Want to be a TV Showrunner? Here’s What You Really Have to Do!

From TV critic to showrunner, Andy Greenwald has learned more about the TV writing biz than most of us have ever realized existed to be learned. Now he’s giving back!

by Steve Greene

Former TV critic Andy Greenwald had seen the demands of being a showrunner firsthand. When he finally got the chance to call the shots on the USA Network series “Briarpatch,” that opportunity brought everything that comes with overseeing the production of 10 hourlong episodes of TV.

“There was a day in the airport when I was flying back to Albuquerque because we had to crash [Episode] 2 through post to get it to Toronto,” Greenwald told IndieWire. “I think we’re filming 5 and 6, and we were prepping 7 and I was writing or rewriting 8, 9, and 10 and I was at LAX at 6 in the morning and I was like, ‘This…This is awful.’ And then I thought, ‘The only thing worse than this would be not doing it.’”

Despite that occasional solitary heavy workload at an airport boarding gate, Greenwald was far from alone in this process. After he wrote the pilot — the making of which he called “a graduate school in a couple months” — putting together a writers room became a blending of interests and perspectives that helped flesh out the world of the Ross Thomas novel the show is adapted from.

“This is a woman’s story. I am not a woman, nor am I a woman of color. So it was vitally important to me that we had a really strong and robust diversity of voices in the room. I’m pretty proud I was the only white dude in there,” Greenwald said. “It was great to have people from not just different backgrounds, but also different interests. Haley Harris loves cop procedurals, which is really important because I want people who like procedurals to like the show. We have someone like Eva Anderson, who’s an immersive playwright and works on comedy shows, because the comedy is vitally important to me. So the writing room was really the dream for me across the board, the opportunity to work with brilliant, creative people and just talk about story all day.”

In between an established career as a music writer and rejoining a writers room path that would eventually lead him to this latest gig, Greenwald served as a full-time TV critic, most notably at Grantland. Over his time as a writer and podcast host, he’s looked at the ongoing question of who has authorship within the TV space. While he says that the “Briarpatch” process crystallized some of his previous ideas and challenged others, he was quick to point to TV making as a shared pursuit….

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