Along with the rise of this Golden Age of TV, is the arrival of the celebrity showrunner. The job of a showrunner is to, as it says, run the show, and it’s been part of TV since TV began, but quick, name the person that ran Gilligan’s Island or Magnum P.I. And now try to name the showrunner for Orange is the New Black or Breaking Bad. Exactly. Well, a new book is attempting to put the rise of the celebrity showrunner cast into context, and break down what it takes to be successful in the business, and as a taste of the new book has been posted on the web in the form of an except that asks a couple of key nerd icons: What does it take to be a good showrunner?
The book by Tara Bennett is called Showrunners: The Art of Running a TV Show, and it’s based on the new documentary also called Showrunners. In it, Bennett talks to some of the best and the brightest in the TV biz including The Shield’s Shawn Ryan, Boardwalk Empire‘s Terence Winter, and Lost’s Damon Lindelof. She also talks to these two guys, Ronald D. Moore and Joss Whedon, the later of which particularly had a hand in creating the cult of the showrunner back in 1997 when Buffy the Vampire Slayer became something of phenomenon.
So what do they think makes a good showrunner? What do they think makes themselves a good showrunner? Let’s ask them:
RONALD D. MOORE, Showrunner: Battlestar Galactica, Outlander
I feel like there’s a lot of balls to keep in the air, and that I’m constantly trying to keep balls in the air. I don’t feel like it pulls at me and drags me under. I kind of enjoy it, to be honest. I enjoy being the person with the answers. I enjoy people asking me questions, exchanges like: “What do you think this should be?” “Well, that’s what I think it should be.” “Should we go left or right?” “We’re going left.” I like being that person. I like being in control, that’s probably the bottom line to it. I enjoy the physical production of it, I like the set, I like the crews, and dealing with the actors. I like the creative dialog about it. Even dealing with the budget and the production hassles don’t get to me. I maintain a fairly calm show because I think part of my job is to have a calm show. I think that part of the job of a showrunner is to set the tone for what you’re doing. If I’m upset, everyone’s upset. If I’m panicked, everyone’s going to be panicked. If I have a lot of anxiety, there’s a lot of anxiety everywhere you turn. If I’m not, if I’m calmer, people calm down more. If you act confident, it goes out to the rest of the production. Many times I’ve been standing on a set where we had some crisis where we had to do this, and this, and this. I’ll say, “We’re not curing cancer here, guys, it’s just a TV show, so don’t go crazy. Don’t kill yourselves to do this. It’s just a TV show. Let’s make it the best show we possibly can, let’s do our very best effort, and really do something we’re proud of. But, keep it in perspective.”
JOSS WHEDON, Showrunner: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly, Dollhouse
I think there’s two kinds of showrunners: there are hoarders and there are sharers. I’ve worked with both. Sharers want to include everybody in the process. Obviously, they want people to get better; it means less work for them, and it means that the show will be better. Hoarders need to do it all themselves. They need to put their name on every script. They need to, if possible, rewrite every script. I never rewrite anybody if they get it right. That’s a contract that I have with the writers. If you come along and we work this out and you figure out the formula and you put it on the page, it’s going to air. I don’t think it helps building the growth of the show if you don’t incorporate other people because it’s the tonnage of the thing. Maybe if it was the BBC and I was doing six episodes a year, I could be that guy. It also seems like a lonely way to work. The writers of my shows and staffs, they’re my families. You want them to grow. A lot of them are enormously talented, but you want them to be partners and not just scribes.