Do We Need More Separation Between Shows and Their Showrunners?

During a recent panel for HBO’s The Newsroom at the Television Critics' Association press tour, show creator Aaron Sorkin was asked about the degree to which he editorializes and pontificates personal beliefs through his characters. As relayed in various write-ups after the panel and on Twitter, Sorkin prefaced his answer to that question by saying that he “wants to make a clear distinction between me and the characters that are in the show.”

I wasn’t at TCAs but I can imagine that at least a few critics rolled their eyes when Sorkin answered that question and all questions throughout the cordial but pointed session. This is, of course, because the discourse surrounding The Newsroom is explicitly tied to Sorkin, his style, his beliefs and more. Many of the initial reviews of the show noted that The Newsroom was as pure Sorkin as a show could get, or something along those lines. (The "Sorkinisms" supercut that simultaneously made its way around the internet didn't help.) This line of criticism referred to Sorkin’s writerly tics and his undying commitment to having his characters deliver lecture-like speeches in almost every scene, but it also fell in line with Sorkin’s presumed complicated (to say the least) relationship with women and female characters. Right around the time that The Newsroom debuted on HBO, it became known that Sorkin had an awkward confrontation with a female reporter and for some dumb reason, called her “internet girl” while trying to teach her how to high-five.

While online discussion and reviews had already pegged The Newsroom as inseparable from its creator and his vision, that unfortunate occurrence, combined with the show’s admittedly shoddy treatment of women, created a compelling firestorm where all discussion about The Newsroom had to include all of Sorkin’s baggage. And in many ways, this all happened for good reason. Sorkin is, without question, a singular, powerful force behind the creative vision of The Newsroom, and it’s irresponsible to disregard prior knowledge of anything related to him—whether as a creative or as a person—in a review or discussion. In short, The Newsroom is his show and he should have to deal with the criticism that comes with that.

Nevertheless, the sheer volume of the discussion about The Newsroom, and the way that his TCA panel was so anticipated (both for good and bad reasons) tells us just how far we’ve bought into the idea of auteurs—singular forces driving the artistic direction of a project—in television. And while I certainly see the value in this line of thinking, considering creative types are being given more control to shape their stories in contemporary television, and I have been guilty of closely identifying everything that happens with a show to one person, I am wondering if maybe we have gotten a little carried away.

Let me qualify that last statement: By “we,” I am referring to “people who talk about television on the internet,” which includes critics, bloggers, fans, commenters, etc.—those folks who take part in the discourse surrounding television. And all of us have, thanks primarily to the internet, become more engaged with television and the people who make it. In recent years, this idea of the television auteur has gained quite a bit of steam, and mostly through indirect means like the increased media coverage and Twitter visibility of the "showrunner," the rise in detailed television criticism online, and the generally improved opinion of television as an art form. If television is better now, and we are talking about it more, we are bound to celebrate specific individuals who are producing that better product.

The positive impacts of this new environment are readily apparent. The analysis of certain shows with absolutely clear sole visionaries has led to a slew of great thinkpieces, reviews, and essays from critics all over the web. And even in certain instances where the shows were not or are not particularly good, auteur-centric analysis has brought us fine work. I think back to the “Three Glees” theory developed by The A.V. Club’s Todd VanDerWerff in that show’s first season as an example here. The amplified spotlight on television’s creative voices has helped legitimate the medium—a move that has nicely corresponded with a presumed increase in the medium’s overall quality—and moved television away from any cliché rhetoric involving idiot boxes and factory-like formulas. Moreover, the media’s decision to highlight these folks has “mainstreamed” previously insider-y matters, giving those of us interested in such things an outlet to educate ourselves.

Finally, there is no doubt that the visibility of showrunners, writers, and producers (not to mention actors) on Twitter, Facebook, in podcasts, etc. has allowed us “normal” people to be, or at least feel, closer to the folks who make the shows that we love. Sometimes that interactivity online can go too far, but the fact remains that being able to send Damon Lindelof a tweet about my opinion on the ending of Lost at any time is pretty cool.

Nevertheless, with all these things in mind and out there as part of the new normal when discussing contemporary television, a handful of recent events have me thinking, if not reconsidering, the intense way that we’ve latched on to television’s creative types and how shows reflect their exclusive talents. The loud noise surrounding Sorkin and The Newsroom is one. All the problems that the show has are apparently not only problems caused by Sorkin—he being the driving creative force and all—but problems that are directly tied to Sorkin and his various hang-ups. Again, this sort of analysis and discourse isn’t totally unfair or even untrue, but the swell of conversation about how the show’s issues reflect everything that is wrong with Sorkin’s talents and maybe even everything that is wrong with him as a person, is... complicated.

Going back just a few months, recall the fervor around the premiere of another HBO show, Girls. Reviews, comments sections, and Twitter (though mostly the latter two) were afire with discussions of Lena Dunham’s gender, Hollywood connections, and family tree. Too many people took hold of the nepotism angle and it’s pretty troubling that Dunham’s gender turned anyone off from watching the show. As Girls’ main creative force and star, it’s as if Dunham has to answer for her “real life” just as much as she does for the show she writes, directs, and stars in.

And of course, we can’t forget the removal of Dan Harmon as Community showrunner. The outpouring of sadness and rage directed at NBC and Sony for removing him from his post reflected a sense that the series could never, ever be the same without him. And while there is zero question that Harmon’s unique sensibilities played the largest role in making Community the weird, great show that it is, the idea that Community will simply be terrible and unwatchable when it returns this fall is a bit misguided. Most of the writing staff is coming back, as is the entire cast. If there was ever a group of people who were aware of their fans’ tastes, it’s the Community folks.

In any event, it seems to me that we, at times, lose sight of the fact that television shows are the result of the work of hundreds, sometimes thousands of people. Certain singular voices might write the final scripts, have full control over a production and might make the final decision at all the important levels, but lots of people helped them along the way. This is where something like the aforementioned “Three Glees” theory unfortunately falls apart: It’s fun to picture a world where a show is totally different when each of its writers take hold of a script, but the reality is that in the Glee writers room (and almost all rooms), writers are spit-balling together in hopes of breaking the next scene, act, episode, or arc.

Perhaps more importantly, it’s troublesome to presume that everything we see on-screen is the product of a showrunner’s psyche, personal life, or family tree. Maybe most of what we see is, but there is simply no way to tell—and inferring too much is problematic. The fact that Judd Apatow likes Dunham or that she has Hollywood parents shouldn’t change the fact that Girls is a pretty amazing show (and about neither of those things from Dunham’s “real” life).

I am curious to see how this phenomenon grows and shifts moving forward. Less than a decade ago, showrunner wasn’t a common term and most television viewers had no real sense of who was “responsible” for what they saw*, other than what name came up with the “executive producer” credit next to it. Today, the departure of a Dan Harmon brings Community fans to their knees, while the appointment of a Jeremy Carver is cause for celebration in the Supernatural fandom. We have always cared deeply about our television. Now it is clear that we care almost as deeply about the people making it, too.



* It would be short-sighted to suggest that most television fans today know what a showrunner is, or what a showrunner does. Obviously, it’s impossible to determine who is online and what they know, but I do think it is safe to say that as a whole, contemporary television fans are more educated about behind-the-scenes matters—and they certainly have better opportunities to educate themselves if they are not.


Cory Barker is a co-founder of This Was Television and the founder of TVSurveillance.com. Follow him on Twitter: @corybarker.

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Great great article! Truly a delight the see TV.com making some serious attempt to be more than a internet schoolyard where the kids hang around in cliques discussing last night's episode of their favorite series. Give us more like this, please!

As for the matters raised in the article - for me, one of the keys to get to like a series is that it has got a proper sense of identity. Of course, a series' actors will in most cases create something of an identity, and a series doesn't NEED one specific showrunner to be able to achieve it. Still; the fact is that some of the most loved and critically acclaimed series over the last two decades has come from creative and prolific writer/producers like Aaron Sorkin, Dan Harmon, Damon Lindelof, Brenda Hampton, Kurt Sutter, David Simon, Amy Sherman-Palladino, David Chase, Alan Ball, David Milch et all. It's about time that television is getting recognized as artistic work. And that is to say that (many) showrunners are artists; just like the personal traits of Dal, Fellini, Austen or Madonna, don't alter the quality of their craft, neither should TV's masterpieces be considered less great because of the egos (or what ever personal trait) of its showrunners.
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Very good article! Very well written and good observations! I think it's definitely an interesting discussion to have, but I'll just start off by saying having more articles like this (and fewer articles about things like Kristen Stewart's affair and what reality show Ryan Lochte is going to appear in) would be amazing.
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I find it interesting that you didn't mention the name of the 'male' in the affair.
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Had the dude been famous, I would have mentioned him. Had I said his name instead of Kristen's, people wouldn't have known what the hell I was talking about. Get over yourself please.
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"Reviews, comments sections, and Twitter (though mostly the latter two) were afire with discussions of Lena Dunham's gender, Hollywood connections, and family tree. Too many people took hold of the nepotism angle and it's pretty troubling that Dunham's gender turned anyone off from watching the show."



What does this mean? Neither Wikipedia nor IMDB mention any family connections, and the suggestion that she has the wrong gender for a show called Girls seems pretty strange.
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Fantastic article. Eloquently worded and eye-opening for me. I find it interesting how a showrunner's tone and style is really important to their series and how the audience can pick up on it easily. It shows how much they love their shows to be able to recognize the tone and assign it to the showrunner's creative signature.



The change in tone can determine a show's success or failure depending on how well a new showrunner can execute their ideas in a way that's familiar to both themselves and the audience. Examples: Frank Darabont's departure from TWD. There was a bit of a struggle in the first half of Season 2, but when Glen Mazzara took over it gained some solid ground but wasn't quite exactly like the first season. But hopefully, Season 3 can feel like Season 1 again which was fast-paced, action-heavy and didn't involve characters talking about doing something instead of doing them. Seasons 1-5 of Supernatural were awesome but when Sera Gamble took over, the show nearly fell apart under her helm. She tried going back to the MOTW formula in Season 7 but it just didn't have that thrilling, scary and exciting feel as the first couple of seasons. And now I'm a little bit worried about Community with the absence of Dan Harmon. But the show has a writing staff who're more than capable of writing great episodes. And I have no doubts that the new showrunners will try to make the new season as great as the first 3.



P.S. Cory was right about the re-hiring of Jeremy Carver being a cause for celebration. In fact, I actually celebrated when I heard of these news by busting out all my fave JC eps of SPN and watching them all over again.
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Good article - I think the team of writers (and the actors, for that matter) deserve a lot more credit for a show's success than just who it's "created/produced" by. I cringe whenever a new show debuts and the tagline is "from the mind of _____". I mean, seriously!
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Having auteurs is fundamental in developing creative and original stories in TV. We saw this happening (albeit differently) in the 70s with film, when individuals with great creativity and skills are given appropriate funding, some of the most interesting films were created. The same is happening with television (especially cable), shows like Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Girls, Community, Game of Thrones would not be possible without the auteur formula that is predominant in TV right now. I



I hate newsroom, but that is a part of the deal, bad shows will come but we need to understand that Newsroom and The West Wing (which I really like) are necessarily tied. With the auteur model we will get some really shitty shows as a result of unrestrained creativity but we will also get shows that will become classics and will enhance tv as an art form.
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I think it's a double-edged sword that showrunners are just going to have to live with. When they trotted out Sorkin's name to anoint a show before anyone had even seen it as if it was fait accompli that we would love it and it would be fabulous ... well, of course you got a backlash. So many other great shows without a haloed showrunner worked harder and were given less of a chance.



And let's not fool ourselves. Even if they had hidden Aaron Sorkin away - we would have known The Newsroom was his work, because he has not evolved as an artist. His fingerprints are all over that show. He was entertaining for a very long time and had a nice run - but now it's like that vaudeville schtick; there's only so many times you can use a squirting carnation or a handshake buzzer. If you promote yourself as a showrunner (which Sorkin does assiduously) then you will have to accept the feedback along with the perks, and use the feedback to reinvent yourself instead of repeating the same old tired story templates.
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It's guys like Sorkin, Harmon etc that are the double edged sword imo.

On one side the talent, the creativity, the moments of near genius and on the other is the arrogance and ego that tend to go hand in hand with it and where those edges taper off and meet what do you get? A prick.
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I think it's when a show crosses the line into preachiness that we see this problem. Unfortunately we see it more from those on the political/philosophical left these days. For example:



- Several early episodes of "Glee" went after Christians and conservatives in a way that went beyond send-up into viciousness, reflecting the creator's personal vision.



- "Family Guy" is (in)famous for its "atheist after-school special" episodes, which even some show staff members have had qualms about. McFarlane's "American Dad" is less obvious in that regard, but both shows, while they make take no pains to spare anyone, seem to take a special joy and effort in attacking Catholicism.



- And of course, "Newsroom" and "West Wing".
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The Newsroom is a bit of a special case. It's about how the news media does its job. This makes most of the critics profoundly uncomfortable -- to discuss the content of the show they would have to discuss how their own employers operate. It is much easier to opine about Aaron Sorkin's private life than to actually confront the way we make and consume news.



In other news: "Doesn't interest me" is not the same as "bad". It just means you haven't watched it.
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Let Sorkin be Sorkin. The West Wing became much less interesting after he left it.
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Sure, showrunners play different roles in managing different shows. I certainly wouldn't want to see Firefly or Buffy rebooted without Joss Whedon though- and I feel the same about Community continuing without Dan Harmon.
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The big glaring thing about this article is that two of the three that you mentioned are on HBO. There exists a huge gap between Network television programs and Pay TV programs, there is simply no way around that fact. Pay TV the showrunner is the creative force behind the show and ratings don't really matter because they are not trying to woo advertisers to come and pay for them to stay on the air. They can afford to do shows like Girls and the Newsroom because if they fail then they will have their flagship series (Sex and the City, The Sopranos, and most recently True Blood) to fall back on for enticing viewers to pay the subscription cost to get the network, not only that but they can count on their showing a new movie each Saturday night as a way to keep the frugal and hermit crowds giving them money to bring entertainment right to their living room. HBO can afford to take a chance on a showrunners idea because it can bomb and not completely obliterate their audience.



Network television does not have this luxury. They need to not only produce quality television but also prove that this television will be viewed by the consumers who also use products like toilet paper, feminie hygiene products, coal, coca-cola, marshmallows, microwave pizzas, etc. If a show doesn't demonstrate to the corporations that buy airtime to hock their wares to the captive audience then the network suffers. The comparison between a medium where you can do whatever you want and still have all the episodes of your show aired and one where you can be cancelled after three episodes because the show called "Awake" fails to triple the sales of Ambien is ludicrous.
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That was one long article that said absolutely nothing. Kudos!
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It was a good article but the headline was extremely misleading to me at least. I thought it was going to be talking about the May - Sept break each year, not The Newsroom which in my opinion is one of the best shows this year.
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I'm confused, is Sorkin the only person making television shows? I don't understand why we should care if he's using his shows as an outlet for himself. First of all, he has every right to. It's his show. Second, don't like it? Watch something else...? I kind of feel like this whole article was a waste of time, as it's basically delineating what most people already know. It's art, and the creator is an integral part of any ongoing artistic process. End of story.
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I'm not saying Sorkin shouldn't be able to make the show he wants. In fact, I think the opposite. I'm talking more about our perceptions of the show based on what WE know about the showrunners.
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You raise an interesting point, Cory Barker. I actually asked in comments a part of this question in one of the last two reviews of The Newsroom. I noticed that those reviews kind of became a review of Aaron Sorkin and not the show. It is obvious that creative people create from their own life, from their imagination as well as experience - that is their pool of ingredients that eventually go into a show.



But showrunners are essential, as it is their rough diamonds that go into the process. And then many people shape and form that diamond until it becomes bright and shiny. The initial idea most of the time then, comes from the showrunner. Eventually viewers catch upon their "style" and to some degree even their personality. And thus we, viewers, have where to place responsibility for a show's success or failures. It's the same as in business, if a company or a department messes up, the head of it is responsible even though he had even less direct impact of what happened than a showrunner does.



I think this is inevitable but I do agree that the situation needs a bit of change. We, viewers, in general will not change and "follow the herd", critics - professionals - however, should start CLEARLY distinguishing what are they reviewing, the show or the creator and explain that to his/her readers.
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Oh...and I forgot to add:

"the idea that Community will simply be terrible and unwatchable when it returns this fall is a bit misguided."

This is very true, yet I won't be watching. I won't reward NBC for shitcanning Harmon even if the show somehow comes back better.
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Watching the show on TV doesn't reward NBC unless your household is part of the survey that determines the ratings. (You would know if it is). Even if it is, there are always other ways to watch it that doesn't reward NBC. So your personal boycott is a bit weird, especially if you have never been in a position to affect the show's ratings.



Even if we could punish NBC by not watching, we would end up punishing the actors and the rest of the staff more than NBC. The staff will be out of a job, and NBC would just use another show to make about the same amount of money.
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"Too many people took hold of the nepotism angle and it's pretty troubling that Dunham's gender turned anyone off from watching the show."



I watched the first season and I won't be back. I feel I gave the show a fair chance. It wasn't gender that turned me off, it was the show being bad.



I love the trend of more visible show runners, so you know the good ones and the bad ones can't hide as easily. Also I feel the show runner has a LOT more to do with the quality of a show than the stars do. Look at Supernatural. Kripke leaves and the show immediately goes in the shitter displaying a fraction of the quality it had under the Kripke...certainly not all shows are like that, but I prefer having a show runner I can believe in.
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No, we do not need less involvement by showrunners. Showrunners need to work closely with writers to combine consistency with creativity. What we do need is less interference by networks and sponsors.
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Read it again. I didn't advocate for less showrunner action. At all.
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vince gilligan will be fired too.. you will see...
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I always prefer the work of auteurs. A writer can only write what they know. A lot of the material they cover is drawn from previous experiences in their life. With shows like Lost, the creators tried to establish the characters by giving them all a backstory the audience could empathize with. And the core to each of these stories were tied to a lot of different feelings I'm sure the crew of Lost easily identified with.



This doesn't just apply to writing though. Often the best works come from those who both write and direct (hold the creative control over the story and presentation). These people are generally known as true auteurs. Just to list a couple examples: Terrence Malick, Stanley Kubrick, Christopher Nolan, David Cronenberg, David Lynch, Akira Kurosawa, Roman Polanski, Lars von Trier, Paul Thomas Anderson, the Coen Brothers, Wes Anderson, Guillermo del Toro, and Jeff Nichols.



That should give you an idea of the kind of liberating freedom these auteurs have when creating their movies. We don't really have any equivalents in TV. The best examples I could give off the top of my head is probably Matthew Weiner, Lena Dunham, and Armando Iannucci. I'm sure there's others that I'm forgetting. Lena Dunham should be given special attention, as I feel the greatest episode of the season was the finale where she not only wrote the episode but directed it. You could really feel her artistic touch and went a long way. "She Did" was one of my favorite episodes of the year.



So take that as what you will, but I'm happy with what Aaron Sorkin is doing with The Newsroom. I feel an artist should to what they want. Anything less, and I'm disappointed. I watch TV to see what these guys can make me feel or want me to feel. And I feel auteurs have an easier job of doing that, but I understand those who can't do both roles (or for TV all three: showrunner, director, writer).
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"A writer can only write what they know."



No.
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Veena Sud, "The Killing"
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Gross.
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Good show. The ending to which has got to be one of the best finales I've ever seen in my life, and I've seen a lot of shows.
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Sorry NeoBasch, the entire internet disagrees with you.
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A great, insightful article.
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I think it depends on how you want your television. The more you want a show like "Breaking Bad" (or others, just an example of one excellent show of this nature), the more it's going to come down to one or two guys (maybe three or four) who all have the same primary vision of the show and know exactly where it's going, where it came from, how it's going to get there, and what it'll look like when it does. That's a show that's one single story, start to finish, and essentially then requires that guiding hand of Vince Gilligan from start to finish. If you want a drama more along the lines of "Suits" or "Revenge" (both also excellent shows, just of a different nature), it's less important to have a unified vision of a creator. Within shows like that we have characters that are created and the world in which they live and then we throw things at them and take them on journeys. With shows like that, a larger writing room that could even have a steady influx and outflux of writers could easily serve the show well.



Comedies of course are another matter all together. There again, if you want something like "Weeds" or "Girls" it might help to have a consistent core of the show whereas something like "The Big Bang Theory" probably gets miles out of a revolving door. These are all funny shows.



I think a show like "Community" can do well without Dan Harmon, given the chance because while he may have guided the show, he's not the only one that can do zany intelligent comedy. "The Newsroom" would struggle without Aaron Sorkin because his audience follows him mostly because of the way he writes his dialogue. You could audibly hear in "The West Wing" season 5 the difference in the dialogue when he stopped writing regularly. Or look at "Gilmore Girls" season 7 minus Amy Sherman-Palladino versus the first 6. It depends what your show is built on. "Castle" has brilliant and hilarious dialogue, too. But I don't know who writes it, and wouldn't know if they changed writers each episode. By Amy Sherman-Palladino writes the quick word like few others, and few can touch Sorkin's speechifying, so their absence/presence is immediately noticed. Extraordinary talent immediately becomes apparent, and so has theirs. But talent can go awry and to someone's head, and having a check on talent isn't a bad thing. But it must be brought forth in a productive way.



It's a balancing act. The best shows have it or get lucky that their entire cast/crew/writers are all in the right place at the right time in their careers. The worst shows don't have it or got unlucky for the same reasons, someone's too old and gone 'round the bend, raw talent is there, but just doesn't have enough experience yet. Welcome to life (the life of an artist).
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I agree with you almost entirely. I think my issue is that as critics, or as fans, our interpretations of shows and our discussions of the things surrounding the shows (i.e. the showrunners' personal lives) is bleeding into criticism and analysis of the shows themselves. This is something that can be valuable, and is quite interesting, but is also curious to me in some of the ways I mentioned in the piece. I hope that makes sense.
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It does make sense. I generally make an effort to avoid bleeding the two together, but even I slip up. As you say, it's a lot easier to do these days. What with SOMEBODY on the internet reporting/blowing out of proportion absolutely every minute of every little thing that anyone in Hollywood does... and, as someone else said, many writers write what they know, it's hard not to draw the parallels, but I do think it's a little unfair and does detract on enjoyment of their art.



Think on Charles Dickens or even Francis Capra. Read his books or watch his movies and you're not thinking of "what was going on in their lives at the time. You're just thinking of their wonderful stories. I have no doubt that Dickens pulled headlines in his books straight from his life, but it doesn't matter, mostly because we don't really KNOW what happened to in his life in enough detail to influence that sort of discussion.



I think this all goes back to the issues you brought up: the increased focus on a single mind/writer behind a show and how much we obsess over their personal lives. Much as taking cues from "The Newsroom" is probably a really bad idea right now, I'm going to do it anyway. Modern journalism exists, but there is just much too large of a market out there for the TMZ sort of crap about every minutiae of every actor/actress/director/writer/etc's life. As for the focus on the show runner, TV historians will I'm sure argue me on this, but I think it all goes back to our beloved Joss Whedon.



He had two successful shows that helped to launch/carry two new networks that broke into a different sort of approach for TV: "Buffy..." and "Angel". He then pitched, produced and made "Joss Whedon's 'Firefly'". Which FOX then ruined, which then TOOK OFF. All of a sudden, you have an entire legion of people devoted entirely behind the creator of a show. I can't think of an instance of this prior to this show. And Joss Whedon didn't help things by being extremely talented and worth the adulation, which he then parlayed into the movie "Serenity" and eventually some years later to "The Avengers". Add that into the fact that we see other show "creators" doing the same thing, and having their presence on a show remaining unmistakable, and it's no wonder this focus on the one person has evolved. Take Bryan Fuller, creator of "Dead Like Me", "Wonderfalls" and "Pushing Daisies". The problem we run against here is another issue: Short TV shows. "Dead Like Me" ran 2 seasons, "Wonderfalls" didn't even get a full 1, and "Pushing Daisies" ran a short 2 (short 2 on this as it was a network show unlike "Dead Like Me"). And these have another thing in common: they're all sort of "quirky" and "fantastic" and come straight from the sort of odd realities that Bryan Fuller loves to create, and, given that they were so short, there's essentially no choice as the viewer but to give all the credit to the creator. But again, I don't think it's necessary. Look at "The Shield", created by Shawn Ryan. He again has gone on and continues to look toward intense gritty stories. So we associate that with Shawn Ryan. But you don't have to associate that show with him, because there are more people than he that can write a solid gritty story around these characters. Quite likely there are some that could have done for Fuller's shows, but we'll never know, we've never gotten the chance.



But yes, it goes to their heads. Joss Whedon, in response to a question about how to make another superhero movie successful after having penned "The Avengers" said "come to me", essentially saying "I am success in this business". Now, it's hard to argue with results, and I've been a Whedonite and Browncoat since the day that "Firefly" became one of my favourite shows, but there again, you can see it in the movies as well. Christopher Nolan or Woody Allen are as essential to their films as Aaron Sorkin, Bryan Fuller, Joss Whedon.... are to their shows. I'd love for there to be a separation between their lives and their creations, but it's almost impossible.



I think the solution lies in the sort of thing I've been trying to do my entire life: to a degree, just ignore the news and get on with your own life. I get sick of seeing all the depressing stories in the news, and I don't care about which actor is dating which actress, and so I ignore them. And that's the best way to not let their personal life interfere with their creations. Is this a tall order? Yes. But I think it'll be much more enjoyable for everyone (plus, as a bonus, things like TMZ will lose money, and that can only be good).
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Great, thoughtful reply. I really appreciate it, and you're probably right.
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You make great points, but every Sorkin project still feels like a Sorkin project. That's why I check them out, that's what I want. And doesn't that really prove that the distance between showrunners and their shows is just right? If Joss Whedon makes another TV series/movie/comic/webseries, I'm going to check it out regardless of what it's about, because I like the parts that are noticeably Joss Whedon, same goes for everything.



You do notice the lack of Kripke in post-season-5 Supernatural. Even if 90% of the show stayed the same.
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I agree with you specifically about Dan Harmon and Community. I was disappointed with his removal, of course, because he created the show and especially based on the commentaries I've listened to of the first two seasons on DVD, he genuinely cares about and appreciates every little thing that goes into the show. It is his baby, and what a great baby it is.



But I've been under the impression that the biggest role of the showrunner is churning out the episodes in a timely and budget-friendly manner. This seems to be more true for sitcoms, which usually have a very large number of writers and directors for each season. This was why I wasn't very surprised with Harmon's release because as creative as he is, he's better suited as a head writer. Again, based on interviews and commentaries, he's said that he sometimes had trouble with both finishing episodes on time and managing the budget properly. His intentions were good as he was just trying to create the best episode he felt he could, but I can completely understand the frustration that the, uh, higher-beings coulda/shoulda/woulda felt.
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"but I can completely understand the frustration that the, uh, higher-beings coulda/shoulda/woulda felt."



Captain hindsight was already looking for them :)



On topic: I just feel bad for Harmon. It must feel a bit like having your kid taken away and seeing it grow up without being able to do something about it. But hey, atleast the kid is still alive...



can't wait ^^
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Interesting essay / article. I think there is some truth here but also some shortchanging to how important a showrunner is to a series. Motion pictures isn't just a product, it's an art form even when it's done primarily to be sold or to be used to sell, someone is putting in effort as an artistic talent to express it. Look at Star Wars, George Lucas didn't make the Darth Vader costume, didn't come up with the look for the Millennium Falcon, he had rough ideas and employed great talented artists to come up with concepts based on his rough ideas, and as the man in charge he focused them into what he wanted to see on-screen. Same thing happens with a TV show, Star Trek is a great example - you put new people in charge of Star Trek, and its soul gets eaten away until it's not recognizable and it gets thrown out entirely (lookin' at you, "Enterprise"). I chose genre because those are the ones with the best and most obvious examples, but I could just as easily point to Scrubs with and then without Bill Lawrence, it's like night and day even with scripts written by the same writers because the new showrunner chose different expressions.



The inverse of course is that a showrunner can get stuck in the wrong mode and bring a series down, like "Heroes" in seasons 2 and 3 with Tim Kring just letting it get away from him. Or Smallville's later seasons with Gough and Millar letting the show get dragged down by its inability to let go of old storytelling tools it should have ditched in the 2nd or 3rd season. But when I look at Community, I don't see Dan Harmon bringing down the show, I see a show with a lot of original ideas and expressions and passion for the concept, much of which flows from its former showrunner, so it's worrisome to think that someone will have to be just as creative and powerful and driven to keep it from imploding on itself. There's a reason David E. Kelley's shows all speak with a unique voice, and while that takes both the good and the bad, none of his shows would work that way without his voice.



It's not that we should care about the individuals running the shows, they are just people doing a job, artists expressing their ideas, but it's the fact that these individuals mold and focus and guide something we as an audience grow to care about that matters. If there was a mountain of quality programming to support the current environment, nobody would really give a crap about a showrunner because there'd be plenty of other choices, but the reality is that the state of television is poor and being run into the ground, so there are less choices than ever and audiences have to be selective to find stuff they like without it being either taken away or altered to be unrecognizable, and that means investing in knowing who a showrunner is and what their strengths and weaknesses are. You think Gene Roddenberry's name meant gold anywhere after Star Trek, even once it became a phenomenon? He spat out a few really mediocre genre shows and then finally got a purer vision of his ideas onto TV with Star Trek The Next Generation, but outside of the realm of Trekkies like myself, his name is nothing more than another in a sea of credits on the screen, or worse, a hack with a lot of junk '70s shows - but it is Roddenberry's passion and then his legacy that has shaped (and some would argue, doomed) a show that some people care deeply about, so as a showrunner he matters, and in that same way other showrunners matter.
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It is interesting to note how a shift in tone can happen to a show when the showrunner throne is changed up, look at Supernatural: Seasons 1-5 have a certain feel to them. Seasons 6 & 7 have a different tone, and most likely Seasons 8+ will also seem different.
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Let's hope that Season 8 is different in a good way.
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agreed
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