However MGM by no means invested sufficient in Lightworkers to show it into greater than some scattered programming and a little-watched tv channel, Mild TV, displaying family-friendly reruns. MGM’s largest wager via Lightworkers, the $100 million 2016 movie “Ben Hur,” misplaced cash. Repeated guarantees of a high-powered streaming service by no means materialized.
Mr. Burnett’s relationship with Mr. Trump has additionally shadowed his run at MGM. He had lengthy been a part of a type of media trade kitchen cupboard for the developer, together with CNN’s chief, Jeff Zucker, who had put “The Apprentice” on NBC, and the expertise agent Ari Emmanuel. He and Ms. Downey had sometimes supported Democrats (Ms. Downey wrote a examine to Marianne Williamson’s 2014 California congressional marketing campaign), and he mentioned in 2016 that he wasn’t really supporting his good friend’s White Home bid.
However though Mr. Burnett promised associates that his friendship with the president could be nice for enterprise, he was additionally intensely delicate to criticism of his outdated good friend. He objected particularly, two folks current on the time mentioned, when an MGM board member, Jason Hirschhorn, started sharply criticizing Mr. Trump in his e-newsletter, REDEF in 2016. Katie Martin Kelley, MGM’s spokeswoman, mentioned Mr. Hirschhorn’s “public statements on the time prompted friction for many individuals at MGM,” and Mr. Hirschhorn, who left the board in 2017, declined to remark.
For the reason that 2016 election, Mr. Burnett has gone to nice lengths to maintain a public distance from Mr. Trump, batting away suggestions that he helped with the Republican National Convention. “They aren’t in communication and he had no involvement with any of the president’s public actions round his hospitalization for Covid-19,” Ms. Kelley mentioned in an e mail.
Mr. Trump is only one thread within the inner pressure at MGM involving Mr. Burnett. He’s at all times been a troublesome boss, and even earlier than the pandemic, he was a man-about-town deal maker — not an office-bound supervisor. He’s had so little enter within the successes of the corporate’s scripted division, together with “The Handmaid’s Story” and “Fargo,” that the division’s chief, Steve Stark, was not too long ago pressured to clarify to The Hollywood Reporter that he nonetheless stories to Mr. Burnett. He performed a task within the messy 2018 ouster of Mr. Barber, which has left the corporate working and not using a chief government. Now, MGM is topic to perennial acquisition rumors and depending on components it will probably’t management: It’s hoping theaters will likely be packed for the discharge of a brand new James Bond movie subsequent 12 months and that the tradition will likely be prepared for the return of “Reside PD,” a Burnett acquisition that was canceled this summer time amid the wave of revolt at police violence.
After Mr. Barber’s ouster, Mr. Burnett introduced that he and Ms. Downey would elevate $100 million to start out a Lightworkers subscription service. However these plans, Ms. Kelley mentioned, have been delayed by the coronavirus pandemic, although “conversations have and are anticipated to proceed.” For now, Lightworkers is simply producing content material for MGM, and not too long ago accomplished manufacturing on a function movie known as “Resurrection.” It additionally scaled again its digital presence in July, taking a lot of its content material off the web, together with articles by Charlotte Pence Bond, the daughter of Vice President Mike Pence. (One had the headline, “Are You Narcissistic? Let’s Discover Out.”)
Mr. Burnett didn’t reply to interview requests immediately or via an MGM spokeswoman. After years within the headlines, he’s protecting his profile low, and his identify didn’t even seem in a latest, gloomy Wall Road Journal assessment of MGM’s funds. A few of his outdated companions, like Les Moonves at CBS and Paul Telegdy at NBC, have been pressured out of their positions, and a brand new era of community executives doesn’t soar fairly so rapidly at his calls. But when he’s not fairly the manufacturing star he as soon as was, he’s nonetheless closing offers. In 2018, Amazon Prime resurrected a present known as “Eco-Problem,” which Mr. Burnett began producing within the Nineties, although Amazon has dropped plans for a second season, MGM confirmed. Once I requested MGM’s chief communications officer, Ms. Kelley, in regards to the notion that Mr. Burnett had misplaced his inventive contact, she responded with a litany of his long-running reveals.