I first heard of Showrunners when they launched the Kickstarter campaign. I believe they had already interviewed big wigs like Joss Whedon and J.J. Abrams at that point. Being a member of the Television Critics Association and covering television year round, I thought it was a fabulous idea to illuminate the craft of television for people, and the film lives up to all of its promise.
The film clearly establishes what a showrunner does in simple terms, and how it evolved from a simple producer. The showrunner can be a writer, but while he or she has a staff of writers, there is a lot of day to day minutiae, creative and logistical, that needs to be handled to keep the show running for 13, let alone 22 episodes.
We meet showrunners at various stages in their work. They caught Matthew Carnahan before he shot the pilot to House of Lies, which we now know is a hit for Showtime. Men of a Certain Age is long gone, but their example is still relevant in the world of television. Of course the big guns are Damon Lindelof talking about Lost, Whedon talking about Buffy, Angel and Firefly, and Ron Moore talking about Star Trek.
Yet everybody’s going to have their favorite show’s showrunner, be it Shawn Ryan, Kurt Sutter or Terrence Winter. It’s nice to get the perspective of Janet Tamaro, showrunner of Rizzoli & Isles, not even because she’s one of the rarer female showrunners, but because she gets emotional and personal. Jane Espenson is also featured, and perhaps it’s empowering that it’s less about females in the business and more about just doing the job well.
The best part of showrunners is simply to hear each individual showrunner’s philosophies on their craft. This can include gossip about some of their popular hits or failed launches. Carnahan drops some juicy dirt on his show Dirt. They tackle big picture industry topics like procedural vs. serialized dramas, and blur the lines assumed to distinguish network and cable.
It’s funny to see shots of studio lots in a film because this is my neighborhood. I drive by them all the time, but for out of towners it must feel exotic. Likewise, a section taking place at Comic-Con, discussing the showrunner’s popularity among fans, is an annual job to me.
In many ways, Showrunners could just be the beginning of the conversation about the business of the television we enjoy. It flows beautifully as groups of showrunners share their thoughts on a single topic at a time. I’m sure there are hours of outtakes of showrunners sharing gold, but the pieces Des Doyle compiled illustrate both the micro and macro concepts in a compelling narrative for both casual fans and industry insiders.