Rules for Showrunners

When I first encountered the word “showrunner” I thought it referred to the person who went for coffee and bagels for the tv production crew. You know, the “runner.”

We had a runner when I worked in corporate, all those years ago. This was the person who delivered important documents to the FedEx counter at the airport in time for the last flight out. The person who drove the signed contracts to the clients across town. And, yes, the person who picked up pastries for the conference room in the days before Door Dash.

A “runner,” I have since learned, is not the same as a “showrunner.” Heh.

Forgive me if I’m telling you something you already know — I’m late to so many parties anymore — but the position of showrunner in tv production is, quite literally, the person who runs the show. Yes. In a time of patronizing, specious job titles, you have to appreciate one that’s so blessedly straightforward.

The showrunner has creative authority and responsibility for keeping a TV show’s writers focused and moving forward, keeping the director on point and up to speed, and keeping the whole effort within budget. In decades past they were called executive producers. And still are. Which is confusing, but I didn’t make the rules.

I’m sharing this with you because a link showed up in my inbox recently to an essay called “11 Laws of Showrunning.” It came courtesy of the Do Lectures newsletter, (Chicken Shed, highly recommended) and it was written by Javier Grillo-Marxuach, who has an IMDB profile a mile long. His creative cup runneth over, truly.

Anyway, it’s one of those “this may be about (insert specific topic) but it’s really about life” pieces, even though, from what I can tell, Grillo-Marxuach wasn’t intending universal relevance; he just wanted to share his thoughts about being a good showrunner.

No matter. It’s relevant.

I may not be a television-producer person but I appreciate frank advice about acting like a grown-up, knowing yourself, learning how to work with other people, how to collaborate, how to trust others and get out of their way so they can do their work, but also how to ask for what you want and not be precious or pompous about it. Also: how to deal with auteurs and other assholes and not become one yourself.

So, yeah. Useful.

I’ve read it through twice, and now I’m on my third read, taking notes. If nothing else, it gets my head out of the daily doomscroll. Which is to say, worth its weight.

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