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Reality TV’s founder, producer Bunim dies

Successful career included 'Simple Life,' 'Road Rules,' 'Cruise'

This article was updated on Feb. 1, 2004.

Mary-Ellis Bunim, 57, television producer and executive who, with her partner Jonathan Murray, created the reality TV genre with “The Real World,” died Thursday in Los Angeles after a lengthy battle with cancer.

Founded in 1987, Bunim-Murray Prods. developed the concept of putting several young people in a house together and taping their interactions over a period of several months. Combining Bunim’s background in soap operas and Murray’s experience in documentary news, “The Real World” emerged as a fresh creation, an ongoing melodrama featuring “real” people rather than actors that quickly became the highest-rated attraction on MTV. Now in its 14th season, the series remains one of the most popular shows on cable television.

Most recently having produced the smash Fox network primetime reality show “The Simple Life,” starring Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie, Bunim-Murray created such other shows as the long-running “Road Rules,” “The Love Cruise,” “Making the Band,” “The Real World-Road Rules Challenge” and the current daytime reality drama “Starting Over.” Company also produced last year’s reality theatrical feature “The Real Cancun.”

“Mary-Ellis was a true visionary in our business,” said Ed Wilson, president, NBC Enterprises. “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 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.”

A native of Massachusetts, Bunim enjoyed a successful early career in daytime dramas. She oversaw more than 2,500 hours of programming as executive producer of “Search for Tomorrow,” “As the World Turns,” “Santa Barbara” and “Loving.” She subsequently developed numerous shows in her job as VP of tape programs for New World Entertainment.

“Mary-Ellis was a one-in-a-million partner and friend, and I will always treasure our incredible years of collaboration,” said Murray. “Even as the family at Bunim-Murray Prods. 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.”

She is survived by her daughter, Juliana.

A memorial service will be held at 1 p.m. on Saturday at Forest Lawn, Hollywood Hills.

In lieu of flowers, donations are suggested to the National Breast Cancer Coalition Fund, 1101 17th St. N.W., Suite 1300, Washington, D.C., 20036.

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