12 TV Showrunners You Should Know

You should’ve seen LB today, wandering around the maze that is our enclave of offices here at TVWriter™, muttering words that would have made even munchman blush if he’d bothered to show up. When we leaned closer and heard the rest of what he was saying, it sounded something like this:

“Where was [expletive deleted] Rolling Stone when I was running shows? Where were those [expletive deleted]s when I was at the top? Nobody knew who we were back in the [expletive deleted] day. Especially those [multiple expletives deleted] network execs!”

Here, because we so, so, so, so care, is the cause of our Beloved Leader’s fury:

showrunnersby David Fear

They conceive the characters, write or co-write the scripts, set the pace and provide the vision for the TV programs you know and love. They’re called showrunners, and they are the designated auteurs of the boob-tube renaissance still in progress. Writer-producers such as Joss Whedon, Shonda Rhimes, Matthew Weiner, Vince Gilligan, and the holy trinity of Davids — Chase, Milch and Simon — have earned profile pieces and graced magazine covers, becoming celebrities in their own right. They are to modern television what film directors were to the New Hollywood of the 1970s: the rock stars of their medium.

While the aforementioned heavy hitters are still working in TV (or, in the case of Whedon and Chase, have turned their attention to movies), there are a number of newer artists who are taking advantage of the  freedoms that networks, basic-and premium-cable channels, and new streaming-content outlets like Netflix are offering. A few, like True Detective‘s Nic Pizzolatto, seemed to have attained small-screen stardom overnight. Most of the interesting and innovative serial storytellers — some veterans, others relative newbies — are doing the sort of work that may not have yet garnered them name recognition (yet) but, in a perfect world, would potentially earn them an invite to join the pantheon. Here are a dozen showrunners that you should being paying attention to ASAP.

John Fawcett and Graeme Manson, ‘Orphan Black
Horror-movie fans might remember John Fawcett as the director and co-writer of the teen-girls-turn-werewolves cult flick Ginger Snaps (2000); hardcore sci-fi nerds would recognize Graeme Manson as the writer of the equally beloved existential headscratcherCube (1997). But with this BBC America hit about a young woman who discovers she’s part of a set of clones — most of whom have been marked for extermination — has instantly, and deservedly, established the Canadian duo as unsung heroes of the Comic-Con nation. They have an ace up their sleeve in star Tatiana Maslany, a remarkably versatile actress who ends up juggling an average of five different roles per episode, yet it’s Fawcett and Manson’s deft ability to keep the various clones’ plot strands moving along in sync that make this show so compelling. This is smart sci-fi that knows when to get cerebral and when to kick ass; keep cloning that formula, gents, and we’re yours.

Joel Fields and Joe Weissberg, ‘The Americans’
Lots of spy shows can claim to have done due diligence on the drudgery of espionage skullduggery; hardly any of them, however, can claim to have an ex-CIA officer calling the shots. As a former case officer, Joe Weissberg is able to bring a level of authenticity to his Reagan-era drama about KBG agents posing as married suburbanites in Washington D.C. None of the first-hand touches regarding the spy-vs.-spy activities, however, would matter if Weissberg and his showrunning partner Joel Fields weren’t able to nail what lurks beneath all the intel and beaucoup wigs: It’s really a drama about matrimony, and the lies we tell both our loved ones and ourselves. Throw in some boundary-pushing sex scenes and just the right amount of period details, and you have one of the more compelling, complex shows on contemporary basic cable. A job well done, comrades.

Bryan Fuller, ‘Hannibal’
It takes a person with substantial cojones to take on Thomas Harris’ iconic serial killer — Hannibal “The Cannibal” Lecter — and, after numerous substandard films and diminishing returns, think they can make these characters seem vital again. But it helps to remember that Bryan Fuller is not only a showrunner with several macabre, death-focused shows to his name (Pushing Daisies, Dead Like Me), he started off as a Star Trekaficionado who went on to reinvigorate the franchise’s Voyager series as a writer. In other words, this is someone who knows how to handle fan-loved material with both fidelity and freshness — and anyone who’s been following this NBC horror-drama’s second season can attest that Fuller has delivered on the show’s early-buzz promise. (That opening episode’s fight scene! Bringing in the Vergers!) Fuller and his new Hannibal, the mighty Mads Mikkelsen, know how to mess with the iconography of the character just enough to make things seem different without jumping the track altogether, and should the show survive the so-so ratings and keep going, there’s the sense that Fuller has a big picture in mind that would blow ours.

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One thought on “12 TV Showrunners You Should Know”

  1. Any chance that these showrunners monitor the People’s Pilot contest? It would be an awesome way to get our work out to these people.

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