Mike Darnell

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Mike Darnell
Mike Darnell at a Hollywood Reporter photoshoot

Michael H. Darnell (born 1962) is an American television executive who is currently the president of Unscripted & Alternative Television at Warner Bros. He spent nearly 19 years at the FOX network as president of Alternative Entertainment, overseeing the network's reality television division during the genre's rise.[1][2] Tvbythenumbers' Masked Scheduler claims that Darnell is "the king of reality TV and one of the more interesting, offbeat characters ever to occupy an executive suite."[3]

Early life and career[edit]

Mike Darnell was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to Eileen and Doyle E. Darnell.[4] His father was a policeman, and Darnell 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.[5] When he was 12, his family moved to California, where he eventually appeared in, or voiced-over, some sixty commercials. He also appeared in TV episodes such as Sanford and Son, Welcome Back, Kotter and Kojak.[4][5] Later he worked as a bank teller to help pay his way through Cal State-Northridge. He also played piano at a night spot.[4] Soon after graduating, in 1994, he had an internship at Entertainment Tonight, which he says he "hated",[4] before he started working at Fox's West Coast flagship station KTTV, within their news department.[6]

Darnell is married to Carolyn Oberman, a public relations executive who works for the Emmy Awards,[7] and they have a daughter.[8]

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.[9]

With more than 30 million viewers at its peak, American Idol helped FOX rise from the last place network to eight consecutive seasons as the number one network.[10] Darnell oversaw American Idol from its creation through Season Twelve.[11] Darnell told Variety that his proudest achievements during his time at FOX was American Idol and the success he had with Gordon Ramsay, as well as the season finale of Joe Millionaire, which became the "highest-rated entertainment telecast in the history of Fox."[12]

As mentioned above, Darnell started in KTTV's news department before becoming executive producer of specials for the Fox Television Station Group, before moving to the network to become Director of Specials. Darnell launched more than sixty specials a year on FOX,[13] 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 Darnell some old black-and-white footage that appeared to be an alien being dissected. The special was called Alien Autopsy: Fact or Fiction? and drew an audience of nearly 12 million viewers in a single airing. [14][15]

Warner Bros Television[edit]

Darnell leads the Unscripted & Alternative division at Warner Bros. where he is responsible for overseeing development and current programming for alternative broadcast series, high-end documentaries, unscripted streaming and cable series, and first-run syndication. Darnell and his team currently oversee 35 series across 20 different networks [9] including primetime series such as Ellen’s Game of Games (NBC), The Voice (NBC), The Bachelor franchise (ABC), Mental Samurai (FOX), The Real, and The Ellen DeGeneres Show, among others.[9] In 2017, Deadline reported that since Darnell joined Warner Bros, its primetime unscripted portfolio has grown from three series to 12—currently more than any other producer or studio in America.[16]

Darnell created and produced talent competition series The World's Best on CBS hosted by James Corden.[17] The series was produced by Darnell and his Warner Horizon Unscripted Television division in association with Mark Burnett and MGM Television and Ben Winston and Fulwell 73.[17]

Darnell also created and serves as an executive producer on the competition series Mental Samurai on Fox hosted by Rob Lowe. The series is produced by Darnell and his Warner Horizon Unscripted Television division in association with Arthur Smith and A. Smith & Co. Productions and Jeff Apploff and Apploff Entertainment.[18]


  1. ^ Lesley Goldberg & Michael O'Connell (24 May 2013). "Mike Darnell Exits as Fox Reality Boss". The Hollywood Reporter. Archived from the original on 11 June 2013. Retrieved 24 May 2013.
  2. ^ Friedman, Wayne (7 August 2007). "Darnell Stays At Fox, But Upped To Prez, Alternative Entertainment". MediaPost News. Archived from the original on 2 February 2014. Retrieved 24 May 2013.
  3. ^ Scheduler, The Masked (15 December 2017). "Masked Scheduler: Rupert Murdoch may not be done with deals for FOX". TV By The Numbers. Archived from the original on 28 August 2018. Retrieved 1 October 2018.
  4. ^ a b c d Weiner, Jannifer (December 29, 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". Philly.com. Archived from the original on April 2, 2015. Retrieved May 26, 2013.
  5. ^ a b Carter, Bill (2007). Desperate Networks. New York, NY: Random House. p. 96. ISBN 978-0-7679-2786-4.
  6. ^ Carter, Alex Kuczynski and Bill (26 February 2000). "Fox's Point Man For Perversity; 'World's Scariest Programmer,' Starring Mike Darnell as Himself". New York TImes. Archived from the original on 12 June 2018. Retrieved 1 October 2018.
  7. ^ Seal, Mark (2003). "The story behind the reality TV golden era". Vanity Fair. Archived from the original on 13 April 2016. Retrieved 1 October 2018.
  8. ^ Koblin, John (13 May 2018). "Reality TV Kingpin Mike Darnell Wants One More Hit". New York Times. Archived from the original on 1 October 2018. Retrieved 1 October 2018.
  9. ^ a b c "Mike Darnell to enter Realscreen Awards Hall of Fame". realscreen. 12 April 2017. Archived from the original on 5 October 2018. Retrieved 1 October 2018.
  10. ^ Bradley, Laura. "Meet the Mad Genius Who Invented Reality TV as We Know It". HWD. Archived from the original on 1 July 2017. Retrieved 1 October 2018.
  11. ^ Andreeva, Nellie (7 April 2016). "'American Idol' Finale: Former Fox Reality Chief Mike Darnell On The Show's Origin Story & If It's The Right Time To Say Goodbye". Deadline. Archived from the original on 12 February 2017. Retrieved 1 October 2018.
  12. ^ Kissell, Rick (18 February 2003). "'Joe Millionaire' mega-money for Fox". Variety. Archived from the original on 13 July 2018. Retrieved 1 October 2018.
  13. ^ Littleton, Cynthia (25 May 2013). "Mike Darnell's Greatest Hits: 'Joe Millionaire,' 'Alien Autopsy' and Seth MacFarlane". Variety. Archived from the original on 31 August 2018. Retrieved 1 October 2018.
  14. ^ "How an Alien Autopsy Hoax Captured the World's Imagination for a Decade". Time. Archived from the original on 10 January 2018. Retrieved 1 October 2018.
  15. ^ Carter, Bill (2006). Desperate Networks. Doubleday. p. 97. ISBN 9780385514408.
  16. ^ Andreeva, Nellie (28 March 2017). "Warner Bros' Mike Darnell On Growing Slate, Expanding 'The Bachelor' Franchise, Possible 'American Idol' Return & More". Deadline. Archived from the original on 2 October 2018. Retrieved 1 October 2018.
  17. ^ a b Andreeva, Nellie (7 February 2018). "CBS Orders 'The World's Best' Global Talent Competition Reality Series From Mark Burnett & Mike Darnell". Deadline. Archived from the original on 10 July 2018. Retrieved 1 October 2018.
  18. ^ Otterson, Joe (August 2, 2018). "Fox Orders Competition Series 'Mental Samurai' Hosted by Rob Lowe". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved August 2, 2018.

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