Mary-Ellis Bunim, who helped launch the reality TV genre by co-creating the long-running MTV hits “The Real World” and “Road Rules,” has died. She was 57.
Bunim passed away in Burbank, California, on Thursday after a lengthy battle with breast cancer.
Born in Northampton, Massachusetts, Bunim started her work in television with soap operas, serving as the executive producer for “As the World Turns,” “Santa Barbara” and “Loving.” In 1987 she paired with Jonathan Murray, whose background was in TV news, to merge the documentary nature of news and the intrigue of soap operas for a dramatic series that would feature real people and their stories rather than actors and scripts — “The Real World.”
After the 1992 debut of “The Real World,” Bunim’s work in reality television continued with partner Murray as their company, Bunim/Murray Productions, launched such MTV shows as “Road Rules” and “Making the Band” (which first aired in 1995 and 2000, respectively) as well as shows for FOX such as 2001’s “Love Cruise” and the recent smash hit “The Simple Life,” starring Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie. Bunim teamed with New Line for the 2003 feature film “The Real Cancun.”
“Mary-Ellis was a one-in-a-million partner and friend, and I will always treasure our incredible years of collaboration,” Murray said in a statement. “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.”
MTV Networks Group President Judy McGrath said Bunim opened the channel’s eyes to “a whole new way of looking at young adult programming. 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. We were fortunate to be in her orbit for over 13 years, and we extend our sympathy to her family and her partner, Jon Murray. Her imprint on the popular culture is a great benefit to us and all her fans and loyal viewers.”
“In her life and in her work, she dared to dream, followed her inward passion and entertained millions along the way,” MTV and VH1 President of Entertainment Brian Graden said in a statement. “She brought the world groundbreaking and unforgettable television and taught generations of viewers how to transcend differences, to love each other and to, quite literally, live together.”
Bunim is survived by a daughter, Juliana.
A memorial service will be held at 1 p.m. February 7 in Los Angeles. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that contributions be sent to the National Breast Cancer Coalition Fund, 1101 17th St. NW, Suite 1300, Washington DC 20036.