Though they may be used to being the boss behind-the-scenes, showrunners from an array of favorite dramas and comedies found themselves at the center of attention Tuesday night at a panel after the premiere of the documentary “Showrunners: The Art of Running a TV Show.”
Janet Tamaro, Mike Royce, Damon Lindelof, Ali LeRoi, Hart Hanson, Steven S. DeKnight and Matthew Carnahan gathered on stage at the Television Academy for a discussion moderated by Tara Bennett, author of the film’s companion book, and picked each other’s brains about experiences wearing the showrunner hat.
While Hanson equated the process of being a showrunner to having sex — “You don’t get to see how too many other people do it” — Tamaro described the challenge more as “metal on metal crashing,” dealing with the multitude of decisions that need to be made at any given moment.
Among the hot topics, the showrunners touched on Netflix, as DeKnight is currently in the process of producing “Daredevil” for the streaming giant, and tried to compare the experience to working at a broadcast or cable network.
DeKnight argued that there isn’t as much of a difference as many say, at least for him, though even as a showrunner he is in the dark alongside critics and viewers when it comes to knowing how many people watch the various series Netflix offers. The subject took the discussion for a sharp turn as Lindelof, Hanson and DeKnight considered the production implications of having no advertisers, no metrics, and different stipulations.
“Netflix is like my mom,” exclaimed Lindelof on the service’s reputation of not caring how many viewers their shows get and supporting shows they believe in. “Is it time that it doesn’t matter how many people watch?”
They also noted the diversity of television, which can be both a blessing and a curse. Remarked LeRoi, “If you are between the ages of 15 and 24, like black guys and hockey, there is a show out there for you!”
“I would argue that there is no qualitative difference,” Lindelof added on the differences between cable and broadcast. “I got paid a lot less and I saw more movies,” he said of his time working on “The Leftovers” at HBO as opposed to “Lost” at ABC, “but I’m working just as hard and I’m just as miserable – it’s just amortized over less episodes.”
He also commented that he doesn’t think it is “particularly fair” to make shows producing 24 episodes compete with shows producing eight, a note that prompted DeKnight and Carnahan to praise Hanson, Royce and other broadcast showrunners for being able to churn out as many episodes, or more, in the same amount of time that they make 10 or 13.
Utlimately, the showrunners agreed that they were glad to have participated in the documentary, to not only share the work that they do, but to learn from their colleagues.
“I really did kind of have show-envy,” said Lindelof, who used to look at other shows and think “it looks like they get to have a lot of fun!”
“Sometimes you think that the problems that you have are somehow different than everybody else’s,” said LeRoi, who said that seeing the film made him realize that many challenges of being a showrunner are universal and that it’s fruitless to be jealous of “the big shows.”
“It’s reassuring that a lot of the things you encounter – it’s not just you,” said Tamaro.