Top Producer Bunim Dies, 57

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Mary-Ellis Bunim, the producer who nurtured the reality TV genre with shows from her company, including MTV: Music Television's The Real World and Road Rules, died Jan. 29 after a battle with breast cancer.

Bunim, 57, spent nearly 25 years in daytime television, learning her craft at soap operas including Search for Tomorrow. When she started on that soap in the late 60s, the program ran only 15 minutes a day on CBS and was in the midst of the transition from live broadcast to videotape. She was quickly promoted, working as the booth promotion director while completing studies at Fordham University.

She progressed with that show all the way to executive producer, breaking soap-opera ground by making Search the first such program to use original orchestral music and location shots.

But she really made her mark in 1989 when she left the soap-opera world to form Bunim/Murray Productions in 1989 with producing partner Jonathan Murray, then a news and documentary producer.

According to MTV, which lauded her in segments following her shows last week, the pair pitched their first project, The Real World, over breakfast. The company had its first series commitment by lunch.

The reality show — which films seven strangers the company casts to co-habitate in luxurious digs over several weeks — is now in its 14th season.

Road Rules followed with a similar format, placing young adults in a recreational vehicle and sending them all over the world to compete in stunts.

Not all the company's output has been for cable: the Fox hit The Simple Life, which placed Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie on a farm, was also a Bunim/Murray production, as is Starting Over, a syndicated daytime series.

Murray, in a prepared statement, said the company would honor her memory by "remaining committed to her ideals of creativity, adventure and excellence." Bunim is survived by a daughter, Juliana.

A memorial service was held Feb. 7 in Los Angeles. The family has requested that memorials in her honor be directed to the National Breast Cancer Coalition.

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