May 22, 2014
I did sort of wonder if there is enough of an audience to justify a conversation about what it takes to be a great TV showrunner. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that pop culture has turned modern showrunners into rock stars.
NEIL LANDAU podcast excerpt: "It's not just that the TV show is the brand -- the creator is the brand."
Because even if you’re not sure what a “showrunner” actually is, you’ll know a large number of them by name:
• Vince Gilligan, creator of “Breaking Bad”: •
Matthew Weiner, creator of “Mad Men”;
• Stephan Moffatt, creator of “Sherlock” and modern-day savior of “Doctor Who”;
• Shonda Rhimes, creator of “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Scandal”;
• and Dan Harmon, creator of “Community.”
Those are probably the best known showrunners in television, but if you have other favorite shows you probably know who the heart and soul of those productions is, thanks to everything from Entertainment Weekly and the showrunners’ likely participation in Twitter and Facebook.
To quote Neil Landau’s introduction to The TV Showrunner’s Roadmap: “In movies, the director is king. In the television series business, the showrunner calls the shots. A showrunner is almost always the head writer and executive producer of a TV series. Very often, but not always, the showrunner is also the creator of the series.”
And once you know what a showrunner does – you probably think, “I could do that.” You’re wrong, but what the hell, who am I to puncture your dreams? (Because I certainly daydream about doing it, too.)
NEIL LANDAU podcast excerpt: "On TV, most executive producers are high-level writers. One person, in general, often the creator, needs to lead. If the showrunner is also the head writer of the show, which is very common, the showrunner has to be extremely involved in helming production. He can't always be in the writer's room. He has to step out , frequently to go to casting, top set, to editing. They have a million other responsibilities. That person takes lead and is the captain of the whole ship."
In his book, the man who teaches screenwriting and producing at the UCLA School of Film shares his in-depth conversations with the showrunners for “Breaking Bad,” “Homeland,” “Scandal,” “Modern Family,” “Once Upon a Time,” “Lost,” “House, M.D.,” “Friday Night Lights and the showrunner meat grinder, “The Walking Dead.”
Even if you don’t imagine yourself creating a TV show and guiding it through seven seasons on a broadcast or cable network, you’ll find his behind-the-scenes talk to be irresistible.
NEIL LANDAU podcast excerpt: "Norman Lear, I think of as the granddaddy of showrunners. He was a pioneer. He was one of the first to take a network to task. 'All in the Family' frightened everybody. If was so cutting edge and so controversial. They shot two pilots and it was a real uphill battle for him. But he fought for what he believed."
And Landau doesn’t talk out his ass about showrunning; his TV credits include “Doogie Howser, M.D.,” “Melrose Place,” “The Magnificent Seven, “The Secret World of Alex Mack” and MTV’s “Undressed.” He also wrote the film comedy, Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead.