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Real-life struggles fuel ‘Starting Over’ drama

What do Jane Pauley, Ryan Seacrest, Queen Latifah, Dick Clark, and Donny and Marie Osmond have in common?All of these well-known personalities have taken stabs at syndicated shows, but none managed to last longer than two seasons -- or even one, in some cases.So it might have been a surprise to some that “Starting Over,” a real-life daytime drama that has no celebrities or typical reality-show
/ Source: Hollywood Reporter

What do Jane Pauley, Ryan Seacrest, Queen Latifah, Dick Clark, and Donny and Marie Osmond have in common?

All of these well-known personalities have taken stabs at syndicated shows, but none managed to last longer than two seasons -- or even one, in some cases.

So it might have been a surprise to some that “Starting Over,” a real-life daytime drama that has no celebrities or typical reality-show competitions but instead features real women living together and dealing with real-life struggles, has made it to a third season, which premieres Sept. 19.

The show’s distributor, NBC Universal Domestic Television Distribution, is betting that it will grow in Season 3, based on some recent momentum: season-to-season growth in key adult female demos, upgrades to better time slots on 40 stations, and a recent Daytime Emmy win for special-class programming.

Which is good news for the show’s producer, Bunim-Murray Prods.

“I’m hoping this season is a real breakthrough year,” says Jonathan Murray, chairman and president of Bunim-Murray. “Thanks to the courageous women who have come into the house, we’ve gone into some really interesting areas that television doesn’t normally explore.”

Keeping it ‘Real’

Bunim-Murray helped pioneer modern reality TV more than a decade ago with the launch of “The Real World” on MTV. The company even pays somewhat of an homage to that show in its Van Nuys, Calif., offices, which are decorated with “Real World” furniture and memorabilia.

But Bunim-Murray didn’t initially set out to do reality TV. Murray, a University of Missouri-Columbia School of Journalism graduate who got his start in local television, says the company’s first project was a scripted detective show titled “Crime Diaries” that never got off the ground.

“Women have always been the best cast members because they are more open and anxious to deal with issues, they aren’t afraid of conflict, and they aren’t afraid to grab life and get the most out of it,” he says.

Certainly, the latter statement could be applied to Murray’s longtime partner Mary-Ellis Bunim, who died of breast cancer early last year. Murray recalls how she never gave up --evident in the fact that she would take hits of oxygen between meetings just to keep working -- and says her influence is evident in “Starting Over,” from her relationship struggles to an ongoing story line featuring a breast cancer survivor.

Indeed, “Starting Over” deals with some pretty heavy stuff for daytime, but Bunim-Murray has dealt with some weighty subject matter in a good portion of its shows -- from a “Real World” cast member living with AIDS to another’s mother dying in a particularly emotional episode this month.

Murray is quick to point out that his shows don’t deal exclusively with weighty stuff, however. This is, after all, the company that gave the world Paris Hilton shoveling manure at a rodeo in Fox’s “The Simple Life.”