‘Showrunners: The Art of Running a TV Show’ Quick Review

Along with the fabulous cinematic revolution television is currently in the wake of, so too are the lives and job descriptions of the men and women who create these fabulous stories changing. Gone are the days of the faceless writers beholden to episode directors, executive producers and show creators. Enter the showrunner: a title becoming more and more well known outside the business, describing the creative brains behind our favorite shows, successful or otherwise.

But what exactly is a showrunner? How does one become the creative face of a popular TV show, and what’s involved? Documentary director Des Doyle opens the door and delves into the world of these stress filled writer/producer/line managers in his charming, interesting film, Showrunners: The Art of Running a TV Show. In todays’ world where these incredibly talented, driven people are now kings and queens of the small screen, Doyle’s documentary shines an expository light onto their experiences as writers, as managers, as creative politicians, but mostly as people with stories to tell who have found their medium.


Mainly consisting of talking heads and fly-on-the-wall observational filming, Showrunners gives us an inside look into the world of this job title that for so long was only known within the business, but it does so without the feeling of just another behind the scenes documentary.

Awash in a sea of famous and not as famous faces, through showrunners from Damon Lindelof (LOST) and Ron Moore (Battlestar Galactica) to Janet Tamaro (Rizzoli & Isles) and Hart Hanson (Bones), Showrunners puts us directly into the showrunners wildly complex, satisfying, and fickle world where one bad note, casting decision, or Nielson Rating can spell amazing success or certain doom for their baby, and none of the subjects hold back when discussing such mistakes that have happened to even the best of them.

Following single and co-showrunners from a wide variety of shows – those just beginning, those wrapping up, comedies, dramas, cable, network – gives the documentary a well rounded vision of the lives of its subjects, and keeps us interested in how the process plays out regardless if we know the outcome of each show. We are also introduced to each aspect of the showrunners’ multifaceted job within their show, drawing a very clear picture of why Joss Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) describes the job as such: “It’s draining. It’s awful. I miss it terribly.”

House of Lies

The main showrunners we follow from the writing room to production to either success or failure run wildly different shows. Hart Hanson runs a show that is already successful, though he is quick to point out that his crime dramedy Bones didn’t start out as well as he has hoped. Through him and his team, we are led through the process of continuing an established story with established characters and actors that develops from the original vision while also keeps their changing audience engaged. Meanwhile, Matthew Carnhan (House of Lies) and Mike Royce (Men of a Certain Age) take us through their burgeoning projects, two showrunners with new shows – black comedy and sitcom – hoping for success.

The grueling process described by these creatives and their colleagues is never sugarcoated, laid out for us all to see and mull over, and as they all continuously state how much their jobs mean to them despite the demanding nature of it, as some of them taste success or failure we feel their happiness or sadness. It is this honesty, humility, and overall genuine nature exuded from both Showrunners and its subjects that create an attachment between us the audience and these hard working creatives. Doyle, in his observationally informative film not only introduces what the job of a showrunner is, but also how rewarding and demoralizing it can be depending on exponentially more factors than simple success or failure. The film is easy and interesting to watch, and shies away from making any point other than that being a showrunner is hard, demanding, and unrelenting in a world where most shows being made at once will fail while a select few will be chosen to carry on.


Showrunners sets itself apart from the crowds of endless production featurettes and behind the scenes docs of similar subjects, detailing all the sides of the showrunners successes and failures while allowing the storytellers to become the story, leading the way for a documentary that makes us laugh, informs us about the realities of the changing world of TV production, and leaves us feeling elated and sad when it goes well or falls apart.

4 Stars (4 / 5)

Showrunners: The Art of Running a TV Show is available now on iTunes.

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(Photos copyright: Black Sheep Productions)

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