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Showrunners Impact Report: Delegate delicately

Exec producers with multiple shows require trustworthy allies

Showrunners have to be incredible multitaskers to take on the Herculean feat of running just one television show. Those who juggle two or three at the same time are, arguably, gluttons for punishment or just plain crazy.

For Pam Veasey, who helms both CBS’ “CSI: NY” and the upcoming CW thriller “Ringer,” it helps to think of the shows as a part of the family.

“‘CSI: NY’ is the freshman you send off to college,” Veasey says. “They already know all of the rules, so you talk to them on the phone every once in a while to check in. ‘Ringer’ is the high school student who is still trying to learn things about life.”

If shows are children, then Shonda Rhimes is the proud mother of ABC triplets: “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Private Practice” and the upcoming political drama “Scandal.” Rhimes approaches her show-juggling act similarly to Veasey.

“I feel like it’s a little bit like having a kid,” Rhimes says. “You have one kid and you think, ‘Oh my God, I can’t believe that I can do this.’ You have two and you think, ‘This is so much harder!’ And three is just another kid in the pack. After a while, you’ve gotten so accustomed to the rituals and the rhythms and how it all works that you can just add another one on.”

Those rituals and rhythms are often the product of a sturdy and well-oiled machine. Veasey recognizes the impossibility of micromanaging every detail of numerous shows and believes that building a strong team and having faith in them is key.

“Once you start to trust who you’ve brought on as your team, you start to let it go,” she says.

Says Seth MacFarlane, who oversees the Fox’s animation triumvirate of “Family Guy,” “American Dad” and “The Cleveland Show”: “It’s really about hiring people that you trust and giving them the reins and letting the buck stop with them. Once those shows are set up, I’ll give suggestions — sometimes strong suggestions — but at the end of the day it kind of helps as a policy to give those people command of their shows.”

When Kevin Williamson of CW’s “The Vampire Diaries” took on a second title with the network’s upcoming young adult fantasy “The Secret Circle,” not much changed for him. With both writers’ rooms in the same building, Williamson is able to go back and forth between the two within seconds.

“A lot of people work on both shows, so I’ve got a team in place that really makes me look good,” he says. “I have a lot of good people who prop me up and carry me.”

For John Wells, who juggles Showtime’s “Shameless” and TNT’s “Southland,” a staggered schedule helps maintain both a show’s production and a showrunner’s sanity.

“Right now, I’m lucky with our production schedule because we’ll be done shooting ‘Shameless’ when we shoot ‘Southland,’ ” Wells says. “But when I have two shows going simultaneously, I try to schedule things so we’re doing one show Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and the other show we’re doing Tuesday and Thursday. Hopefully, I have a little bit of time to stop one (show) before starting another even if it’s the next day.”

If anyone knows about the insanities of juggling multiple shows at one time it’s Chuck Lorre, who has his hands full with CBS’ “Two and a Half Men,” “The Big Bang Theory” and “Mike & Molly.” What does Lorre see as the single biggest challenge in running three sitcoms at once?

“Not throwing my back out when the stress causes me to double over and heave coffee and bile,” he says.

Obviously, Lorre’s act includes comedy as well as juggling.

SHOWRUNNERS IMPACT REPORT 2011:
Delegate delicately | Primetime drivers | Next wave showrunners

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