Review: Showrunners: The Art of Running a TV Show

ShowrunnersBy Tara Bennett

Titan, out now

The inside secrets of television from those who create it.

Whenever a new show starts on television, there is a mad scramble by people in my profession to talk to those involved with making it; the vast majority of them will want to talk to the “talent” – the actors whose performances will hopefully make them instantly recognisable to the global population as the show goes on to seven or more years of success. I’ve always much preferred to talk to the people behind the camera – the showrunners, the people at the sharp end of the creative process, who have to produce anything up to twenty-six hours of television from an idea, which may well not even be theirs in the first place.

People who aren’t in the industry (and rather too many of those who should know better) will often ask, “Why did they make such a bad episode?” The answer should be obvious: no one sets out to do so. Things go wrong for all sorts of reasons – lack of time, conflicts between the cast (at least one show I know had an entire season arc predicated around a disagreement between two cast members who weren’t prepared to be on set together), illness, interference from the studio – and sometimes something is aired that everyone involved is aware isn’t going to be at its best.

Tara Bennett’s fascinating volume, which is based on the documentary of the same name that airs in the US in October and hopefully will get a British transmission, pulls together excerpts from interviews with US TV showrunners from across the spectrum, grouped in various categories. This gives the book the feel of a film, cutting between different talking heads, but there are regular longer sections that don’t quite fit the categories.

The book doesn’t try to present pat answers – dipping into, say, the chapter on the benefits of Twitter gives you some people avidly promoting it, others saying they have no idea if it works in their show’s favour or not – and it doesn’t steer clear of contentious issues or of controversial opinions. You may well find yourself looking at your favourite programme in a different light as a result of reading this.

Verdict: A fascinating insight into the joys and pains of television production. 9/10

Paul Simpson

Click here to order Showrunners from Amazon.co.uk

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