Mike Darnell, currently the President of Unscripted & Alternative Television at Warner Bros., is an American television executive who is considered one of the most highly regarded and influential figures in the history of reality TV programming.
Darnell is known for his 19 years at the FOX network where he was President of Alternative Entertainment and responsible for hundreds of series and specials, including the mega-hits American Idol and Family Guy, as well as Hell’s Kitchen, MasterChef, MasterChef Junior, So You Think You Can Dance, The X Factor, Kitchen Nightmares, Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?, Don’t Forget the Lyrics!, Temptation Island, The Simple Life, My Big Fat Obnoxious Fiancé, Futurama and Joe Millionaire.
In August 2013, Mike Darnell left Fox Broadcasting and moved to Warner Bros. In this role as President of Unscripted & Alternative Television, Darnell is responsible for overseeing a large slate of projects, including Little Big Shots, The Voice, The Bachelor, The Ellen DeGeneres Show and TMZ, and has supervision over all the Studio’s unscripted TV content creation with oversight of three Warner Bros. companies: Warner Horizon Unscripted Television, Telepictures Productions, and Shed Media.
Mike Darnell’s division is responsible for some of the top reality shows on broadcast television. With Little Big Shots on NBC, starring Steve Harvey, the comedy/variety show was the highest-rated new series of 2015-2016 and the biggest new unscripted series, on any network, for the previous six seasons. The Voice is currently the #1 unscripted series in primetime, and The Bachelor, The Bachelorette, and Bachelor in Paradise is the longest-running relationship franchise on TV. Darnell and his three development teams also have an unprecedented slate of new primetime series, which includes a primetime revival of Love Connection for FOX, hosted by Bravo’s Andy Cohen, plus First Dates with Drew Barrymore coming to NBC, and Ellen DeGeneres hosting her first ever primetime series in Ellen's Game of Games for NBC which will feature super-sized versions of the most popular and hilarious games from her show.
In addition, Darnell’s division is also responsible for a large slate of cable projects, including for the Emmy-winning series Who Do You Think You Are? for TLC, as well as Long Lost Family for TLC, Basketball Wives for VH1, the Happily Ever After? series on Freeform, and The Real Housewives of New York City for Bravo, among others. And in first-run syndication (under Darnell’s Telepictures division), is the Emmy-winning hit The Ellen DeGeneres Show, as well as TMZ & TMZ Live, Crime Watch Daily with Chris Hansen, Extra, Judge Mathis, The People’s Court and The Real. In addition, Telepictures Digital is responsible for a variety of sites and apps, including ellentube.com, TMZ.com and Heads Up!, the #1 paid app for the last three years.
Darnell joined Warner Bros. in August 2013, coming from Fox Broadcasting Company as President of Alternative Entertainment, where he originally joined the network in 1994 as Director of Specials. In his early days at the network, he was credited for launching specials such as When Animals Attack!, Alien Autopsy: Fact or Fiction?, World’s Scariest Police Chases, Breaking the Magician's Code: Magic's Biggest Secrets Finally Revealed, and Man vs. Beast. 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.
Mike was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. 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. 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, Gimme a Break, and Kojak. Later he worked as a bank teller to help pay his way through Cal State-Northridge. He also played piano at a night spot. Soon after graduating, in 1987, he had an internship at 'Entertainment Tonight, which he says he "hated," and then started working in the news unit of the new Fox affiliate station in Los Angeles, KTTV, which lead him to the Fox network where he stayed for the next 19 years.
Mike is married to his childhood friend Carolyn Oberman, a public relations executive who runs a thriving Emmy awards consulting business. They have a daughter, Chelsea.
- 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.
- Carter, Bill (2007). Desperate Networks. NewYork, NY: Random House. p. 96. ISBN 978-0-7679-2786-4.