Bunim/Murray Productions was acquired by Paris-based Banijay Entertainment in March of this year. BMP chairman and co-founder Jon Murray spoke with realscreen about the decision to sell after over 20 years as an indie, and the company’s future plans under its new umbrella.
What led to the purchase of Bunim-Murray by Banijay?
Mary-Ellis [Bunim, the co-founder of BMP, who passed away in 2004] and I got together in 1987 to do our first pilot and, as its gone along, certainly we’ve had people approach us in the past [about] possibly acquiring the company. Then, just in the last few years I’ve been examining the landscape out there and feeling that we could strengthen the company by becoming part of something bigger.
I wanted to do [something] strategic where the transaction would bring us something we didn’t have. And what Banijay brings us is a confederation of like-minded, independent, entrepreneurial companies. Whether it’s Zig Zag over in the UK or Brainpool in Germany, these are all companies like Bunim/Murray that were started by showrunners and grew to be leaders in their marketplace. So by becoming part of Banijay, I now have a flow of formats from those other companies in France, Spain, the UK, Norway and Finland from shows that they’ve gotten on the air [in their territories], which is something that at the network level and to some extent the cable network level, the buyers are interested in. They like to be able to look at tape, they like to know that a show has a track record.
[Banjiay CEO] Stephane Courbit has really designed this in a way that allows us to keep the same culture and creative climate that Bunim/Murray has always had, so it really felt like, for us, a win-win situation.
You spoke about formats as one benefit to being under an umbrella. Are there any other benefits you see?
A couple of weeks ago I was at MIPTV and we had a day where we all got together, all of the heads of the different companies, and it was really exciting to be able to exchange ideas [and] hear from them what was going on in their marketplaces. I think for me it’s an exciting next step. While no one will ever be able to replace Mary-Ellis, it does make me feel like I’m part of a big organization and I have other people I can exchange ideas with. It goes a little way to filling that void.
Do you have any format plans you can talk about?
With Love Games, which is a show on Oxygen right now, we had held onto the international rights, so Banijay International is selling that show all over the world and we’re talking with some of our sister companies about producing local versions of it.
We came back from the meetings with 10 or 12 formats from the other Banijay companies that we’re going to be taking out to the U.S. buyers, which is great because most of them already have tape, a number of them already have sizzle reels. We have the bible on how they’re made, and we’re starting to set meetings where we’re going to be able to go in and hopefully match these ideas up with the right buyer in the U.S., in addition to all the stuff we’re developing.
What can we expect from Bunim-Murray in the immediate future?
I think our goal is to try to continue to produce innovative programming. Obviously with the The Real World being the granddaddy of a lot of the modern day reality shows, and then The Simple Life which was in many ways the first reality constructed comedy, we have a track record. We’re developing a number of other reality-comedy ideas for a number of different networks, some who we haven’t worked with before.
It’s just sort of amping up what we’ve been doing and taking it to the next level. We’re continuing to look at documentaries that make sense for us, but with the documentary world it’s about trying to do a story which we think is important, that we believe enlightens and does something good by it being made.