While an American showrunner is like the duke of a small fiefdom, with a hand in everything from casting to editing to decisions made in the writers room, the same role hasn’t exactly been exported to TV industries overseas.
But at “Behind the Curtain: Meet the Showrunners!”, a panel discussion held Wednesday afternoon as part of the In Development program organized by MipTV and Canneseries, three top European writers and showrunners described an evolution in the relationship between broadcasters, producers, and series creators.
When he first cut his teeth as a writer-producer, Jörg Winger, managing director of UFA Fiction, and executive producer-showrunner-creator of “Deutschland 83/86” and “Hackerville,” said, “I had to hide it from the broadcaster, because they thought producer and writer was a conflict of interest.”
He added, “It was not just that writers weren’t in charge. They weren’t even allowed to participate.”
Ludovica Rampoldi, screenwriter of “1992” and “Gomorra,” said that in Italian television a decade ago, “the writer was…completely out of the process.” Once a script had been delivered, the writer had no say in casting or editing, and often wasn’t allowed on set. “Most of the time, a writer watched his show for the first time when it was aired on television,” she said.
During the Berlusconi era, “a single…group of people were in charge of all the shows. As a result, all the shows [tended] to be very similar.” But competition from Sky not only ended the Berlusconi monopoly; it “changed the way of storytelling in Italy, and also the process,” said Rampoldi. While a series like “1992” wouldn’t have been greenlit 10 years ago, it was a breakout hit in 2015 after its day-and-date release across Sky TV’s five Euro networks, before selling to Netflix in the U.S.
Rampoldi credits part of that success to the ability she and her co-creators had to see the series through from creation to completion. “I don’t think our show is perfect, but it’s very personal, because it’s our voice,” she said.
In Norway, Mette M. Bølstad, showrunner of “Nobel” and “State of Happiness,” sees producers and writers today exerting greater influence across the entire creative process. But the industry hasn’t exactly embraced showrunners in the American mould: “When it comes to the production part of it, it’s important to remember that writers are good at writing,” she said, and not necessarily suited to greater control of a production “just because it sounds fancy.”
“In Italy, as here in France, there is a sort of bias against writers,” said Rampoldi. “We don’t consider the writers authors; we give authorship only to the directors.” When it comes to budget and final cut, Italian broadcasters will only give up control in rare cases, like Paolo Sorrentino’s “The Young Pope,” or “The Miracle,” by best-selling author Niccolo Ammaniti, where the creator is also the director.
“For the budget, broadcasters don’t trust writers,” she said. “They don’t think they could be able to run a show, but they never tried.”
As audiences grow more sophisticated, and their tastes more global, there’s a higher benchmark when producing for the international market, where any show in any language can suddenly become a worldwide phenomenon. Competition is stiff, and Winger stressed that when it comes to important creative decisions, “there’s no magic wand.”
“I think in Germany, we often have the feeling that if you have a showrunner, or if you have a writers room, you will succeed,” he said. “But that’s not a formula for success.”
He added, “In the end, you have to have a small team of people who are aligned in their vision of the show.”