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TV is facing a showrunner crisis amid the slew of streaming-era shows

  • There aren't enough TV writers with enough experience to serve as showrunners these days, and the explosion of new shows plus COVID have set up new showrunners to fail. As Vice's Katharine Trendacosta -- who spent three years looking into TV's showrunner crisis and spoke to everybody from Damon Lindelof to Steven Canals to Michael Schur to Jen Statsky -- explains: In the old days of network TV, "the training came through mentoring and experience. When television consisted of 20-22 episodes a year, most being written around the same time other episodes were being filmed, even junior writers could watch their script go from their hands to the screen, and all the parts in between. Good showrunners would make sure writers were on set for their specific scripts. (They were under contract for that same period, anyway.) Writers moved up the writer ranks, and by the time they were pitching their own shows, they would have seen at least 50 episodes of television be made. A lot has changed in the last few decades. Some of it is good—when there were only a few opportunities on a few channels, they overwhelmingly went to straight, white men. That, slowly, has changed, and is changing. Writers’ rooms are more diverse than ever. But the hunger for content brought on by the explosion of streaming has stretched the old, ad hoc training system to its breaking point. There simply are not enough experienced showrunners to head all the shows being made. Moreover, shorter episode orders and script writing for a whole season finishing before production has begun has robbed new writers of concrete experience they would have gotten even a few years ago. When those writers go on to pitch their shows, there’s a chance they’ve never seen one of their scripts actually get filmed. And, again, there aren’t enough experienced showrunners to pair with them. Then there’s the other change that keeps writers from seeking the help they need: the rise of the idea of 'showrunner' in the public consciousness, even as the industry itself is losing a grip on what the job means, and once did. What was once an inside-baseball term for a job that encompassed everything from writing a pilot to making sure everyone was fed on set has, as TV has entered its 'auteur' phase, taken on a more mystical air."

    TOPICS: Peak TV, Prestige TV