With the spike in popularity of television over the last decade, young artists are starting to talk about wanting to be television showrunners in the same way that aspiring filmmakers have long spoken of hoping to direct feature films. While the long, arduous road to becoming a feature film director is well-documented, we very rarely talk about how people like David Chase, Matthew Weiner, and Liz Meriwether rose to their prominent positions at the creative pinnacle of their field.
While feature directors crop up from various places, getting their start in commercials, music videos, or in front of the camera, there is a more predictable path to becoming a television showrunner. To this point, artists who catapult into the industry like Lena Dunham have been the exception, not the rule. Almost every showrunner starts off as a staff writer on other shows before they are given the keys to their personal creative kingdom.
What is surprising, however, are the shows that many showrunners come from. One writer who would go on to create one of the greatest crime dramas of all time got his first writing job on a Paul Reiser sitcom. A showrunner of prominent procedural started out on a Canadian show about loggers. The creator of an acclaimed HBO period drama first wrote TV dialogue for Bill Cosby.
As critics, we often force a chasm between the shows we love and those that we wish would just go away. When you look at the career of an average showrunner, you see that these shows often have a closer relationship in reality than we would like to admit. Shows like Nash Bridges have more overlap with the staff of The Shield and Lost than you would imagine. Many great creative minds must rise up through terrible shows before they get a shot a greatness, and some of the greatest gigs in TV history can be followed up by a series of flops.
They came from a variety of places, but they all started somewhere. This is A Guide to Your Favorite Showrunners' First Shows.
Written by Brenden Gallagher (@muddycreekU)