What I learnt from ‘Showrunners: The Art of Running a Tv Show’

By Cbevan_|November 11, 2014|Blog, MA Scriptwriting, writing tips

A documentary about showrunners? I think I’m in heaven.

Last night, or the early hours of this morning, I discovered a documentary focused entirely on my end goal. I want to be a showrunner. I want to make great TV and I want to lead a team in creating that TV. Why? I have absolutely no clue. I might be crazy but we all have to have goals, right?

This documentary is something that I wish I had seen before ‘Flat 666′ went into Writers Room. It would have explained away a lot of my doubts and shouted “say no, it’s okay!’. But alas, the night ‘Showrunners’ released, I was probably already walking into Writers Room pulling at every straw I could find – at the time – to understand how I was going to lead a writing team of seven for five days straight. To an extent, I do feel that I failed. But then I’m reminded that what actually happened was that I made mistakes, I learnt from my mistakes and now I have a writing team of five strong writers who I feel I can trust to do our ideas justice and who understand that when that day in January comes and we’re pulling scripts apart, Rhi and I are the ones putting the money on the table.

Anyway, this post isn’t about what went wrong in my Writers Room. It’s about what this brilliant documentary has taught me in the five hours since I discovered it existed. Thank you Hart Hanson, Twitter god that you are.

1) The job of showrunner is the best and worst job you could ever have.

It’s all consuming, exhausting, full of long hours and constant decisions. You can’t lean on anyone. You are a crisis manager as well as the life blood of the show. Expect someone to be a little annoyed at some point – that’s a normal day.

2) The age of anonymity for writers and showrunners are behind us.

3) 1% of your audience thinks they know how “the soup is made” – as Hart Hanson said. They aren’t your audience.

Ignore them. No matter how much they shout at you via social media. The other 99%, who believe the actor comes up with the fantastic lines you feed them and don’t know your name, are the ones that you need to worry about.

4) Quality Scripts On Time.

There’s no show without a good script and you’re over budget if it isn’t delivered on time – there won’t be another series or a full series order without it.

5) Some episodes will be a miss.

When you have to turn a script over every 10 days, some episodes will slip. It’s the series overall that tells of the success.

6) Make a decision.

Whether good or bad. Make a decision. But never start work not having an idea of where you’re series is going to go. At the same time, don’t have a detailed map because things changed and great ideas take time.

7) Numbers are evil.

Don’t focus on them. If you focus on them too much, you’ll start to loose control of the controllable aspects of the production. And there are already too many uncontrollable factors. That extra stress isn’t going to be helpful. Just focus on creating the best story you can.

8) The relationship between the showrunners and actors is ever changing.

You need a happy team to make good TV. There will always be disagreements between actors and the showrunners but, to an extent, you can control that. Especially if someone has a reputation of being difficult to work with. Don’t hire them. They’ll throw off the mood you want on set.

9) Women have to put themselves out there. ‘They have to step up’ as Janet Tamaro says.

Its much harder for female showrunners than men. If a man is tough and unwavering, he’s a a strong showrunner. But if a woman is tough and decisive, she’s a bitch. The message I got from the documentary was that we – and I mean female writers/showrunners – shouldn’t care whether people think we’re bitches when we hit that point. We’re there to get the job done and make sure that what we crreate is the best it can be. Yes, there’s more pressure for us to succeed but we decide how much that pressure effects our work and our ability to deal with our job.

10) Branding is crucial to shows whether new or established.

Writer need to brand themselves. They need to use social media. They need a publicist. The showrunner needs to be present to publicise the show. We represent our shows as much as our lead actors do.

11) Sometimes not talking about the show can hurt it a lot more than if you make information available.

Extra content, interviews, twitter interactions etc are essential to ensuring people stay engaged. Without an audience, there is no show. We now live in an age where the fans recognise the showrunners and that is where panel events like Comic Con can have an impact on a shows ratings. It’s a chance to keep the fans interested. It’s a chance to tease them with new clues which are wrapped around so many bends it’ll take them all summer to unravel them…and before you know it, It’s September and the show is back on air. Audience intact.

12) With the ever changing landscape of multimedia content, writers will always have a home.

In the end, the format probably won’t matter. Whether the money comes from above or directly via kickstarter. Whether it’s aired via a channel or through Youtube. You’re still putting content out there that people can access somehow.

13) Good things can fail too.

You can’t control what channel people watch. Don’t do a show because a studio wants it or the trend demands it. Admit when it doesn’t work. It isn’t personal.

14) Showrunners get very little sleep…

…to which I say I guess it’s a good thing I’m an insomniac. Happy, Rhi? I found my silver-lining.

15) Never Give up. No matter how long it takes – and this is a hard one to personally take – be patient. I am impatient.

I hit a point every two to three weeks where I get extremely anxious that things won’t work out. And then I’m reminded of what I’ve achieved this far at just 22. It took Steven DeKnight six years after graduating from UCLA to get his career started. I have time to learn everything I possibly can and as long as I’m always looking forward and learning from my trips and falls, it’ll be okay. I hope.

I highly recommend that people watch ‘Showrunners: The Art of Running a Tv Show.’ It is a fantastic documentary that says a lot more than what I’ve picked up on. It highlights the relationships between the Showrunners, the actors, the producers, the agents and tells it how it is from the perspective of writers who have started from very different positions and who are at very different points in their careers.

The documentary can be accessed here (for a fee).

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