Real Power


Over the past decade, reality TV has exploded and expanded to the point where nobody in the industry dares ask anymore whether the genre is a passing fad. It’s here to stay. Unscripted television has been around long enough to support its very own set of established players—forces in the business who create, produce, buy and sell thousands of hours of programming each year. The genre is so massive now that it wouldn’t take much to whip together a list of 50, or even 100, people who possess a modicum of power in the biz. TelevisionWeek, however, has chosen to focus on reality’s elite: The 15 people who have Real Power.

TVWeek’s Real Power

The list is neither a strict Hall of Fame salute to the genre’s icons, nor a detailing of who has put on the most shows or made the most money. Instead, we tried to identify a mix of personalities who have created, launched or helped fundamentally shape signature shows, while also demonstrating staying power.

With just 15 slots to fill, there will almost certainly be snubs. Others will debate whether certain players really merited inclusion, or are just coasting on the strength of past hits. But what would reality TV be without a little controversy?


Mike Darnell: President, alternative entertainment, Fox

At an industry panel a year ago, former “American Idol” showrunner Nigel Lythgoe called Mike Darnell “either a brilliant programmer or an evil genius bent on hastening the end of civilization as we know it.” The president of Fox’s alternative department, who also was on the stage, wasted no time chiming in: “The latter,” he said.... More »


Jeanne Newman: Attorney

How much influence does Jeanne Newman have in the reality space? She represents more than a quarter of the other names on this list—including Ryan Seacrest, Endemol, Cris Abrego and Mike Fleiss—in her capacity as the genre’s leading lawyer... More »


Mark Burnett: Producer and head of Mark Burnett Productions

The closest thing reality TV has to an Uncle Miltie, Mark Burnett was the first superstar of the current golden age of unscripted television. Nearly a decade after “Survivor” exploded, he remains a major force and an undisputed icon... More »


Simon Cowell: Founder, Syco TV, and judge on “American Idol”

Another super-successful Simon—Simon Fuller—created “American Idol,” but it’s Mr. Cowell and his snarky snap judgments that hold the key to the Fox show’s long-term success. He is the heart of “Idol,” and it’s hard to imagine that Fox won’t continue to pay dearly to keep Mr. Cowell right where he is, even as other aspects of the show change ... More »


Ryan Seacrest: Head of Ryan Seacrest Productions, “American Idol” host

Mr. Seacrest has often cited Dick Clark as his role model, but at the rate he’s going, the “American Idol” host could soon make Mr. Clark look like a shlepper... More »


Cris Abrego: President, Cris Abrego Productions

If Mike Darnell is the dark lord of reality, Cris Abrego and frequent collaborator Mark Cronin are the evil princes of cable... More »

Thom Beers />

Thom Beers: Founder, Original Media

As many executives look for new ways to blur the lines between scripted and unscripted, Thom Beers seems determined to put the “real” back in reality TV. He’s done a good job so far by dominating the tough-guy TV genre—action documentaries that allow viewers to witness the worlds that most people would be too scared to explore for real... More »


Jon Murray: Co-founder, Bunim-Murray Productions

A former local TV news producer, Jon Murray—and his late partner, Mary-Ellis Bunim—invented the docusoap with the 1992 premiere of “The Real World.” An entire generation suddenly was hooked on the idea of watching ordinary people lead their lives on camera, all accompanied by a hip soundtrack... More »


David Goldberg: President-CEO of Endemol USA

Fittingly for a genre that was jump-started by international show concepts—“Survivor” and “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” began overseas—international conglomerates control a big chunk of the American reality TV marketplace. As president and CEO of Endemol USA, the decidedly unflashy Mr. Goldberg created and built a powerful American outpost for his international giant, which has a presence on five continents... More »


Frances Berwick: General manager, Bravo Media

It wasn’t long ago that Bravo was a sleepy little cable network focused on high culture. Then Frances Berwick decided to take a chance on a new kind of makeover show. “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” was born—and, in the process, Bravo was reborn as a pop-culture powerhouse... More »


Nancy Dubuc: President, History

Since being named president of History last year, Nancy Dubuc has ordered up nine of the top-rated series in the network’s history. Her biggest hits have come in the testosterone-spiked, tough-guys-doing-dangerous-jobs genre, led by “Ice Road Truckers” and “Ax Men,” shows that exemplify the way the network’s programming has diversified from a focus on black-and-white World War II footage... More »


Brian Graden: President of entertainment, MTV Networks Music Channels

With broadcast networks increasingly skittish about taking too many chances on unscripted TV, cable has become a breeding ground for innovation in reality. MTV and VH1 have been at the forefront of that revolution, with Mr. Graden serving as the connective tissue for some of the medium’s most groundbreaking efforts... More »


Michael Camacho: Partner and head of alternative TV, United Talent Agency

During his 15-year tenure at Creative Artists Agency, Michael Camacho built one of the most powerful reality departments in town by guiding the careers of unscripted powers such as Mike Fleiss, Cris Abrego, Allison Grodner and Tom Forman. He represented Mark Burnett for a time and worked with Oprah Winfrey on the deal to launch her own cable network via Discovery... More »


Mark Itkin: Executive VP and co-head of worldwide television, William Morris Agency

More than one unscripted agent has claimed to have pioneered the notion of bringing overseas nonfiction show concepts to the U.S., including former William Morris staffer Ben Silverman. But while Mr. Silverman was still a teenager back in 1988, Mark Itkin was in London identifying game-show formats that would end up in the U.S... More »


Mike Fleiss: Founder, Next Entertainment

Mike Fleiss is best known as the creator of “The Bachelor,” easily the most ripped-off format in modern reality TV history. But even before he reinvented the idea of the dating show, Mr. Fleiss was helping to pioneer the unscripted business... More »