Joel Osteen and Mark Burnett seem to be a match made in television ratings heaven.
Osteen, the pastor of Lakewood Church whose television broadcast is watched by seven million Americans per week, and Burnett, who has worked as a producer on shows like “Survivor,” “The Voice” and “The Apprentice,” announced last week that they had reached an agreement to create a reality show together.
The show is still in its earliest stages, but Burnett spoke with The Christian Post to share just what he envisions it will become.
CP: How did you come to know Joel and Victoria Osteen?
Burnett: I’ve gotten to know Joel and Victoria just through mutual acquaintances. They’ve visited our home, and we’ve also visited their home and been to services at Lakewood, and just connected and thought they were really, really charismatic, cool people.
CP: How did that relationship help in the formation of this new reality series?
Burnett: We really watch Joel’s services on television a lot, and we just felt that there was something more to do with our skill set of television with them. We just got to talking, really, and really the best things like this come out of just chatting with people about what would be the point of view, what would be the best message to send. What we really came up with was: There’s such a need out there. A lot of people are really hurting from the economy, more than they have been for many years, and Joel often says that when you personally are in your toughest time, offering service to others is sometimes the best remedy.
I got this idea of offering the opportunity for people around the country to give a few days of their time. Now, that could be as simple as, you know, it could be a mom who’s got three kids, and a job and a husband, and she says, “You know, times are tough times, but I am going to give a few days to provide service to someone else” … and she’s going to pack her bags and head for Lakewood. It could be a student, who says to his teacher, “You know, I know it’s important, my studies, but I need a few days off, and here’s why.”
Now, I find it hard to believe any employer or any teacher is going to tell someone that’s not a good idea, because you learn as much through service as you can through studies and the work here.
So what you need in this kind of television is a little “hook” to make people watch. And the hook is: These people are packing their bags and heading to Lakewood. That’s all they know. They don’t know where they’re going to be going after that, they just know they’re offering their service, and they’re going to find out along the way where they’re going and what they’re doing. And they’re going to meet other people.
So, story-telling. It’s like you and I have never met, and we tell your story as you’re leaving Houston, and you’ve decided “I’m going to do this.” And I’m leaving Los Angeles, and I’m going to do this. And we end up sitting next to each other on a bus and sharing our stories and getting the reveal of this enormous good we’re about to do, and it’s exciting.
The sort of things we’ve thought of: Let’s say that a town had a battalion of soldiers returning, which is certainly going to be happening over the next year, and they really show the love for what these soldiers have given to the nation … and they want to make a real great celebration, a returning home celebration. Well, you know what, Joel’s going to come down, with all these pack-your-bags volunteers, and we’re going to show up in a huge way and really create and produce … something the town couldn’t do.
Another place that it could be, for the holidays, there’s children homes, there’s schools, there’s senior citizens’ homes, and … by coming in with a huge amount of people with skill sets we can make it so that that holiday celebration for all those people is much bigger than it ever would have been. And we’re going to touch people.
I see the end of this being: These people who have met for the first time, all now heading back away from the service site, having met in relationship, and I think it’s really, really great … television, and doing good things.”
CP: In a typical episode, will Joel and Victoria be working hands-on alongside the other volunteers?
Burnett: Yes, very much so. Here’s how I see it: Everyone’s come to Lakewood. Their bags are packed … Everyone comes to Lakewood and will get the experience of Lakewood, but it’s when your name is called, and your bags are packed, and you pick up your bag and you walk on board the buses. And the last names called are Joel and Victoria’s, whose bags are also packed, … they’re ready to go, and they’re the last ones to board those buses. They’ve gotten on the bus, and one of them is sitting next to you, and I’ve met you for the first time, you say “I wonder where we’re going.” “I don’t know, but I’m here to help.” And so it’s a revealing mission, and it reveals itself stage by stage. And yes, Joel and Victoria also are going to be very hands-on.
CP: So to clarify, they won’t know where they’re going until they reach the job site?
Burnett: That’s right. If you’re coming, all you’ll know is you’re available, your bags are packed, and you’ve committed to go. And you won’t know where you’re going or what you’re doing. That will be revealed as the show goes on.
It’s fun for the audience. You see, what I’ve created here, is it’s a fun reveal. They’re almost on this scavenger hunt themselves wondering what the clues are. “Where do you think we’re going? What do you think we’re doing?” And so it actually makes it a fun experience for the viewers through the eyes of those people who have given their time, and they’ve come from all over America. You’re really telling this through the eyes of those people who have given their time.
CP: Will you also be taking a look into the personal lives of Joel and Victoria?
Burnett: Yes, but yet it’s not about that … We know that. Joel has been on television many times, and his books … This is really the choices of those who’ve traveled with their bags packed, and just follow Joel and Victoria on this mission to do good. And they will be there. They’re not sending people off, they’re going to be … there themselves doing it. And we’ll also, of course, learn the stories of several people that are being helped.
CP: Joel Osteen’s name is a pretty big draw; how do you feel now that he has decided to do this with you?
Burnett: I feel great. We get along so well and are very like-minded and I feel they are so charismatic in person and also on camera. As a producer, part of my job is selecting who will do the best job on television. And I think that’s very incredible television.
CP: Does your own faith play any role in your decision to pursue this type of show?
Burnett: Of course.
CP: Can you explain?
Burnett: It’s being of service. There’s no question that to those whom much is given, much is expected.
CP: Do you have a prospective start date for this project? When will you begin shopping the idea around to networks?
Burnett: We’ve already received many, many calls. We’re talking to a bunch of people already.