You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Europe’s Evolution of Adopting the American Writers’ Room Model

Europe hasn’t gone Hollywood quite yet, but it’s getting there, slowly. The standing of the writer within the hierarchy of drama production in Europe has never been higher, but the Hollywood showrunner model, in its purest sense — in which the writer often has the final say in all creative decisions — is still a relative rarity in Europe.

Eight years ago, British exec producer Stephen Garrett, whose credits include “The Night Manager” and is now working on “The Rook” for Starz, persuaded American showrunner Frank Spotnitz to move to Europe and transplant the Hollywood showrunner model in the shape of BBC thriller series “Hunted.” Spotnitz, who brings “Medici: The Magnificent” to Mipcom, recalls one BBC exec telling him British writers were “categorically not capable of collaborating in a [writers’] room.”

Spotnitz proved that exec wrong, but admits that he has adapted the U.S. model to suit European conditions. The writers’ room for the next season of “Medici” meets only three days a week for a limited number of weeks, before taking a break. Spotnitz also employs a team of script editors, a role within British television that isn’t found in the U.S. He describes this set-up as “a hybrid between the Hollywood way and U.K. way of doing television.”

Producer Kate Harwood, who has “Dublin Murders” and “Baghdad Central” at Mipcom, says one obstacle to the U.S.-style writers’ room taking root in the U.K. is it can require scribes to work exclusively for the show for a year or more, which is “a phenomenal amount of money.” Also, most top writers are unwilling to commit as they often prefer to work on multiple projects.

“British writers like ducking and weaving,” she says. “They like the sense that they are not tied down.”

Garrett, who says “the showrunner process is creeping into the U.K. by osmosis,” credits Spotnitz with having “blazed a trail” for the U.S. showrunning model in Britain, with many local writers he has worked with going on to become quasi showrunners themselves, but only in terms of running a writers’ room.

“Most [British] writers I know are writers first and foremost, and either are not necessarily interested in or not very good at those other more practical, creatively organizational bits of the process,” Garrett says. Therefore, non-writing exec producers generally undertake this part of the showrunning role in the U.K., as Garrett did on London-set “The Rook,” alongside U.S. showrunners Lisa Zwerling and Karyn Usher.

Simon Beaufoy brought “Trust,” a drama about the infamous Getty family, to FX.
Courtesy of FX

Garrett says one of that “rare breed” of British writers who showrun in a U.S. sense of the term is Jed Mercurio, whose “Bodyguard” has been a ratings sensation. Mercurio says his approach is “about having an overall creative vision for the piece.” However, that “doesn’t mean the vision is fully formed when the script is written. I’m very much in favor and enthusiastic about collaboration” with other members of the crew and the cast.

Mercurio says the culture in the U.K. “has tended to be of quite defined demarcation between writing, producing and directing, and those relationships tended to be mediated by the producers.” Early in his career he “did become frustrated by producers who wanted to control the conversation — keep writers and directors apart, keep writers off set, and things like that.”

Writer Simon Beaufoy describes his experience as showrunner on FX series “Trust,” which he exec produced with Danny Boyle and Christian Colson, as the best of his working life. Beaufoy is developing the series “Happiness 3.0” for the U.S. cabler, alongside Garrett. He contrasts his joyful time with FX with the misery of working on his previous TV series a decade ago, when he was “micromanaged” to the point where “lines of dialogue were being dictated down the phone at me.”

Mike Bartlett, the writer-exec producer of “Press,” is less hands-on than Mercurio, but is still “part of the conversation” when key creative decisions are made. “It is about making sure that what the show is … is communicated, and everything is pointing in the same direction, which is to tell the story you wanted to tell,” he says.

‘British writers … like the sense that they are not tied down.’
Kate Harwood

Bartlett is “very present in the prep and the edit stages,” but doesn’t often go on set, which he sees as “the director’s world.” He sees his responsibility as an exec producer “not just to the work but also to the audience and the channel.”

Spanish showrunners Alex Pina and Esther Martínez Lobato, who had a hit with “Money Heist,” come to Mipcom with “The Pier.” Lobato says they always work as part of a team because they “find it very enriching,” with the other writers adding “their own vision and emotions,” while the showrunners provide “unity to the whole process.” They employed a writers’ room on “The Pier,” something that is becoming more common in Spain.

German exec producer-writer Joerg Winger is co-creator of “Deutschland 89” and “Hackerville,” but his role differed on each. On the former he had “the American showrunner role” while on the latter “it was more of a collective model.” On “Deutschland 89” he is the head writer, with senior and junior writers as part of the team, and he makes sure there is diversity in the writers’ room. “You want to have different mindsets in terms of their view of the world,” he says.

“The great thing about the U.S. writing system is that young writers go into the writers’ room and learn about the craft,” he adds. He sees the relationship between senior and junior writers as “a master-apprentice relationship … it is the best way to learn how to write for television.”

More TV


    'Chambers' Canceled After One Season at Netflix

    Netflix has canceled the drama series “Chambers” after one season. The series followed a teenager who gets a heart transplant and becomes consumed with the mystery surrounding her donor. The series starred Uma Thurman, Tony Goldwyn, Sivan Alyra Rose, Lilliya Reid, Nicholas Galitzine, Kyanna Simone Simpson, Lilli Kay, Sarah Mezzanotte, and Griffin Powell-Arcand. Leah Rachel [...]

  • The Daily Show with Trevor Noah

    TV News Roundup: 'The Daily Show with Trevor Noah' to Air Live After Democratic Debates

    In today’s roundup, Trevor Noah announces two live specials after the first Democratic debates and the new season of “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee” sets a premiere date. SPECIALS “The Daily Show with Trevor Noah” will broadcast live following the Democratic Party’s first 2020 presidential primary debates on June 26 and 27 at 11 p.m. ET on Comedy Central. [...]

  • Agents Accuse Writers Guild of Refusing

    Writers Guild 'Plans to Respond' to Agents' Proposal as Frustration Mounts

    In a sign of increasing frustration, Hollywood agents have accused the Writers Guild of America of foot-dragging in the bitter two-month dispute. “It has become clear as more days pass that the Guild is not interested in making a deal,” said the negotiating committee for the agents in statement issued Tuesday. “Over the past year, [...]

  • Samantha Bee Variety

    Samantha Bee Isn't Thrilled to Be the Last Woman Standing in Late Night

    Samantha Bee is now the only female host in late night, and that’s a stat she’s not happy about. “It’s a bit unsettling,” Bee recently told Variety. “It’s been a bad year to be a woman in this space. It’s not really a badge that I want to wear.” Shows that have been canceled over [...]

  • XXXTentacion

    Watch a Trailer for New XXXTentacion Documentary

    A year to the day after rapper XXXTentacion was murdered, his estate has released a trailer for an upcoming documentary on the artist, which the announcement says is “releasing soon.” The clip, which includes narration from X himself, captures quick flashes of him reuniting with family and friends, engaging with fans, and working on music. In the [...]

  • The-Saddest-Goal

    Fascism and Fútbol Feature in Chilean Series Project ‘The Saddest Goal’

    PAMPLONA, Spain – Chilean production company Manufactura de Películas pitched its unconventional Pinochet-era drama “The Saddest Goal” today at Spain’s Conecta Fiction TV co-production and networking TV event, held in Pamplona. Set during qualification for the 1974 FIFA World Cup, a period of great political instability in Chile, “The Saddest Goal” kicks off as the [...]

  • Spain’s La Claqueta, Portugal’s SPi Ink

    Conecta Fiction: La Claqueta and SPi Ink Fiction Co-Production Pact

    Spain’s Seville-based shingle La Claqueta and Portugal’s SPi have clinched a co-development agreement for three fiction projects a year. Companies first made contact at last year’s Conecta Fiction, the annual co-production meet in Spain. The companies have also pacted to co-produce the animated feature-length docu “El viaje más largo” in collaboration with Portuguese pubcaster RTP [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content