The art of showrunning is changing, as evidenced by the foursome who came together Saturday for a panel at the Produced By: New York confab.
Greg Yaitanes, showrunner of Cinemax’s “Banshee,” came up the ranks as an episodic director. He’s not a writer per se but he’s “a good idea guy” who helps arc out the broader storylines while series creator Jonathan Tropper focuses more on writer.
Jenni Konner, showrunner of “Girls,” works in a different way because of her partnership with star-writer-director Lena Dunham. Post-production, for one, is almost entirely done after all filming is complete, while casting decisions are often made during shooting downtime in Dunham’s trailer.
Terry Winter, creator/showrunner of “Boardwalk Empire,” said his first call when setting up the show was to his fellow “Sopranos” alum Tim Van Patten because he knew he would need the assist from the director-producer.
Barbara Hall, showrunner of CBS’ “Madam Secretary,” runs a writers room in Los Angeles and oversees post-production in L.A. while the show shoots in New York. She preached the need for showrunners to learn the skill of delegating — which drew enthusiastic nods from the other three.
All four agreed that hiring people who are effective at their jobs is crucial, as is staying out of their way.
“If you’re micromanaging people you need to make a change —that’s for your sanity and for the show,” Hall said.
Yaitanes said his rise as a showrunner through his long run on “House” is a sign of TV’s new era.
“As TV has gotten more sophisticated there’s just more to do and there needs to be more hands to do it,” he said. “There’s just so much to cover.”
Panel moderator Mark Gordon, former PGA prexy and a prolific TV and film producer, added a perspective from his experience.
“Sometimes the best showrunners aren’t the best writers. It’s a different skill,” Gordon said.
It takes a touch of zen master to be an effective showrunner, the panelists agreed, especially when you’re on the set while shooting is under way.
“I think of myself as the set medic in a way,” Hall said. “You aren’t needed much but when you are you’re really needed. I try to be the calmest person in the room.”
Among other tidbits from the session:
Winter spoke about the effort to avoid the cliche of depicting the 1920s by using “The Charleston” in the soundtrack of his Prohibition-era drama. They only used it once. “We talked about having a scene where Nucky has someone beat up because they played it too much,” he joked.
“Kindness” goes a long way on the set, Konner advised.
Yaitanes is no fan of the term “non-writing producer”: “I don’t define myself by what I’m not doing with my job.”
The scene in “Apollo 13” where the mission control team gathers to answer the question “How do we get them down” is frequently referenced by showrunners in the thick of production.
Hall and Winter had one big thing in common in having attended the University of David Chase (“Northern Exposure” and “I’ll Fly Away” for Hall, “Sopranos” for Winter). But there’s only so much apprenticing you can do to learn the ropes of running a show. “It’s a baptism by fire for everybody,” Hall said. “You learn how to do it by doing it.”