “We must do better” has been tweeted and re-tweeted by studio executives, most recently after the killing of George Floyd in police custody prompted a national conversation about racism and inequity.

But power in Hollywood still belongs almost exclusively to white men. “There are almost no people of color in the film industry who have the power to say, ‘this movie is getting made and by this person,’” said Ana-Christina Ramón, an author of studies about Hollywood hiring that are published annually by the University of California, Los Angeles.

On Thursday, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, the 96-year-old home of James Bond, Rocky and RoboCop, took a modest yet meaningful step toward correcting the imbalance, hiring a young producer, Alana Mayo, to remake its Orion Pictures division to focus exclusively on underrepresented filmmakers and stories. Ms. Mayo will lead a greenlight committee made up entirely of women — meaning the chairman of MGM’s film group, Michael De Luca, will not have a vote in selecting the films that Orion makes or acquires for distribution.

“As a person who is a woman and Black and queer, I want to create something that will hopefully make other people like me feel like they are finally a part of the Hollywood system,” Ms. Mayo said in a phone interview. “One of the most exciting things about this opportunity is being able to greenlight movies. Who gets to say ‘yes’ is massively important. A lot of studio executives still have a fairly myopic view of what and who is film worthy. The human experience is 360 degrees. We have been looking at 20.”

The overhauled Orion will initially release two or three films a year with budgets of up to $15 million, about the same output and budget level as before. (MGM’s signature division works with higher budgets — a coming biopic about Aretha Franklin starring Jennifer Hudson cost MGM about $55 million to make — and aims to release eight to 10 films annually.)

Ms. Mayo, 36, has worked in the film business for more than a decade, climbing rungs at Paramount Pictures and, most recently, producing films and television series with Michael B. Jordan. They were instrumental in pushing WarnerMedia in 2018 to adopt an inclusive hiring policy for productions, and their recent civil rights drama “Just Mercy,” with Mr. Jordan in the lead role, was the first movie to adhere to it.

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Credit…Andrew Toth/Getty Images for Macro

“We will absolutely have an inclusion policy on all Orion productions,” Ms. Mayo said. “I now know how it is done in a practical sense. How it’s achievable.” Such policies, still rare in Hollywood, evolved out of the concept of an “inclusion rider,” a term Frances McDormand brought public attention to in her 2018 Oscar acceptance speech — a contractual obligation that actors and filmmakers could potentially wield to increase diversity in productions.

Orion has lately put out horror and comedy films with predominantly white casts and directed by white men. “Child’s Play,” a remake of the 1988 movie about a murderous doll, was a moneymaker last year, costing about $10 million to make and selling $45 million in tickets worldwide. But other recent releases — “Gretel & Hansel,” the spiritual romance “Every Day” — have disappointed. The next movie on Orion’s release schedule is the goofball comedy “Bill & Ted Face the Music,” which will arrive in theaters and on VOD on Aug. 28.

John Hegeman, who has been Orion’s president since 2017, is leaving the company, along with his entire team.

Mr. De Luca and Pam Abdy, president of MGM’s film group, said in a statement that remaking Orion to focus on people of color, women, the L.G.B.T.Q. community and people with disabilities was “a moral and business imperative.” Kevin Ulrich, chairman of the MGM board, cited Ms. Mayo’s “fearlessness” as one reason she was hired.

“It was essential that we find an exceptional executive who will be a leader at the forefront of change in our industry,” Mr. Ulrich said in a statement. Mr. Ulrich is the chief executive of Anchorage Capital Group, a New York investment firm that is MGM’s largest owner. The plan to bring in Ms. Mayo was hatched with Creative Artists Agency, which serves as an adviser to Mr. Ulrich, not long after Mr. Floyd’s killing in late May.

MGM’s primary movie operation underwent its own shake-up in January. Out: Jonathan Glickman, who stepped down after nine years as the studio’s film chief. In: Mr. De Luca, a former Sony Pictures and New Line Cinema executive (and a producer of the infamous 2017 Oscars telecast that found Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty naming the wrong film best picture). MGM has since shown a new aggression in deal-making, lining up an adaptation of “Fiddler on the Roof” to be directed by Thomas Kail (“Hamilton”) and a 1970s-era film from Paul Thomas Anderson (“Boogie Nights”).

There is speculation in Hollywood that Mr. Ulrich is sprucing up MGM ahead of a potential sale to a company like Apple, which lacks a library for its streaming service. An MGM spokeswoman declined to comment.

Orion, founded in 1978 as an independent company, sizzled in the 1980s and early 90s, in part because it took risks on challenging stories. Oscar-winning hits included “Amadeus” (1984), “Platoon” (1986), “Dances With Wolves” (1990) and “The Silence of the Lambs” (1991). Orion also gave the world “Caddyshack” (1980).

But the studio also had misfires, among them Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Cotton Club” (1984) and “She-Devil” (1989), which paired Meryl Streep with Roseanne Barr. Orion eventually found itself unable to compete with larger studios and declared bankruptcy. MGM bought Orion in 1997, and it remained largely dormant as a film business — it also has a TV division, which will not be part of Ms. Mayo’s purview — until Mr. Hegeman was hired in 2017.

Ms. Mayo, who grew up in Chicago (her mother was a paralegal and her father was a radio executive), graduated from Columbia University with degrees in English and film studies. She got her start in show business as an intern for Lee Daniels (“Precious,” “Empire”). She said Spike Lee was as an important influence, in particular his “Bamboozled,” a 2000 satire about a modern televised minstrel show.

Ms. Mayo was briefly married to Lena Waithe, the Emmy-winning writer behind the Showtime series “The Chi.”

There are other Black women in senior roles at film studios. Nicole Brown is the executive vice president of Tri-Star, a Sony division that recently won a bidding war for “I Wanna Dance With Somebody,” a Whitney Houston biopic. Vanessa Morrison oversees the development and production of original films for Disney+.

But they are extremely few and far between and most do not have the kind of movie-picking power that Ms. Mayo has been promised. According to the most recent U.C.L.A. study on diversity in Hollywood, senior management teams at studios are 93 percent white and 80 percent male. Five years ago, they were 92 percent white and 83 percent male.

As Ms. Ramón and her fellow researchers authors noted in the report, “Decisions about what types of films to make, how large a budget to assign to them, how they will be marketed, and who will be at the directorial helm are all made by the men and women who occupy Hollywood’s executive suites.”

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