Some wouldn’t expect that second sentence to be in the past tense, but it is.
More than ever before, TV’s top showrunners have achieved a level of celebrity, to the point that many can’t imagine their shows operating without them. But the showrunning game, to a significant degree, remains a transitory business, whether it’s voluntary, involuntary or somewhere in between.
Mazzara and AMC parted ways after the third season of “Dead” (over a “difference of opinion about where the show should go moving forward,” the parties said in a joint statement). Talk to Mazzara, and he’s filled with optimism about his post-“Dead” life, which includes the launch of shingle 44 Strong Prods. and an overall deal with Fox TV Studios, with whom he had a much longer relationship via “The Shield.”
But showrunners put body and soul into their projects, and departure under any circumstance is a whirlwind experience.
“We really emotionally invest ourselves to be inside the show,” Mazzara says. “That’s what a good showrunner does. They want to be the voice of the show. It is tough to shut that off, because that’s where your creative juices are going. I think what’s been important is to take that energy and put it into something new, to see this as an opportunity to develop my own material.”
Mazzara was on both sides of the transition equation with “Walking Dead,” beginning when the exec producer was elevated to succeed Frank Darabont as showrunner after the show’s breakout rookie season.
“When I first came in as a showrunner, I felt confident my drawing upon the experience I had running two shows previously, so I could really just focus on the creative tasks at hand,” Mazzara says. “I was familiar with editing and sound, and the one thing I didn’t really know that I was leaning on people for was special effects. I could really just focus on the story and figuring out the characters and their voices and their motivations.
“Frank was so in touch with those characters and the actors, that my intention was really to listen to everyone involved with the show and learn from the terrific cast and crew, and let them have a say in what felt right, what felt honest to them, until I could internalize those voices and write the material.”
While some outgoing showrunners under different circumstances will keep a consulting hand in the mix, Mazzara wasn’t given guidance from Darabont. By the same token, since parting ways with AMC, he has let his successor, Scott M. Gimple, find his own path.
“I’ve moved on completely,” Mazzara says. “I’ve had no conversations with any of the producers or AMC since January. They’re completely developing their material, and I’m focused on new material.
“I’m enjoying myself. It’s been fun, and I’m focusing on stories that I want to tell.”