Brady Connell ’86

From a professional, creative and personal standpoint, Brady Connell ’86, executive producer of Extreme Makeover Home Edition, saw the show as an opportunity for positive change. For 12 years and 212 episodes, Extreme Makeover built homes for more than 200 families across the nation. The show ended its final season with a heartwarming finale in January 2012. As executive producer, Connell played a vital role in keeping the remarkable show on prime-time television.

Connell enrolled at UCLA at age 16 in 1979 and immediately immersed himself in campus activities. A talented skier, he joined the ski team and pledged the Zeta Beta Tau fraternity. During his sophomore year, Connell auditioned to be the Bruin Bear mascot during the 1980-81 UCLA football season, and he got the part. His bear character was an addition to the original Joe and Josephine Bruin couple. “They needed someone over six feet tall to be the primary mascot focus on the field, and I was a committed entertainer,” he recalls.

During his fourth year, Connell shined as president of his fraternity, even winning best president in the country. Also that year he served as a Dykstra Hall resident assistant, a Unicamp counselor and the internal affairs director of the UCLA student government. “The 1984 Olympics were coming up, so part of my responsibility was to select and coordinate the UCLA volunteers for the Olympics,” Connell says. Dozens of UCLA students held key volunteer positions for the Olympics, including taking care of the Olympic flags and hosting country teams. “I ended up hosting the Ivory Coast, taking them all over Los Angeles and then ultimately walking into the L.A. Coliseum with them during the opening ceremonies,” Connell adds.

Despite his vast involvement at UCLA, it was not until a film course at the start of his fifth year that Connell was inspired to follow a career path. “I was taking a history of film class and, as part of the course we were required to have an internship at a production company. That experience made me realize that I wanted to work in entertainment.” Connell worked his way up through many jobs in the entertainment industry, including children’s and family programming, and his talents ultimately landed him in the world of non-fiction television.

In 1988, Connell worked on the reality show Rescue 911. Next he found work producing and coordinating such shows as The Real World, Real Stories of the Highway Patrol and Wild Things. These shows gave him an opportunity to travel all around the world and eventually prepared him for his next role as senior producer for the show Survivor. Connell produced 11 episodes of Survivor, working on location and supervising creative teams. He next became supervising producer for Discovery Channel’s Eco Challenge: The Expedition Race, a multi-day expedition-length adventure race. Eco Challenge: Borneo, with Connell as the supervising producer, was nominated for an Emmy in 2000. Survivor and Eco Challenge: New Zealand were both nominated for Emmys in 2001.

Connell’s next success was landing the job of producer for The Amazing Race, for which he earned two primetime Emmys. He served as executive producer for three years, until his dream job came along. While working on The Amazing Race, at the end of Extreme Makeover’s fourth season, ABC called and asked if he wanted to become the producer. “In the world of shows to run, I was looking at Extreme Makeover. I thought to myself, if I could ever run a show, that would be it,” Connell explains. He was ecstatic and accepted the job instantly.

“Very few shows have a deeper purpose, and Extreme Makeover was the most inspirational show I had ever seen,” Connell describes. Extreme Makeover is known for rebuilding lives and homes after some of the most devastating natural disasters in America. In 2011, after a massive F5 tornado hit Joplin, Mo., Connell and the Extreme Makeover team built seven homes in seven days, for families whose homes had been lost in the tornado. “It was the most extraordinary community effort I had ever witnessed. More than 13,000 volunteers worked tirelessly to help those families. And many volunteers had lost their homes as well,” Connell states. He stayed on the show five years, completing over 100 episodes as executive producer. During that time, the show earned dozens of honors including an Emmy nomination, the Television Academy Honors (for television with a conscience), an NAACP Image Award and the United Nation’s NGO award for “Most Positive Television Show in the World.”

Extreme Makeover’s final episode was watched by millions of people in 180 countries. Connell sees the show as representing the levels of decency and goodwill that all media can achieve. Connell also found success establishing his own production company, Base Camp Films LLC, with his longtime production partner Jim Jusko ’86, also a Bruin. Base Camp has produced non-fiction, reality shows and pilots with networks including ABC, E! and Discovery.

“In almost everything I’ve done, I can tie a thread to UCLA…specific projects, fellow employees, my company, community activities. All I learned there, inside and outside the classroom, has come into play at one time or another,” Connell says. “We now have interns in our office who are Bruins, and it’s great to see their enthusiasm for making the world a better place.”

Connell lives in Marina del Rey with his wife, Lauri, and their two children. He has been a Big Brother of Los Angeles since 1990 and for over a decade has taught “Produce and Direct Reality and Documentary Television” at UCLA Extension. He is currently writing his first non-fiction book, Voluntown, U.S.A.

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