Joss Whedon Named #1 Showrunner
The Hollywood Reporter named its top 40 showrunners with genre mastermind Joss Whedon heading the list. The role of showrunner has evolved through the years but is the producer charged with making the television series hum, from concept to airdate. They tend to direct the creative process and are involved in every aspect such as the stories, casting, and post-production. Whereas the director has the final say on a movie set, the showrunner is the voice on a television production.
Whedon’s choice is interesting considering he has not produced a television series since the failed Firefly in 2003 and there’s been much controversy surrounding his next show, January’s Dollhouse.
Here’s what the trade says about the top ten showrunners.
Joss Whedon, Dollhouse (Fox)
Whedon believes in the power of the writers room so much that after filming three episodes of his forthcoming midseason drama Dollhouse, he shut down production because he hadn’t spent enough time there. "I use the room for (script structure) and then I send people off on their lonesomes to write," he says. Whedon prefers that approach for himself, too; he’ll head to a restaurant with his Pilot Razor Points and listen to movie soundtracks while composing scripts by hand. He is a showrunning vet (at one point he was in control of Angel, Firefly and Buffy the Vampire Slayer), but Whedon says that doesn’t make him experienced. "The thing about showrunning is you never learn anything," he admits. "The biggest part is to surround yourself with smart people and then take credit for it."
Tim Kring, Heroes (NBC)
Showrunning is not a task that sits easily on Kring’s shoulders. "You go from being someone who gets paid to be reclusive to suddenly being a manager of people," he explains. Though Kring has TV experience dating back to the first incarnation of Knight Rider, NBC’s Crossing Jordan was his first shot at running his own show. "You learn very quickly about motivating people and delegating," he says. "The tone of the workplace comes very much from you." Heroes’ third season has been down in the ratings compared with last year, but Kring says he remains focused solely on the work. "(Showrunning) doesn’t come naturally to me," he says. "I’m still someone who needs to go into my office for a couple of hours every day and be that solitary person again."
Ron Moore and David Eick, Battlestar Galactica, Caprica (Sci Fi)
When Studios USA first approached TV exec-turned-producer Eick in 2001 about shepherding a four-hour miniseries remake of Galactica for Sci Fi, he swayed longtime Star Trek writer Moore to come aboard as creator. Moore recast the campy 1970s series as a dark, post-9/11 morality tale that became a cult TV sensation. In addition to the final season of Galactica, Moore and Eick are overseeing its prequel, Caprica. Additionally, Eick also is working on scripts for the midseason NBC drama The Philanthropist, which he’s running. "Ron and I will be talking about Caprica, and I’m in the role of objective, nonwriting executive producer; then an hour later, I’ll be discussing an episode of The Philanthropist, and I’m the guy trying to protect every word," Eick says. In both roles they insist the needs are the same: "Honest partners who will tell you when to dig in and fight and when you’re digging in for the wrong reasons," Eick says.
Alan Ball, True Blood (HBO)
How often does a TV writer-producer win an Oscar before an Emmy? Ball cut his teeth on the sitcoms Grace Under Fire and Cybill before creating his first series, the ABC comedy Oh, Grow Up, which premiered a week before his first feature, American Beauty, hit theaters. Grow Up was quickly canceled, but Beauty won five Oscars, including best original screenplay for Ball. Still, he went back to TV, creating HBO’s Six Feet Under and winning an Emmy for directing the pilot. This fall’s follow-up, the vampire drama True Blood, has already been picked up by HBO for a second season.
Glenn Gordon Caron, Medium (NBC)
Before "dramedy" was a word, there was Moonlighting, Caron’s detective show that launched Bruce Willis and scored 16 Emmy nominations in its first year. Caron went on to create CBS’ critically praised drama Now and Again and now heads Medium, which has become a solid utility player for NBC and earned star Patricia Arquette an Emmy. Caron is the rare showrunner who also directs the pilots of his series to set the tone, just one of his idiosyncrasies. "I don’t bible my shows; I let them grow organically," he says. "Part of it is that I’m easily bored and resist anything that smells like a formula."
Ryan Murphy, Nip/Tuck (FX), Glee (Fox)
If Nip/Tuck’s production offices resemble the entrance of a fancy hotel, that’s by design. "I love how it makes me feel when I walk in (here) every day," says Murphy, an Emmy nominee whose obsession with creating ambiance and visual texture translates to the screen. He’ll be in those offices for a while — FX has ordered the series’ final episodes, but they won’t finish airing until 2011. For Murphy, showrunning comes down to the finest of details — including clothes and vases. "I want my finger in every pie," says the former journalist, adding that he does trust his staff implicitly. "But there isn’t a day I don’t work. I’m one of those amazingly lucky people whose job and dreams intertwine."
James Duff, The Closer (TNT)
Ratings don’t worry Duff, which is easy for him to say given he runs the most watched original series on basic cable, with 8 million viewers per episode. He is more concerned with making sure his ensemble cast isn’t overshadowed by Golden Globe-winning lead Kyra Sedgwick. "We have an orchestra supporting a concerto," he says. "But they’re all brilliant musicians." The Emmy-nominated writer says he gives each season a thematic arc related to single-word ideas like "family" and "power." This season’s unofficial theme could be "spawn" — Duff is developing a spinoff for TNT. But he remains humble about success, paraphrasing Charles de Gaulle: "The cemetery is full of indispensable people."
Matthew Weiner, Mad Men (AMC)
"I was raised by good people," Weiner says of the lessons he learned on The Sopranos and Becker. "You go to as many meetings as possible, learn everybody’s name, and don’t waste people’s time. He’s now grown up to full-fledged showrunner with Mad Men, which won six Emmys in September. Its audience has grown in its second season, a testament to Weiner’s singular vision, which means his tone meetings alone can take five hours while he performs the script for the director. "I’ve seen a lot of shows where the writers are suggesting gently to the director and hoping the director gets it," he says. "(This way is) time-consuming, but it saves on everything. I hope I can keep that pace up."
Jenji Kohan, Weeds (Showtime)
Kohan honed her writing skills on shows like the WB’s Gilmore Girls and NBC’s Will & Grace — the latter of which was co-created and exec produced by her brother David Kohan — before landing her own series at Showtime. The Emmy-nominated pot-comedy Weeds has since broken several ratings records for the pay cabler, becoming its most watched laugher ever.
Bill Lawrence, Scrubs (ABC)
After co-creating and running the hit 1990s sitcom Spin City, Lawrence’s Scrubs proved that single-camera comedies could be both cost-effective and popular with viewers. During the series’ first two years, Lawrence wrote and rewrote around the clock, but since Season 3, he’s changed that setup — now he writes and plays video games around the clock, thanks to an on-site game arcade. Having transitioned the show to ABC for its eighth season, the two-time Emmy nominee says he is careful to run the show as a creative endeavor, not a business enterprise. "If you don’t watch it, you’re spending 80% of your time on budget, postproduction and dealing with the studio and network," he explains. "I accomplish more while playing video games with my writing staff and crew."