Bunim-Murray is having a “full-circle” moment, according to new boss Julie Pizzi, following the launch of The Real World Homecoming: New York on Paramount+.
This all comes as Pizzi starts to make her mark on the business, promoting a trio of executives and continuing to broaden its output.
Pizzi was named President of Bunim-Murray Productions in February and her first order of business was to promote Rupert Dobson, who was responsible for developing physical game Cash Back with CJENM, to EVP, Development, Farnaz Farjam, the former SVP, Entertainment and Development who oversees Keeping Up with the Kardashians, to EVP, Current Programming, and former EVP, Production John Greco to Chief Operating Officer.
“We’re really excited about The Real World Homecoming that’s airing right now. It’s a full-circle moment for Bunim-Murray. That’s a show that started the company, and it’s been so well received, and we have The Challenge: All-Stars on Paramount+. Those are franchises that’ve been with the company since its beginnings,” Pizzi (right) told Deadline.
Pizzi, who started her career at Bunim-Murray in 1998, before leaving in 2003 and re-joining in 2013, has sold 16 projects over the last 12 months, according to her boss, Banijay U.S. chief Cris Abrego.
She said that it has been focusing on a broad swathe of genres, in addition to its work in the traditional reality docusoap world. “We’ve sold documentaries this year. We’ve sold game shows this year,” she said. “[What] we’ve been really focused on this year is format development and really creating formats that can travel, Family or Fiancé is a good example.”
On the doc side, it is developing a project around the murder of Joshua (J.J.) Vallow and Tylee Ryan, whose mother Lori Vallow and her husband Chad Daybell are allegedly expected to be charged for their murder.
“We have some exclusive video around that, and we just sold that,” she said. “That’s unique because, usually, we produce the whole documentary and then sell it, but in this case, we got exclusivity in materials, and then we’re selling it as a series.”
It is also looking to get a new version of The Simple Life going. The show, which originally aired on Fox and then E! between 2003 and 2007, starred socialites Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie as they struggled to do manual work.
“That’s a show that I love that we’ve been trying really hard to bring back,” she said. “I feel like The Simple Life needs another life. It was really ahead of its time. I would love to get more docusoaps on the air because with success, they can run for a long time. But that is a really small target.”
This year has been a big year for reboots. In addition to The Real World Homecoming: New York, which launched on Paramount+ in March, it is developing a reboot of Road Rules—which ended in 2007, for the streamer, and it produced two seasons of The Challenge.
The Challenge: Double Agents, season 36 of the MTV show, launched in December. It was shot during the pandemic in Iceland. “That was the first big show that we [produced in the pandemic]. It was a big undertaking. We still had all the protocols in place. We still had to wear masks, but the truth is, there was no Covid in Iceland,” she said.
Pizzi said it was not originally set to shoot in Iceland, but moved it there at MTV’s suggestion. The company also produced Paramount+’s The Challenge: All Stars, featuring previous cast members, earlier this year.
“MTV were so diligent about protocols, but they also paid for it. They said ‘Consider Covid costs outside of the budget’ but [stressed] we had to be the safest. They were really supportive,” she added.
The company also produced the 20th and final season of Keeping Up with the Kardashians during the pandemic. Pizzi said they were pleased to share in the Kardashian’s success.
“They really are such a global phenomenon, and we really got to be part of that journey, which has immensely helped our company. It’s been a great business,” she said.
The Kardashians are heading to Disney’s Hulu and Star for their next series, but Pizzi and Abrego haven’t ruled out working with the family in future. “We would love to continue to work with them, but I feel like it’s really premature, and of course, we’ll support them because we have had such a great journey with them.”
Is Bunim-Murray trying to find the next Kardashians? “We all have and I say we all, because I believe other companies, too, have been chasing another family like the Kardashians for so long, and I do think they’re hard to replace because they’re so big, they’re so diverse, they’re so interesting,” Pizzi said. “They show up in a way that a lot of celebrity families won’t show up, stuff that’s highly private, that family shares, and I think it’s hard for any celebrity to let go like that.”
Elsewhere, in 2018, the company partnered with its Banijay sister company Yellow Bird, known for Nordic noir, on a scripted joint venture, a partnership that is starting to bear fruit with a drama in development with Starz.