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Rumors of Tension Between CBS Exec, 'Survivor' Producer

Television * Chief Leslie Moonves is reportedly upset with Mark Burnett, who has sold his 'Destination Mir' program to NBC. Both deny any conflicts.

September 16, 2000|BRIAN LOWRY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The tribe has spoken. And the chief, apparently, was pretty ticked off.

CBS Television President and Chief Executive Leslie Moonves was reportedly furious when Mark Burnett--on the heels of his blockbuster ratings success on CBS with "Survivor"--sold his next concept, "Destination Mir," to NBC a week ago.

Reports of tension between the two surfaced after Moonves turned out to be a no-show at Sunday's Nighttime Emmy Awards. One rumor, quickly denied by both parties, was Moonves skipped the ceremony specifically to avoid Burnett.

Moonves did miss the awards, but insisted it was a scheduling conflict--the executive was in New York--and had nothing to do with Burnett, saying the relationship between them is "terrific." In fact, the network recently gave Burnett a new Mercedes as a sign of appreciation for "Survivor's" success.

"Destination Mir" will put a dozen American civilians through Russian cosmonaut training, with the winner to be launched into space to visit the Mir space station. The project is tentatively scheduled for late next year or 2002.

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Burnett--in the midst of casting "Survivor: The Australian Outback," which is due to premiere on CBS in January after the Super Bowl--said he has received no indication that Moonves or anyone else at CBS is upset with him.

"NBC came back and said, 'Yes' to the asking price. It's nothing personal," Burnett said regarding the new deal, adding that he hadn't received "one comment in a negative way from anyone at CBS. . . . All we're talking about now is 'Survivor II.' "

Still, Moonves is known for priding himself on loyalty, and sources say he didn't feel Burnett showed much by selling the new project to a competitor, albeit one that agreed to a huge sum--sharing advertising revenue with the producer--to secure the rights.

Despite the phenomenal success of "Survivor" and financial bounty he will harvest from the sequel, Burnett quipped it's his aim not to alienate anyone, especially those with the authority to buy TV programs.

"I've had one successful show. I'm well aware of that," he said.

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