Brady Connell is an Emmy-award winning Executive Producer/showrunner/director with vast television producing experience. Connell’s work has propelled the success of popular reality programs such as Survivor, The Amazing Race, Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, and The Great Christmas Light Fight. He is a two-time Emmy recipient for The Amazing Race, an NAACP Image Award recipient for Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, a DGA Award nominee for The Great Christmas Light Fight, and a Humanitas Prize winner for writing in children’s programming. While Executive Producer/showrunner of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition at ABC, the United Nations recognized Brady and his team with the prestigious Peace Award: “The Most Positive Television Show in the World.”
A graduate of UCLA, Brady Connell is a member of the Directors Guild of America, the Hollywood Radio and Television Society, and the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.
Now get the full story from Brady
Survivors ready? Go!
Before Survivor, I was convinced there was no real future in reality TV. As a matter of fact, I was doing everything I could to get out of it…I even had a red sign on the back of my door:
Reality TV = Dead End
At that time, my resume was an unfocused, fractured mess — from wildlife docs to Japanese game shows. That splintered background turned out to be exactly what Mark Burnett was looking for. He hired me to keep an eye on the creative details of Survivor 1: What was going to happen to the contestants? What were the challenges going to be? How does the competition play out over 39 days?
As Senior Producer, I supervised the continuing Americanization of the European format, the challenge and art departments, and I directed many of the challenges. Little did I know, we were forging the first season of a television phenomenon that would eventually surpass its 40th season.
Looking back, I should have known reality TV would keep knocking at my door. I’d always enjoyed entertaining people by coordinating large events (the more complicated, the better!), and I also loved everything about travel — the people, the culture, the places. So it’s no surprise that I couldn’t refuse the non-fiction calls that kept coming….
“You want to go to Africa for a new show that is National Geographic meets COPS?”
“You want to document an active volcano on the island of Montserrat for Discovery Channel?”
“You want to produce a bunch of teens on a cool, new round-the-clock show called Real World?”
“You want to go to the fjords of Norway to direct a world record attempt for the highest snowboard base jump?”
Despite having no idea where it was all leading, it turns out I was unintentionally on the path of an intensely robust and rewarding career.
Following Survivor, Mark asked me to helm one of his other epic adventures, Eco-Challenge: Borneo, a 350-mile adventure race through the jungle. It was a director’s dream job – every toy imaginable. Two Wescams, three helicopters, amazing crews, epic location, and leeches…oh, the leeches.
That year, both Survivor and Eco-Challenge received Emmy nominations. It was a good year. Reality television (and an actual career!) was off and running.
The world is waiting for you. Good luck and travel safe!
I had a VIP ticket to the reality wave of the 2000’s. Next up, CBS had another formidable show to get off the ground…22 contestants were going to race around the world, and we had to work out how to structure and shoot a world-wide event so that television viewers could absorb the drama and emotion. I knew the storytelling would be key: This wasn’t a show about a race around the world, this was a continuous story about relationships under pressure.
Executive Producer Bertram van Munster and I checked in with each other at the start of the race in New York and decided we were as ready as we’d ever be. The first-ever televised, non-stop race around the world began moments later. As Supervising Producer, I directed the crews, conducted the interviews, and supervised the execution of the format, including the challenges. A dozen Emmys and over 35 seasons later, I believe The Amazing Race will stand the test of time as one of the greatest accomplishments in media history.
Welcome home, Brady, welcome home!
Several incredible seasons of The Amazing Race later, I got the call of a lifetime from Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. They needed someone to take on eleven episodes for their new season, and within a week, I began what would be the most rewarding five years of my career. I eventually became Executive Producer/showrunner of the show that, in my estimation, had a significant impact on more lives than any other show in the reality genre – ever.
The show was everything good about media, and it matched my personal mission perfectly: It literally changed people’s lives through good storytelling. The series, along with well over a million volunteers across America, built more than 200 homes for deserving families, along with many other useful structures like community centers, food banks, and homeless shelters. The show’s influence on families, on communities, and on America, may never be properly measured. (Read my personal recap of that impact here.)
The proudest moment of my entire career (so far!) came when I challenged the EM:HE staff to come up with the most we could possibly do to help the victims of the Joplin, Missouri F5 tornado that wiped out thousands of homes and businesses. Five months to the day later, there were seven beautiful homes, built in seven amazing days, by 13,000 volunteers, in the middle of a devastated community. Today, hundreds of homes surround that pocket, and the neighborhood and town are flourishing. The episode served as the regular-season series finale…an extreme ending for a television icon. (One I recounted on my personal blog here.)
After that, and thousands of similar life-changing moments on Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, I never had trouble defending reality television again.
Once the series had run its course, I went on to produce adventure shows in New Zealand, Fiji, the Caribbean, the Sierras, and Australia. After 20+ years in the business, I found myself considered the adventure guy and the feel-good guy, which was, and still is, fine by me.
Currently, I’m having a great time directing and showrunning what has become a holiday family-viewing tradition, The Great Christmas Light Fight. I developed the format and launched the series, which has now awarded over $3 million in prize money, and continues its successful decade-long run on ABC. The show also spawned another holiday spin-off series, The Great Halloween Fright Fight.
I can’t see the path, but I’m definitely on it.
Looking back now, I would have never thought this arena of entertainment could have been so enriching (I never stop learning), so exciting (I’ve never been bored one day of my career), or so fulfilling (I still get letters of gratitude from Extreme Makeover families).
I’m a truly lucky guy — and I’m dedicated to giving it back. I teach at UCLA Extension, I’ve been a Big Brother of Los Angeles for years, and I’m having a great time serving my community through my local Rotary Club. I’m blessed with an amazing wife and two incredible children. I love backpacking, kayaking, and — as corny as this sounds — I love America. I’ve traveled to the corners of the earth and seen enough hardship and political strife to make me grateful for every minute I spend with my loved ones in a safe home and positive community.
I continually search for a sense of purpose and value in every project I undertake, and I pride myself on working with people who do the same. I believe in hard work, a good attitude, not giving up, not shying away from challenges, and not compromising character if things don’t go perfect. I do everything I can to stay in touch with my empathy, because without it, we lose touch with our purpose as storytellers. I like taking what can be perceived as negative and focusing on the positive, and I love making the seemingly impossible possible.
In the long run it’s all about creative collaboration with good people to deliver meaningful content others enjoy. I’ve done that for three decades now, and I can’t wait to discover the extraordinary people and awe-inspiring projects that will fill up the next decades to come.