There are plenty of excellent showrunners out there. But networks don’t hire them to write pilots anymore. In their quest to find hot new young voices they push to the curb experienced writers who can not only write and produce a pilot but the series as well should it get ordered.
Showrunners who are currently in demand (a) are gravitating towards cable where they have more creative license, and (b) would prefer to do their own stuff not someone else’s. Can you blame them?
Oh, and (c), if you do showrun a young writer’s project and it becomes successful, you’re often squeezed out. How many forced marriages do you know that are successful?
The best television shows are the ones that have the most distinctive voices. MAD MEN would not be as good if Matt Weiner had to take a backseat to the former showrunner of CSI: MIAMI. It just makes sense that when you bring on a hired-gun he’s going to have different sensibilities than the creator, and if you’re buying the creator’s vision, you’re distorting it.
It just seems odd to me that networks have developed pilots for a year and just now, at the eleventh hour, are starting to concern themselves with who will run the show. Imagine a baseball franchise waiting until opening day, after the team has taken the field to decide who’s going to manage the team.
He must deal with delays, mid-course creative corrections, the press, the network promo department, unions, and most of all – time management. Network shows get cranked out like an assembly line. Think Lucy and the chocolate factory. Unless you’re trained for the crush of pressure that churning out a new episode every week entails you can be easily overwhelmed. And when there are shutdowns, huge sums of money are lost. A one-day delay might equal the cost of your house.
You have to be part accountant, part psychiatrist, part creative genius, part plate spinner, part crazy.
This is not an easy job.
So you can clearly see why networks are not entrusting these shows to inexperienced newbies. In their rush to give pilot scripts to hot actors who have never written, or screenwriters, or friends of hot actors who have never written, they’re putting a low priority on that little thing called producing a weekly television series.
If the pilot scripts all came back fresh and exciting and new then I would say, “Fine, this is the new way to go.” It’s worth the high wire act for the originality it produces. But they’re not. They’re just as uneven as every other year. Most of these pilots are dead. I think networks are fooling themselves into thinking they must bet on youth in order to attract the young demographic. What they need is the most capable people and those decisions should be made in August, not May. But that requires long range planning. Hey, maybe they should get a showrunner to run network development too.