Wanted: A few good showrunners.
An unusually high number of shows are getting greenlit this year without showrunners on board, leading studios and nets to scramble to arrange production marriages between creators and seasoned scribes who know how to handle the juggling act of running a show. That can be a tricky task of matchmaking to find an experienced scribe with similar tastes and sensibilities as the pilot creators.
NBC’s White House-set laffer “1600 Penn” and ensembler “Guys with Kids” are now shopping for a showrunners. So is Fox’s “Ben & Kate” and Mindy Kaling starrer “It’s Messy.” With Kaling toplining as well as writing the show, industry observers note that she needs a strong co-chief in the same way that “30 Rock” exec producer Robert Carlock has supported Tina Fey through the run of her NBC.
NBC’s “Animal Practice” nabbed comedy vet Gail Lerner as showrunner/exec producer a day after it got the series greenlight. Alexa Junge signed on a showrunner for NBC’s “Save Me” within hours of its pickup on Monday.
On the drama side, NBC’s “Chicago Fire” is also looking for a showrunner, though exec producer Dick Wolf has a deep bench of a writer-producers that he’s worked with over the years.
Plenty of other pilot contenders will be in the hunt for showrunners should they get the pickup nod in the next few days.
A big factor contributing to the absence of showrunners from the get-go is the trend prevalent at all studios of restricting many scribes from developing new projects while they’re actively employed on an existing show. That means studios often wind up commissioning scripts from less experienced writers. And there’s no doubt that net and studio execs are always in the hunt for fresh voices and new blood in the hopes of bringing new ideas to the table. Feature writers have been hot properties during pilot season for years because they know how to deliver compelling setting and characters. But delivering a great script is just the first hurdle that needs to be cleared after a show is ordered to series.
The general shrinkage among writing staffs during the past few years, compared to a decade ago, has further thinned the pool of pilot developers, insiders note.
It’s clear that the major studios have anticipated the post-pickup demand for showrunners and high-level reinforcements, which explains the slew of overall production deals that Universal TV, 20th Century Fox TV, ABC Studios and other top shops have inked in recent weeks with scribes who did not have a pilot horse in this year’s development derby.
Finding the right fit between a pilot creator and showrunner, and oftentimes between showrunner and stars, after a pilot is shot can be as hard as finding a soulmate on a blind date.
The tales of hired-gun showrunners mismatched with the original creative vision for a show are plentiful — and most of the time those skeins wind up on TV’s scrap heap.