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Women Who Rock: Mary-Ellis Bunim

March is National Women’s History Month, and we’re celebrating by sharing a lady we admire each weekday.

MARY-ELLIS BUNIM (1946-2004)
If you grew up watching soap operas or spent your high school and college years slacking off on homework in favor of a little show called “The Real World,” you have Mary-Ellis Bunim to thank. The TV producer was born in Massachusetts in 1946 and spent a significant chunk of her career working in daytime television, overseeing over 2,500 hours of programming as executive producer of classic soaps like “Search For Tomorrow,” “Loving,” “Santa Barbara,” and “As The World Turns.”

But in the early ’90s, the ambitious Bunim founded Bunim-Murray Productions with Jonathan Murray, and pitched a bunch of scripted soap operas to MTV. When they discovered that it was too expensive for the network, they decided to try out a new model — unscripted TV starring “real” people, as opposed to actors. “The Real World” was born, and the series was a such a massive success, it’s spawned a spin-off, “Road Rules,” and is now in its 21st season, with a 22nd season to debut later this year. It’s no wonder The New York Times dubbed her, “the mother of reality television.”Bunim also was responsible for a few other, though less beloved reality tv shows, including “The Simple Life” and “Making The Band.” Sadly, Bunim died in 2004, after a long battle with breast cancer. She was 57.

“Mary-Ellis was a one-in-a-million partner and friend, and I will always treasure our incredible years of collaboration,” Murray said. “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.”

Further reading:

  • NYTimes.com obituary
  • TELEVISION: RERUNS; The Woman Who Gave Birth to Reality TV, The New York Times
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