‘Real World’ Producer Bunim-Murray Sets Leadership Changes as Founder Steps Down (EXCLUSIVE)

'Real World' Producer Bunim-Murray Sets New
Steve Cohn

The baton is being passed at Bunim-Murray Prods., the company that helped birth the modern reality TV business with the creation of MTV’s “The Real World.”

BMP president Gil Goldschein has been promoted to chairman and CEO as company co-founder and chairman Jonathan Murray steps down from his executive role to focus on producing.

Murray said his decision has been a long time coming. As his 60th birthday approaches this year, he realized he’d spent nearly 30 years building up the company he founded in 1987 with his late producing partner Mary-Ellis Bunim, who died in 2004. At the outset, Bunim and Murray simply hoped to keep the company afloat from show to show; he never had any expectation that BMP would grow to the size it is today.

“I always had this push and pull of really wanting to be as close to the product as possible and yet gradually I found myself with bigger and bigger company,” Murray told Variety. “When you’re a producer you’re always worried about where your next job was going to come from. Mary-Ellis and I were fortunate that after our third year together we came up with ‘The Real World,’ and the phenomenal success of that show allowed us to build a company.”

BMP at present has about 100 full-time employees, not counting the hundreds of staffers who are attached to its various productions at any given time. The company was acquired in 2010 by France’s Banijay Group. Goldschein has climbed the ranks since 2001, starting out as in legal and business affairs. He advanced from general counsel to chief operating officer in 2007 and was upped to president in 2009.

“This is an unbelievable time to be in the global media space,” Goldschein told Variety. “All of the changes going on with OTT, digital and all of the networks going after content — it’s an exciting time. What we have to build on is the incredible culture that Jon and Mary-Ellis established. We are storytellers first and foremost. We push ourselves every day to be pioneers and innovators.”

Goldschein noted that the company has retained its “familial” environment and that many execs have been with the company for 10-plus years. Shows produced by the company include Lifetime’s “Project Runway” and “Project Runway All-Stars,” MTV’s “The Challenge,” E’s “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” and other Kardashian-ana.

“What’s great is that we’ve been preparing for this change without even knowing it,” Murray said. “We built a team here that is ready to take the company forward. I want to see this company go on.”

As part of the shuffle, BMP has realigned three top exec roles. Jeff Jenkins shifts to exec VP of development and programming overseeing docu-series and celebrity reality series. Jenkins has been with the company for 15 years, having started out as a tape-logger for “Real World” and other shows.

Producer Julie Pizzi returns to the BMP fold as exec VP development and programming overseeing the company’s format business with a focus on generating original BMP formats and shepherding production of formats from parent company Banijay. She spent six years with BMP as a showrunner and VP before launching her PB&J Television banner in 2004.

With Pizzi’s return, BMP has struck a development deal with PB&J, which will be headed by Pizzi’s former partner Patty Ivins. Goldschein said the deal is the first of several pod deals the company intends to strike with producers in an effort to stoke its pipeline of ideas and producing talent

Scott Freeman, a 20-year BMP vet, is moving from current programming to a new role as exec VP of international. He’ll focus on managing BMP’s relationships with Banijay’s various divisions and with non-affiliated producers outside the U.S.

The moves are designed to better position BMP to take advantage of the resources offered by its parent company and to become more active in growth areas such as international. Under Goldschein’s direction, BMP during the past few years has launched a digital content unit and a Spanish-language production operation. It’s also invested in expanding its New York office and established an in-house mentoring program to groom new leaders.

“We really try to recognize that we are a team,” Goldschein said. “Everything we do is about creating a great product.”

Murray will shift to an executive consulting role. He plans to develop a handful of passion projects through BMP. He will also continue to oversee production on some of its longest-running series include “The Real World,” which has undergone many reinventions during its 30 (and counting) seasons on MTV.

But Murray assured he will have no problem ceding control of the company to Goldschein. He’s been gratified by recent industry recognition of his successful run, including receiving the Brandon Tartikoff Award from NATPE in January.

“I can’t do things halfway,” Murray said. “Especially after Mary-Ellis passed away, I felt the weight of the company on me and the need to be there for everybody. It’s a pretty special place to work, and I didn’t want to leave. I felt after 30 years it was time for me to find more balance.”

(Pictured: Jon Murray, left, and Gil Goldschein)

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