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How Did THE REAL WORLD Begin? Soap Producer Mary-Ellis Bunim said, “What if you could do a soap opera with no actors and no writers?”

THE REAL WORLD premiered on MTV 20 years ago today. For their book, "I Want My MTV: The Uncensored Story of the Music Video Revolution," Craig Marks and Rob Tannenbaum talked to more than 400 people who played a role at MTV between 1981 and 1992.

One interesting story is about the origins of MTV's long-running series, THE REAL WORLD, which debuted in 1992 and was created by Mary-Ellis Bunim and Jonathan Murray.

Among Bunim's many roles in the world of daytime soaps were her runs as executive producer of SEARCH FOR TOMORROW, AS THE WORLD TURNS, SANTA BARBARA and LOVING during the 1970s and 1980s.

So how did she become involved in THE REAL WORLD?

Doug Herzog: We decided to do a teen soap opera, with a rock n’ roll attitude. Fred Silverman, of all people, the former president of NBC, recommended a woman named Mary-Ellis Bunim, who came from the world of soap operas.

Jonathan Murray: When we put together a budget, MTV was like, “Oh my god, we can’t spend this much money. We get our music videos for free, and now we’re going to spend $300,000 for a half-hour of television?”

Tom Freston: People asked me, “How did you come up with THE REAL WORLD? That is genius.” It was just because we didn’t have any money.

Van Toffler: Joe Davola, Doug Herzog, and I looked at statistics about how much our audience watched soap operas during the day. So we said, “Let’s do a soap opera.”

Lauren Corrao:
It would have cost around $500,000 a week. In comparison, Remote Control was about $15,000 an episode.... I’ll never forget, Mary-Ellis said, “What if you could do a soap opera with no actors and no writers?”

Kevin Powell: Jon and Mary-Ellis had an incredible vision. Outside of AN AMERICAN FAMILY on PBS in the ’70s, there wasn’t anything like it. I was really into their idea of combining documentary filmmaking with a soap opera. I thought it was a fascinating social experiment.

Read more at Slate.com.

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