Nonfiction depiction’s elite

Genre pioneers hard at work on the next real big things

As the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences mulls four redrawn reality categories this year, it will undoubtedly consider the work of the following producers, each of whom has had an important role in pioneering the genre.

MARK BURNETT

Burnett is branching out.

The man who made network TV safe for reality isn’t giving up on unscripted shows. “Survivor” just wrapped its sixth season, while Burnett’s also exec producer of the WB’s new “Boarding House: North Shore.”

He also has two new skeins coming to the Peacock. This summer, Burnett will team with Ben Silverman for “The Restaurant,” while early next winter, he’ll help Donald Trump clone himself with “The Apprentice.”

But what Burnett really wants to do is direct. He recently inked with CAA, and while the tenpercentery now reps him in all areas, it’s clear the agency’s main mission is to help Burnett transition into scripted skeins and feature films.

“When you look at Mark’s body of work, the one thing that’s consistent is that he’s a consummate storyteller,” says CAA partner David O’Connor. “He can take that ability into any area he chooses.”

MIKE FLEISS

Fleiss is a lot like the reality shows he produces: big, bold and totally unapologetic.

At well over 6 feet, the man behind ABC’s smash “Bachelor”/”Bachelorette” franchise literally towers over most of his reality competish. He’s also not one to linger over his words, usually saying exactly what’s on his mind, whether he’s talking to a network exec or a reporter.

And while even ABC brass have taken to dissing Fleiss’ Alphabet skein “Are You Hot? The Search for America’s Sexiest People,” Fleiss will defend the show to anyone. (He’s got a point, too: “Hot” dramatically improved the Alphabet’s Thursday perf.)

Fleiss’ forthrightness follows his incredible success during the past year. In addition to launching “The Bachelor” franchise, he helped the WB earn some of its best Sunday numbers in years with “High School Reunion” (which returns for a second season later this year). ABC also ordered a pair of shows from Fleiss that’ll debut either this summer or next season (“The Will” and “Rich Guy, Poor Guy”).

He’s also moving into the feature world, with the reality pic “The Quest” for Universal and a new take on “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” for New Line.

But here’s the surest sign that Fleiss is hot rather than not: He’s got not one, but two network deals. In addition to a first-look pact at the Alphabet, CBS recently inked Fleiss and his Next Entertainment to a second-look deal.

BRUCE NASH

If the story of Nash’s career were turned into a reality series, it might well be called “Survivor.”

He was churning out hundreds of hours of unscripted TV well before the modern era of reality began in 2000, supplying cablers and Fox with everything from “World’s Most Amazing Videos” to “When Good Pets Go Bad.”

Now, with nonfiction hotter than ever (particularly in the summer), Nash’s years of experience have made him one of the genre’s most in-demand producers — a go-to guy who knows how to take what seems a good idea on paper and turn it into an actual series.

In addition to the return of “Meet My Folks” on NBC, upcoming projects include the Peacock’s buzzworthy “For Love or Money,” the return of “Stupid Behavior Caught on Tape” for Fox, as well as a new take on “Dance Fever” and a second season of “My Life as a Sitcom” for ABC Family.

Nash says creativity and versatility are the keys to a long career. “I was producing reality shows before the boom, and I’ll be producing them after the boom. I constantly look for new ways to twist and turn the genre in different directions so reality TV remains unpredictably delicious.”

Like others in the genre, Nash is also looking to diversify. “You have to continue to reinvent yourself in this business to stay on top,” he says.

ARNOLD SHAPIRO and ALISON GRODNER

Shapiro and Grodner didn’t come up with the idea for “Big Brother” — but as far as U.S. viewers are concerned, they might as well have.

Despite “Big Brother’s” extraordinary success overseas, the format didn’t go over all that well when it first bowed on CBS in the summer of 2000. Still, it did well enough that the Eye brought it back, recruiting Emmy-winning “Rescue 911” and “Scared Straight” vet Shapiro as exec producer. Shapiro turned to frequent collaborator Grodner to serve as co-exec producer.

It worked: Ratings spiked, and more important, the show started getting pop culture buzz. And that buzz has helped the two producers — who became official partners early last year — expand the company they formed early last year.

Later this summer, ABC will bring back Shapiro-Grodner’s “The Family.” Duo also has “Family Business” at Showtime and continues to produce docs and specs for cablers such as MTV and HBO.

MARY-ELLIS BUNIM and JONATHAN MURRAY

This is the true story of two producers who joined together to start a production company, only to find huge wealth and success when they threw away the script, trusted their instincts — and got real.

“The Real World,” that is.

It’s been more than a decade since Bunim and Murray’s Bunim/Murray Prods. partnered with MTV to launch the granddaddy of all contempo voyeuristic skeins.

Had the duo not decided to lock up seven strangers in a SoHo loft (and film their every waking moment), there might have been no “Big Brother,” no “Survivor” or any other human-fishbowl series for that matter.

While some no doubt wish they could go back in time and stop MTV from even taking Bunim and Murray’s pitch, an entire generation of reality addicts is thankful.

Bunim/Murray Prods. doesn’t currently have a monster hit on a major broadcast net, but it’s is humming along nicely.

In addition to the just-launched “Real World: Paris” and a new “Road Rules” (both shows are renewed through next year), company is prepping a potential smash format for Fox, dubbed “The Simple Life,” that’s essentially a reality spin on “Green Acres.” This fall, the producers will hit syndication, partnering with NBC Enterprises for the reality strip “Starting Over.”

And while a stab at bringing reality to the bigscreen via “The Real Cancun” generated buzz but dismal B.O., it seems almost certain that Bunim/Murray will continue working on features.

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