The Movie Waffler Book Review - <i>Showrunners: The Art of Running a TV Show</i> | The Movie Waffler

Book Review - Showrunners: The Art of Running a TV Show

New book looks at what goes into running a TV show.

This book really sheds a light on the workings, positives and negatives, of the TV network/cable ecosystem. There’s a collection of chapter openers cemented  in the middle by handy and interesting thoughts and musings from showrunners, who are in charge of shows like Nashville, Boardwalk Empire and Sons of Anarchy. There’s plenty more men and women who have plenty to say about the life of being a showrunner, and from beginning to end I found this book informative, and it opened my eyes to a medium I love to partake in.
The showrunner, for anyone who may be at a loss to this term, is the figure in charge of running a certain season; that includes the writing, organising crew and cast, taking on other writing ideas and being the face to meet the network big wigs. If I say Joss Whedon is a showrunner then you should understand the job in question, and that just goes to say how impacting this new TV position now is. Before, being in charge of a season was a behind the door gig; people only knew of the actors, but showrunning is a big deal nowadays and Whedon, Terence Winter (Boardwalk Empire) and Damon Lindelof (Lost) are stars in their own right.
Thinking, as I did before reading this book, that the showrunners kind of just come up with ideas and help them come along is a huge understatement. As this book states early on, “Showrunners tend to be an interesting group of people even if you aren’t in the TV business – probably because they are forced to live in two worlds: the creative and the managerial.” That’s a lot to take on, and you can imagine it being stressful at times, like having many plates spinning or keeping a lot of balls in the air, an analogy used by Ronald D. Moore (Battlestar Galactica). Don’t worry though, however much they may have piled on these metaphorical spinning plates, they all state they enjoy their role. The passion of writing comes across as their biggest reason for doing the job. Through all the worries of pilot, season and cancellation fears, they enjoy the thrill of conjuring up a world and characters that they, as well as a keen audience, can get accustomed to.
I’m a big fan of TV shows, and though I may not have watched all the big hitters, I know of them on the whole, their stories and style, so it was extremely interesting to keep turning the pages of this book put together by Tara Bennett and see what goes down when processing a series. All of this coming from the horse’s mouth is a neat touch and gives great insight into what they think concerning the future of TV, what makes a good showrunner and dealing with rewrites called for by network heads. Some of the quotes feel repetitive, but I guess that shows how multiple creative runners feel the same about topics. In general they agree their job isn’t the hardest and Terence Winter and Shawn Ryan (The Shield) both say that crew members have the toughest job. The only thing that seems hard when I got near the end of this book was how these people deal with their show being pulled off air. That sounds like a horrendous thing to happen and however much audiences may hate never having another episode of a show again, it must be brutal for the person behind the curtain to see their baby being culled. Though the interviewees among the text find solace in the fact they learnt a lot by having a show of theirs cancelled, in general the showrunners interviewed in this book sound like smart people who can see the good in sticky situations and that positivity in a black cloud of despair makes for inspiring reading.
Obviously, Joss Whedon is one of the more well-known showrunners, with his creative flair for sci-fi transporting to the bigger screen of feature films with both Avengers movies, he’s also known for that rebellious spirit and it’s not wrong for him to be that way considering the way networks didn’t have patience for his cult shows and the fact Firefly was messed up by Fox. In this book,  Whedon sets the record straight on the reputation he’s built. This little segment is a nice eye opener to how he feels he is and what he expects as the powerful man he now is.
In the journey of reading this book, I jotted down so many page numbers and quotes to try and use in this write-up, but in the end I couldn’t put many in without it seeming like I was copying and pasting the book or typing like some dissertation student with footnotes. The book speaks for itself and if you can get your hands on it then I really urge you to do so. It may only be a great read if you’re into shows and know of the creators a little bit, otherwise it won’t be your cup of tea. The most engaging section is in the latter stages of the book, when the debate of twitter as an aide or hindrance comes into play, and it’s a hot argument as to how the future of network TV will play out. Social media is of course helping showrunners keep connected to their fans, and aids promotion, but backlashes and the internet leading the way for watching television could be the death knell for live on the box watching.
On a last little note, it’s interesting to point out how in this book they realise shows have a name to carry and that brand could be tarnished unfairly, I agree, by the state of their finale. I am guilty in jumping on the dislike bandwagon when Dexter ended, and for a while it made me feel like the brilliant seasons beforehand paled by comparison, but that’s not fair. There’s an odd fascination with critics and audiences who pin the success or failure of a series finale as the determinant of the show’s entire worth. Clearly Lost and The Sopranos had the same issue on their last outing, with people lamenting the entire show as a whole for one episode, and when you think about it like that you realise how silly you sound. It’s a hard thing for a showrunner to end their idea naturally, as they’ll always upset somebody, no matter what.
A very revealing read through every possible phase of the showrunning paradigm. I recommend it to anyone who’s a fan of TV and wants to know more about the behind the scenes world, as you feel pulled in just by reading what these showrunning icons have to say on their own profession.