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"We'd call agents or managers about a client, and they'd hang up," recalls Chris Abrego of the embryonic era of his genre-breaking brainchild, VH1's The Surreal Life. "Now it's a legitimate occupation. It's OK for celebrities to do a reality show and still make a movie," says Abrego, who lives in Los Angeles with his family. With the market saturated with knockoffs of the very "celeb-reality" format he and his 51 Minds partner Mark Cronin spawned from their Sunset Boulevard office, Abrego has been forced to diversify his programming roster: In 2010, they put 11 new shows on the air, including E!'s controversial Bridalplasty and VH1's Money Hungry, and currently has four shows in production including CBS' Same Name and VH1's Ton of Cash. Cronin, who resides in Pasadena with his wife, likens his business relationship with Abrego to one of bandmates. About three-quarters of their work is done together, while their other ventures are handled like "solo albums." Decisions on projects they handle separately come down to personal taste. "I have things I'm interested in that I run with," says Cronin, who is pursuing projects in the game and talk show realms. He would like to transition away from shows with "inorganic" premises — programs centered on a group of people living in a house together, for example. "The audience is saying, 'Bring us more authentic situations.' It isn't enough that they are competing for a prize at the end."
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