Mike Darnell

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Mike Darnell
Mike Darnell at a Hollywood Reporter photoshoot

Michael H. "Mike" Darnell is an American television executive who is currently the President of Unscripted & Alternative Television at Warner Bros., and was previously at the FOX network, as President of Alternative Entertainment, where he spent nearly 19 years overseeing the network's reality television division during the genre's rise.[1][2]

As described by TVbytheNumbers' Masked Scheduler, Mike is “the king of reality TV and one of the more interesting, offbeat characters ever to occupy an executive suite.” [3]

Warner Bros Television[edit]

Within his Unscripted & Alternative division at Warner Bros, Mike Darnell is responsible for overseeing three WB companies: Warner Horizon Unscripted Television, Telepictures Productions, and Shed Media. Darnell and his team currently oversee 35 series across 20 different networks [4] including primetime series such as "Little Big Shots” (NBC), “Ellen’s Game of Games” (NBC), “The Voice” (NBC), “The Bachelor” Franchise (ABC), “Love Connection” (FOX), as well as “TMZ”, “The Real”, and “The Ellen DeGeneres Show”, among others.[4] In 2017, Deadline reported that since Darnell joined Warner Bros, its primetime unscripted portfolio has grown from 3 series to 12 – currently more than any other producer or studio in America.[5]

In addition, Darnell is developing and Executive Producing a new talent competition series called "The World's Best", coming soon to CBS. The series is described as "a first-of-its-kind global talent competition series featuring acts from every genre imaginable, from every corner of the planet. They not only have to impress American judges, but will also need to break through the “wall of the world,” featuring 50 of the world’s most accomplished experts from every field of entertainment. The winning act will ultimately be crowned The World’s Best."[6] The series will be produced by Darnell and his Warner Horizon Unscripted division, along with Mark Burnett and MGM Television. “This is a unique, original format with global scale led by two of the most accomplished producers on television,” said Sharon Vuong, CBS’ SVP, Alternative Programming. “Mike and Mark are not only the very top producers in the genre, but they also understand how to create compelling competition and build enduring franchises.” [7]

Fox Broadcasting Company[edit]

During his tenure at FOX, Darnell was responsible for hundreds of series and specials, which included "American Idol", "Hell’s Kitchen", "MasterChef", "So You Think You Can Dance", "The X Factor", "Kitchen Nightmares", "Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?"," Temptation Island", "The Simple Life", "My Big Fat Obnoxious Fiancé", "Joe Millionaire", and the launch of the animated series "Futurama" and "Family Guy".[4]

Fox head Rupert Murdoch candidly touted his influence: “Mike took risks at a critical time and was a pioneering force in shaping the reality programming genre that exists today.” [8]

With more than 30 million viewers at its peak, American Idol catapulted FOX from the last place network to eight consecutive seasons as the #1 network.[8] Darnell oversaw “American Idol” from its creation through season 12. In an interview with Deadline, he recalls when he first knew Idol was going to be big, saying “I was at [the first] audition with my co-workers and my wife, and this was the first time I experienced a bad audition. And it was so funny, my wife had to run out so she could laugh outside. If I remember correctly, Paula [Abdul] was upset and kind of crying because she did not realize how harsh it was going to be. And it was at that moment I thought, this is unique. Simon and his sensibility of being frank and honest with contestants instead of gentle, I’d never seen that before, and it was never on American television.” [9]

Darnell told Variety that his proudest achievements during his time at FOX was “American Idol” and the success he had with Gordon Ramsay, but that “Joe Millionaire” remains his favorite memory. Darnell stated that the first season finale of Joe Millionaire “remains the highest-rated entertainment telecast in the history of Fox — even surpassing “Idol” at its peak. It did 40 million viewers and a 40 share on a Sunday night.” [10]

Darnell began his television career in the news department of Fox’s owned-and-operated Los Angeles affiliate, KTTV-TV and then became an executive producer of specials for the Fox Television Station Group before moving to the network to become Director of Specials.

Variety wrote about his transition from news saying, “During his time in local TV, police car chases always brought ratings. So did videos of unusual encounters with animals.” Darnell said, “I thought, why can’t I do them as primetime specials. I remember seeing a clip of a guy who was attacked by a deer after he put deer urine on his clothes. That was great television.” [11]

Darnell made a name for himself by launching more than 60 specials a year on FOX,[11] including When Animals Attack!, World’s Scariest Police Chases, Breaking the Magician's Code: Magic's Biggest Secrets Finally Revealed, and Man vs Beast. One of his earliest specials came when a producer brought Mike some old black-and-white footage that appeared to be an alien being dissected. As described in an interview with Vanity Fair, “Darnell was immediately fascinated. Who wouldn’t want to watch this?”. The special was called “Alien Autopsy: Fact or Fiction?” and drew a huge audience with nearly 12 million viewers in a single airing [12][13]

In his 2017 Vanity Fair interview, Darnell talked about his rise at Fox saying, “I pushed lines; I was very loud; my neck was on the line several times. . . [Other networks] did reality, but not like Fox. Fox was really going to take that risk with me.” [8]

Early Life & Career[edit]

Mike Darnell was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to Eileen and Gene Darnell.[14] His father was a policeman, and Mike was raised and attended public school in Philly's Northeast section. When he was 10, a talent manager saw him singing at a Police Athletic League event and encouraged him to do commercials.[15] When he was 12, his family moved to California, where he eventually appeared in or voiced-over some 60 commercials. He also appeared in TV episodes such as Sanford and Son, Welcome Back, Kotter and Kojak.[14][15] Later he worked as a bank teller to help pay his way through Cal State-Northridge. He also played piano at a night spot.[14] Soon after graduating, in 1994, he had an internship at 'Entertainment Tonight, which he says he "hated,"[14] before he started working in the news unit of the new Fox affiliate station in Los Angeles, KTTV.

Mike is married to his childhood friend Carolyn Oberman, a public relation executive who works for the Emmy awards.[16] They have a daughter, Chelsea.


  1. ^ Lesley Goldberg & Michael O'Connell (24 May 2013). "Mike Darnell Exits as Fox Reality Boss". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 24 May 2013. 
  2. ^ Friedman, Wayne (7 August 2007). "Darnell Stays At Fox, But Upped To Prez, Alternative Entertainment". MediaPost News. Retrieved 24 May 2013. 
  3. ^ http://tvbythenumbers.zap2it.com/more-tv-news/masked-scheduler-rupert-murdoch-may-not-be-done-with-deals-for-fox/
  4. ^ a b c http://realscreen.com/2017/04/12/mike-darnell-to-enter-realscreen-awards-hall-of-fame/
  5. ^ http://deadline.com/2017/03/wbtv-mike-darnell-the-bachelor-franchise-american-idol-return-1202052458/
  6. ^ http://deadline.com/2018/02/cbs-the-worlds-best-global-talent-competition-reality-series-mark-burnett-mike-darnell-1202280013/
  7. ^ http://deadline.com/2018/02/cbs-the-worlds-best-global-talent-competition-reality-series-mark-burnett-mike-darnell-1202280013/
  8. ^ a b c https://www.vanityfair.com/hollywood/2017/04/fox-reality-tv-mike-darnell
  9. ^ http://deadline.com/2016/04/american-idol-finale-mike-darnell-interview-fox-1201732900/
  10. ^ https://variety.com/2003/tv/news/joe-millionaire-mega-money-for-fox-1117880730/
  11. ^ a b https://variety.com/2013/tv/news/mike-darnells-greatest-hits-joe-millionaire-alien-autopsy-and-seth-macfarlane-1200487863/
  12. ^ http://time.com/4376871/alien-autopsy-hoax-history/
  13. ^ https://books.google.com/books?id=IWC4AAAAIAAJ&focus=searchwithinvolume&q=ratings+catnip
  14. ^ a b c d Weiner, Jennifer (29 December 1998). "Inventing A Fox Formula ``when Good Pets Go Bad. ``when Stunts Go Bad. ``when Disaster Strikes. Critics Cringe, But Programmers Love These Profitable Specials. Where Do The Ideas Come From? Meet Mike Darnell". Philadelphia Inquirer. Retrieved 26 May 2013. 
  15. ^ a b Carter, Bill (2007). Desperate Networks. NewYork, NY: Random House. p. 96. ISBN 978-0-7679-2786-4. 
  16. ^ Carter, Bill (2007). Desperate Networks. Crown Publishing Group. ISBN 9780767927864. 

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