When Mary-Ellis Bunim began working in television, everything was scripted and everyone was an actor. She changed that, putting real people on camera and on TV.
Reality TV pioneer Mary-Ellis Bunim in April 2003
© Kevin Winter/Getty Images
Much of TV programming today wouldn't be a 'reality' if it weren't for Mary-Ellis Bunim, who left an indelible mark on media and pop culture as a pioneer of the reality TV genre. Anointed "the mother of reality television"
by the New York Times
, Bunim relied on her expertise in daytime dramas to develop a whole new genre that has since taken over TV programming. An ambitious young woman who worked her way up from a secretarial job at a CBS soap opera to a position as production assistant, Bunim was the youngest executive producer of daytime television ever. In 1987 she teamed up with TV news producer Jonathan Murray and in 1992 the two developed a groundbreaking serial drama for MTV, The Real World, that blended elements of soap opera and documentary film-making. As the show's co-creators and co-producers, the pair are widely credited with launching the reality TV concept, and went on to produce three more "first-ever" reality TV shows: the game show Road Rules (1995), the daytime soap Starting Over (2003), and the comedy The Simple Life (2003).)Although Bunim passed away in January 2004, her company Bunim/Murray Productions continues to be a major player in the reality TV genre.