There's one company that deserves credit for creating some of the best reality shows on TV. Strangely enough, this same company deserves the blame for some of the very worst reality shows ever produced. That company is, of course, Bunim/Murray Productions. And not only do they deserve credit for the best and worst reality shows, B/M also deserves credit for basically inventing the genre.
Reality shows have existed since at least the 1950s, but most were either game shows or hidden-camera shows. Bunim/Murray arguably created the first recognizably modern reality series. The company, founded by Mary-Ellis Bunim and Jonathan Murray, was asked to create a scripted soap series for MTV. When their budget wouldn't stretch far enough, the duo decided to create an unscripted series starring real people as themselves.
While they weren't sure how it would be received, they knew after the first day of shooting that they had something worth airing. That project was the very first season of MTV's "The Real World," which has run for 28 season so far.
Another one of Bunim/Murray's certified hits is "Project Runway," arguably a bigger success than "The Real World." While "The Real World" has been on the air for longer, "Project Runway" has aired a respectable 10 seasons, as well as two All Star seasons. Additionally, there have been a staggering 20 spin-offs for "Runway," airing in countries all over the globe. It's a winning formula that is often imitated but never truly duplicated.
But while "Project Runway" was a wild success, B/M couldn't quite find the same magic with "Models of the Runway," a companion series that gave fans a behind-the-scenes look at the models who competed on Seasons 6 and 7 of "Project Runway." Sadly, it just didn't have much charm, and it was hard to keep viewers entertained.
Mary-Ellis passed away in 2004, but her company lives on and continues to be involved in many high-profile series. Since her death, the company has produced shows like "Keeping Up with the Kardashians" and the "Khloe and Kim" shows. While the shows may have been a bit boring and vapid, they were unquestionably popular and successful.
One of the biggest missteps that B/M took was producing "One Ocean View," a 2006 series on ABC that was an utter ratings failure. While there was plenty of hooking up among the lovelorn cast, there simply wasn't enough drama or excitement to draw viewers in. Additionally, the show was plagued with production problems: The famously private residents of Fire Island, where the show was filmed, were openly hostile to the film crew and limited the places and times where they could film.
While not every B/M production can be as good as "Project Runway" or "The Real World," Bunim/Murray deserves praise for producing a stable of mostly great reality programming -- and a few memorable duds, too.