Mark Burnett is blasting into the heavens with NBC. The reality maestro's new space reality show, as first reported by TV Guide Magazine, has found a home at the Peacock network.
Burnett and Sir Richard Branson are behind Space Race, in which ordinary people will compete for a ride on one of Branson's first Virgin Galactic suborbital space flights. The winner will take off on Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo from Spaceport America in New Mexico, perhaps as soon as next year.
"The scope of this endeavor is so staggering, that it took these two titans to even imagine it," says Paul Telegdy, president of alternative and late night programming at NBC Entertainment. "This will be a remarkable experience for anyone who has looked at the night's sky and dared to dream of space flight."
Burnett's project isn't the only space-themed show in the marketplace. Sony Pictures TV is pitching Milky Way Mission, which would send celebrities into space via the Netherlands' Space Expedition Corporation. (A Dutch broadcaster has signed on, but so far there's no network signed on for the show in the U.S.)
The deal for Space Race extends Burnett's recent fruitful relationship with NBC, where The Voice remains a megahit. Burnett is also producing The Bible sequel A.D. for the network.
It's also a chance for Burnett to finally make good on his starry-eyed dreams to produce a reality show about space. He first sold the show Destination Mir to NBC back in 2000; at the time, the Peacock network agreed to pay Burnett between $35 million and $40 million for the ambitious series (which included the nearly $20 million that Burnett agreed to pay MirCorp, the company that held the lease to Mir).
But Destination Mir fell apart when the aging space station was brought down in 2001. Burnett later tried again with the renamed Destination: Space, partnering with the Russian Space Agency and a Russian TV network on a show that would have put someone aboard a Soyuz mission to the International Space Station. But the 2003 Space Shuttle Columbia disaster turned U.S. networks off the idea.
"For the past 10 years I have relentlessly pursued my dream of using a TV show to give an everyday person the chance to experience the black sky of space and look down upon mother Earth," Burnett says. "Last year I spent time in New Mexico at the state-of-the-art facility and last week spent time in the Mojave Desert with Sir Richard and his impressive team. We got to see the spaceship up close and hear of Sir Richard's incredible vision of how Virgin Galactic is the future of private space travel. I am thrilled to be part of a series that will give the everyday person a chance to see space and that NBC has come on board so that viewers at home will have a first-class seat."
Branson has already said he plans to be on the first flight, with his family, on Dec. 25 this year. The Virgin Galactic space rides are expected to last around two hours and take passengers up 62 miles above Earth. They'll experience weightlessness and witness Earth's curve. Virgin Galactic has said that the company's first flights will only come after the passengers' safety is secured.
"Virgin Galactic's mission is to democratize space, eventually making commercial space travel affordable and accessible to all," Branson says. "Space Race allows us to extend this opportunity of a lifetime to as many people as possible right at the start of our commercial service — through direct experience and television viewing."
Tom Hanks, Ashton Kutcher and Angelina Jolie are among the more than 600 people who have already signed up for a Virgin Galactic flight, which costs $250,000 per seat. That price tag puts a commercial space flight out of reach for most people, which is part of the idea behind Burnett's show.
Burnett's One Three Media is behind the show, which the producer is now in the process of selling internationally.