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Mary-Ellis Bunim Blazed Reality Trail

Feb 2, 2004  •  Post A Comment

Bunim-Murray Productions was devastated last week with the passing of two executives, including reality television matriarch and co-founder Mary-Ellis Bunim.
Ms. Bunim fought a long battle with cancer and passed away Thursday in Los Angeles at 57. She is survived by her daughter Juliana.
Veteran television production executive Bonnie Bogard, VP of creative affairs for Bunim-Murray Productions, also died last week. She was 47.
Among the credits Ms. Bunim built over the years are “The Real World,” “Road Rules,” “The Love Cruise,” “Making the Band,” “The Real World Road Rules Challenge,” the reality feature film “The Real Cancun,” the real-life daytime syndicated hour “Starting Over,” and most recently Fox’s smash “The Simple Life,” starring Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie. Earlier in the week, Fox announced “The Simple Life” would come back for a second season.
“Mary-Ellis was a one-in-a-million partner and friend, and I will always treasure our incredible years of collaboration. Even as the family at Bunim-Murray Productions mourns her loss, we will honor her memory by remaining committed to her ideals of creativity, adventure and excellence, both on the screen and in our lives,” Jon Murray, co-head of Bunim-Murray Productions, said in statement.
Ms. Bunim’s career in television began with soap operas, before agent Mark Itkin of the William Morris Agency put her together with Mr. Murray, whose background was in TV news. Merging the documentary nature of news and the dramatic intrigue of soap operas, Bunim-Murray hatched an innovative idea for a dramatic series featuring real people rather than actors. That series became MTV’s “The Real World,” which effectively marked the beginning of the reality television genre.
“I introduced them and then magic came out of it,” Mr. Itkin said. “Mary-Ellis Bunim leaves and indelible mark in our contemporary culture since she and her business partner Jon Murray are credited with creation of reality television. I do really believe that all of the other producers that are doing reality television today really need to give a moment of silence for respect to her for what she pioneered.”
Executives around the industry offered their condolences, noting that her work changed the television industry’s approach to programming.
“Mary-Ellis was a true visionary in our business,” said Ed Wilson, president of NBC Enterprises, whose company distributes Bunim-Murray’s freshman reality strip “Starting Over.” “Through her successful career in soap operas and most recently with reality television, she always seemed to have a sense of what the audience was looking for. As a person she was a delight to work with. She was a true professional who not only cared about the product she put up on the screen, but also those she worked with.”
MTV Networks Group President Judy McGrath said of Ms. Bunim: “She will certainly be imitated forever, but no one will quite get the care and elegance of her touch with young people and their stories. Everyone at MTV remembers her creativity and thoughtfulness, and we will toast her at every gathering. … Her imprint on the popular culture is a great benefit to us and all her fans and loyal viewers.”
At Fox, Bunim-Murray shows such as “Love Cruise” and “The Simple Life” regularly generated a pop-culture buzz.
“Mary-Ellis Bunim was a gifted producer and a close friend to all of us at Fox Broadcasting. She was an extraordinary talent who pioneered an entire genre of television. We extend our deepest sympathies to both her family and her partner Jonathan Murray,” the company said in a statement.
Ms. Bogard’s cause of death was cancer.
“Bonnie’s intelligence, enthusiasm and humor made her an absolute pleasure to be around. She made everything she touched better, including all of us at Bunim-Murray who had the good fortune to work with her. She will be warmly remembered and sorely missed,” Mr. Murray said in a statement.
Earlier in her career, Ms. Bogard won two Emmy Awards for producing “Search for Tomorrow” and “As the World Turns” before relocating to Los Angeles as co-executive producer of “Superior Court” and “People’s Court.” She later joined Miller/Boyett Productions, where she produced several pilots and series and became a producer for five seasons of “Full House.”
Ms. Bogard first joined Bunim-Murray when Ms. Bunim hired her as a production assistant on “Search for Tomorrow.”
The loss of the two executives is not expected to affect production on any of the company’s shows. Mr. Itkin said Bunim-Murray is still in capable hands.
“Fortunately Jon’s there. The company is doing great. I just wish [Ms. Bunim] could be around longer to enjoy the success,” he said.
James Hibberd and Joseph Pasteris contributed to this report.