The Most Powerful Showrunners 2015

10:00 AM 10/14/2015

by Michael O'Connell and Stacey Wilson Hunt

THR's annual rundown of TV's most valuable writer-producers, whose worth only keeps rising in this golden age of content — tarnish and all — as they reveal their idols and binge-watch favorites.

Marti Noxon, John Ridley
Marti Noxon, John Ridley
Photo by Amanda Friedman; Dustin Cohen

TV's much-discussed proliferation of scripted series — and the widely held belief that a saturation point is looming — has given revered showrunners even more leverage in the business. Why? Even in TV's ballyhooed "golden age," there isn't enough talent to go around.

The lack of skilled writer-producers, lamented from executive suites to the terrace at Soho House, has put the squeeze on writers rooms. When The Hollywood Reporter asked its 2015 Power Showrunners to describe a challenge that wasn't an issue five years ago, responses overwhelmingly focused on the dearth of available staffers. "Everyone good is working on a show for eight episodes," says Mindy Kaling, creator and star of The Mindy Project. "Then, when they're free, we're already staffed up."

Her sentiment is echoed by the old guard. Carlton Cuse, a seasoned pro of more than 20 years who has three dramas (Bates Motel, The Strain, Colony) on his plate currently, says the competition to hire the best writers has reached new heights. "There are 400 shows that all want to hire the same people," he says.

If there is a tipping point, we're not quite there. The volume of original scripted series is up 40 percent from where it was in 2010. It makes the already subjective job of calculating which showrunners wield the most influence even more complicated. That is why THR editors recast the methodology for this year's list of Power Showrunners, who were chosen based on their value to network (or streamer) identity, ratings clout, number of series on the air and critical favor. Does TV newbie Mr. Robot creator Sam Esmail have the same clout as uberproducer Greg Berlanti? Of course not — unless you work at USA. That's one reason why you'll see them both — and 19 other names who never have graced this list — in the 2015 class.

Read more Power Showrunners 2015: Courtney Kemp Agboh, Noah Hawley Reveal Their Creative Space (Photos)

Categories

The Network AmbassadorsWith every platform clamoring for its own scripted identity, these are the producers behind the series that have become their outlets' creative calling cards.

The Ratings MagnetsTheirs are the biggest shows on TV, attracting huge audiences and paying the bills at their networks and studios — making them quite popular in the process.

The HeavyweightsThese producers boast massive overall deals, multiple series on numerous platforms and the clout to pitch — and sell — at a rate unrivaled by their peers.

The Pop IconsTheir cultural footprint extends far beyond Hollywood, with critical and awards cachet that allows them to court A-list talent and envy among their competitors.

  • Courtney Kemp Agboh

    Power (Starz)

    Matt Sayles/Invision for STARZ Entertainment/AP Images

    Category: Network Ambassador

    Star and exec producer Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson may be the face of Power, but creator-showrunner Kemp Agboh, 38, is the show's pulse. The former staff favorite at The Good Wife has made the drama the most watched in Starz's history (6.5 million multiplatform viewers for season two) and inspired the network's play for black audiences, long before Fox did with Empire.

    Biggest job challenge I didn't have five years ago: "The extracurricular of appearances and social media. The whole point of being a writer is to be alone in a room, wearing sweatpants, drowning in your own morbid thoughts."

    Last binge-watch: "Archer. It's my favorite thing in the entire world, other than my daughter."

  • Mara Brock Akil and Salim Akil

    Being Mary Jane (BET)

    AP Images

    Category: Network Ambassador

    Having made the erstwhile music network a scripted destination with the now-concluded The Game and its enduring No. 1 hit Mary Jane, the power couple is in high demand. In 2015, Mara, 45, and Salim, 51, signed a rich multiyear deal with Warner Bros. TV that will see them developing projects for the studio in 2016.

    Biggest job challenge I didn't have five years ago:

    Salim "Finding an assistant who wants to be an assistant and not on reality TV."

    First spec:

    Mara "It entailed really bad writing."

  • Judd Apatow, Lena Dunham and Jenni Konner

    Girls (HBO)

    From left: Judd Apatow, Lena Dunham and Jenni Konner
    From left: Judd Apatow, Lena Dunham and Jenni Konner
    AP Photo/Starpix, Dave Allocca

    Category: Pop Icon

    Girls remains a cultural heavyweight for HBO — extending its footprint well beyond the mere 10 episodes that air each winter. Just look at Dunham's (29) and Konner's (44) expanding reach outside of the show with the buzzed-about launch of their newsletter Lenny and the enduring reign of Apatow, 47, in directing hit comedy features like Trainwreck

    First spec:

    Dunham "I've never written one, but I did threaten to do an episode of How I Met Your Mother a few times." 

    Apatow "I wrote a spec of Get a Life and The Simpsons. I couldn't get a job from either, but 22 years later The Simpsons decided to make my spec."

    Last binge-watch:

    Konner "Difficult People. Lena turned me onto it. I'm obsessed."

  • Byron Balasco

    Kingdom (DirecTV)

    Rich Fury/Invision/AP

    Category: Network Ambassador

    The satellite-based service was one of the first alternative platforms to break into original programming (see its acquisitions of NBC's Friday Night Lights and FX's Damages). Now the MMA drama from Balasco, 38, has given DirecTV critical cred of its own. Insiders say another renewal is a lock.

    Current showrunner role model: "Vince Gilligan. I've never met him, but I admire his writing, filmmaking, showrunning and what I've heard about his human decency."

    Biggest job challenge I didn't have five years ago: "Grabbing attention — without degrading yourself — by simply screaming, 'Hey, America! Free boobs and violence! Wednesdays at 9/8 Central.' "

  • Kenya Barris and Jonathan Groff

    Black-ish (ABC)

    AP

    Category: Ratings Magnet

    The show has proved to be a solid partner to ABC's longtime sitcom flagship Modern Family after leading the broadcast diversity wave with creator Barris, 41, and veteran comedy writer Groff, 53, at the lead. Advertisers took notice. After wrapping last season with an average 3.3 rating in the key demo, Black-ish saw the biggest rate increase of any comedy for 2015-16 — jumping a reported 20 percent.

    Silliest network fight:

    Groff "They're all silly, really, but the making up is sooo hot."

    Strangest writing ritual:

    Barris "Buying a new laptop for every new show I'm on. It gives me a fresh start."

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  • David Benioff and D.B. Weiss

    Game of Thrones (HBO)

    AP

    Category: Ratings Magnet

    Their HBO flagship continues to set its own ratings records on fire, climbing to past 8 million night-of viewers and more than 20 million a week. The fifth season of the fantasy series run by Weiss, 44, and Benioff, 45, also was something of a coronation when it emerged as Emmy's winningest drama of 2015 with a surprise win for outstanding drama series, edging out the final, nostalgia-filled season of AMC's Mad Men.

    Last binge-watch:

    Weiss Rick and Morty

    Benioff Mr. Robot

    Go-to writers room takeout:

    Weiss "It doesn't get better than Mel's Fish Shack."

  • Alec Berg and Mike Judge

    Silicon Valley (HBO)

    RexUSA

    Category: Pop Icon

    Growing its audience north of 6 million weekly viewers and nabbing seven Emmy nominations, Silicon Valley along with Veep has helped solidify HBO's comedy brand as it moves into over-the-top streaming. It also doesn't hurt that the show, created by Judge, 52, has become a Hollywood industry favorite.

    First spec script:

    Judge "It involved a redneck from another planet."

    Go-to writers room takeout:

    Berg "Once the food is packed into those boxes and lugged around in the back of a PA's car, it all kind of tastes the same."

  • Greg Berlanti

    Arrow, The Flash, Mysteries of Laura, Blindspot, Supergirl (The CW, NBC, CBS)

    Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP

    Category: Heavyweight

    No longer a showrunner in the strictest sense of the word, Berlanti, 43, has amassed a TV catalog unrivaled by even the biggest guns — a formidable six series on the air boast his executive producer credit this season alone. Those include The CW's golden pairing of Arrow and The Flash, CBS' big new swing Supergirl and, the latest feather in his cap, NBC's breakout drama Blindspot.

    Current showrunner role model: "All of the folks I work with. I admire them very much."

    Last binge-watch: "The Carmichael Show [on NBC]. It is a work of genius."

  • Jon Bokenkamp and John Eisendrath

    The Blacklist (NBC)

    Jon Bokenkamp and John Eisendrath
    Jon Bokenkamp and John Eisendrath
    NBC/NBCU Photo Bank/Getty Images

    Category: Ratings Magnet

    It's not the ratings powerhouse it once was, but the James Spader drama from Bokenkamp, 42, and Eisendrath, 56, remains NBC's scripted favorite. After nabbing the post-Super Bowl slot in 2015, it migrated from Mondays to Thursdays, where it has helped start the revival of the network's long-troubled Must See night. And that's before it adds another 72 percent of its audience in DVR.

    Biggest job challenge I didn't have five years ago:

    Bokenkamp "Coming to work dressed. I'd never collaborated with other writers before this job."

    Silliest network fight:

    Eisendrath "I never fight with the network. I love the network. The network is amazing."

  • Carlton Cuse

    Bates Motel, The Strain (A&E, FX)

    Paul A. Hebert/Invision/AP

    Category: Heavyweight

    Since Lost, the writer-producer has been incredibly prolific, executive producing A&E's mainstay Bates Motel while running day-to-day on the FX vampire drama The Strain, producing USA's upcoming Colony and most recently boarding the very hot Jack Ryan spinoff drama on Amazon. TV's take on Tom Clancy's popular CIA character will find Cuse, 56, heading back to his roots as a classic showrunner.

    Current showrunner role model: "I wish I could write dialogue as magnificently as [departed Veep showrunner] Armando Iannucci."

    Silliest network fight: "Going frame by frame, in the editing room, with someone from standards and practices to determine how many frames of [actress] Evangeline Lilly's lower boob we could show in a scene where her shirt comes off on Lost."

  • Mark and Jay Duplass

    Togetherness (HBO)

    Tonya Wise/Invision for the Television Academy/AP Images

    Category: Pop Icon

    Migrating from film in a very big way, brothers Mark, 38, and Jay, 42, scored a speedy renewal for their introspective HBO comedy about L.A. adulthood and a two-year deal to develop new series at the network. This is on top of a similar pact, on the movie side, with Netflix as well as the duo's respective acting obligations on The League and Transparent.

    First spec script: "An ex-porn addict goes undercover into the seedy world of Girls Gone Wild after the website creators beat him up on his vacation. We wrote it for Paul Giamatti to star. It was called Boobs in the Night. It did not sell."

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  • Sam Esmail

    Mr. Robot (USA)

    Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP

    Category: Network Ambassador

    Entrusted with the blue-sky-free rebranding of basic cable's longtime scripted hub, Esmail, 38, was given full showrunner responsibilities on his hacker drama despite having no TV experience. After a pre-emptive renewal, the show averaged 3 million viewers and ranked as summer 2015's rare critical darling.

    Silliest network fight: "The sound of peeing."

    Strangest writing ritual: "Arguing with myself, out loud."

  • Stephen Falk

    You're the Worst (FXX)

    Arnold Turner/Invision/AP

    Category: Network Ambassador

    When Falk's anti-romantic comedy bounced from FX to network sibling FXX, it lost neither its critical cachet nor its devoted (if modest) audience. FX Productions is only deepening its relationship with the scribe-producer, 43, who started out writing Weeds and Orange Is the New Black. He's developing two more projects for the cable powerhouse.

    Current showrunner role model: "Jenji Kohan, at whose colorfully nail-polished feet I learned."

    Biggest job challenge I didn't have five years ago: "Snapchat recaps? Is that a thing?"

  • Tina Fey and Robert Carlock

    Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (Netflix)

    Edward Le Poulin/Corbis / APImages

    Category: Pop Icon

    The 30 Rock duo, 43 and 45, skirted an abbreviated life on broadcast when Universal Television placed Kimmy Schmidt at Netflix, where it became a pop-culture phenom and boasted more Emmy noms — eight — than the streamer's favored darling Orange Is the New Black.

    Current showrunner role model:

    Carlock "Whoever has a hiatus week right now. I'd like to be like that person."

    Silliest network fight:

    Carlock "There's a fake dirty word that Tina invented at SNL, which we were not allowed to use on 30 Rock because someone had made up a fake definition and put it on Urban Dictionary."

  • Will Forte

    The Last Man on Earth (Fox)

    Paul A. Hebert/Invision for the Television Academy/AP Images

    Category: Pop Icon

    Taking TV's fondness for multihyphenates to new heights, Saturday Night Live alum Forte, 45, is lead writer on his comedic creation, (taking a mini writers room with him even when he travels for promotions) and occupies more proportional screen time than any other broadcast network star.

    Strangest writing ritual: "My bladder has to be completely empty."

    Go-to writers room takeout: "The California Chicken Cafe in Chatsworth. A heartfelt thank you to all the chickens who have given their lives just because you are the closest chicken place to our office."

  • Alex Gansa

    Homeland (Showtime)

    Eric Charbonneau/Invision for Showtime/AP Images

    Category: Ratings Machine

    Still averaging nearly 6.2 million weekly viewers in season five, the Gansa-led Showtime favorite has adopted the structure of his former gig (24) by rebooting each season, with Claire Danes' CIA wunderkind tackling even heavier issues of homeland security and terrorists in new parts of the globe (this season, Berlin). Gansa, 54, even made a rare Emmy comeback this year with an outstanding drama series nomination.

    Current showrunner role model: "Anyone who runs more than one show. I run one, and it nearly kills me."

    Last binge-watch: Peaky Blinders

  • Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould

    Better Call Saul (AMC)

    Todd Williamson/Invision for AMC/AP Images

    Category: Pop Icon

    Breaking Bad was a daunting act to follow, but Gould, 55, and Gilligan, 48, did not slack with their AMC spinoff. Saul premiered in February to a then-cable record (6.9 million viewers and a 3.4 rating among adults 18-to-49) before nabbing seven Emmy nominations. With its parent series and Mad Men out of the picture, it heads into its second season as the network's prestige flagship series.

    Last binge-watch:

    Gould "Silicon Valley. Brilliant satire and so much more."

    Go-to writers room takeout:

    Gilligan "I love a bar in our neighborhood called Sardo's. Technically it's not take­-out, as they refuse to deliver their liquor to our writers room. However, they have live Dixieland jazz on Tuesday afternoon, then porn-star karaoke. Yay, Tuesday!"

  • Scott M. Gimple and David Erickson

    The Walking Dead, Fear the Walking Dead (AMC)

    AP

    Category: Ratings Magnet

    Leave it to TV's highest-rated series to outdo its own freshman run with an even bigger spinoff. The prequel companion, Fear the Walking Dead, with Erickson at the lead, now ranks as the biggest premiere in cable history: 13.3 million viewers watched in the first round of live-plus-3-day ratings. With the original as big as ever (15.5 million viewers last season), Gimple and Erickson, both 44, rule AMC.

    Last binge-watch:

    Gimple "Christmas hiatus will be a blur of BoJack Horseman, Sense8, Game of Thrones and Rick and Morty."

    Go-to writers room takeout:

    Erickson "Whatever offers the most roughage."

  • Gary Glasberg

    NCIS, NCIS: New Orleans (CBS)

    Courtesy of CBS

    Category: Ratings Magnet

    Empire might be TV's crown jewel, but the original NCIS remains broadcast's most watched drama — averaging more than 21 million viewers last season in the U.S. alone. Shepherding another successful spinoff in NCIS: New Orleans, Glasberg, 49, is the biggest player in CBS' most formidable franchise, which still occupies three hours of programming every week.

    First spec: "An episode of Northern Exposure."

    Strangest writing ritual: "I have to get dressed and put my shoes on before I sit at my computer."

  • Adam F. Goldberg

    The Goldbergs (ABC)

    AP

    Category: Ratings Magnet

    Branching out after three seasons with his 1980s-set autobiographical sitcom — he recently partnered with Oscar winner Patrick Osborne (Wreck-It Ralph) for an ambitious live-action/CGI comedy pilot — Goldberg, 39, is a vital part of ABC's post-Modern Family plan. The Goldbergs has thrived since its Wednesday move, averaging a 3.1 rating in the key demo last season, making it a keystone in one of few flourishing comedy blocks.

    Silliest network fight: "Over the amount of 'shadowing' we can show on Jeff Garlin's balls when he wears tighty-whities."

    Last binge-watch: Wet Hot American Summer

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  • Dan Goor and Mike Schur

    Brooklyn Nine-Nine (Fox)

    DAVID CROTTY/Patrick McMullan

    Category: Pop Icon

    Fox is all-in on the third-year comedy, which helped usher live-action into Sunday's long-standing animation block. Goor, 40, serves as showrunner on Brooklyn, while exec producer Schur, 39, is focusing his post-Parks and Recreation time on Aziz Ansari's upcoming Netflix comedy, Master of None.

    First spec:

    Goor "For The Office, Michael Scott finds out that the weekend janitor had died in the Dunder Mifflin men's room." 

    Schur "For Curb Your Enthusiasm, Larry David gets Lasik eye surgery and becomes obsessed with people's physical imperfections."

  • Howard Gordon

    Homeland, Tyrant, Legends, Lookinglass (Showtime, FX, TNT, Fox)

    Eric Charbonneau/Invision for Showtime/AP Images)

    Category: Heavyweight

    The portfolio of Gordon, 54, remains formidable. On top of showrunning the ever-complicated Tyrant — recently renewed for a third season — he has the now-being-rebooted TNT drama Legend, Fox's midseason Frankenstein entry Lookinglass and still boasts an EP cred on Showtime's Homeland. Speaking of franchises, a revival of his past hit 24 still is on the table at Fox after 2014's successful limited run.

    Last binge-watch: Empire

    Strangest writing ritual: "The pretexts for procrastination I invent during early-morning migrations to my laptop. If I was 25 percent as good a writer as I am a procrastinator, I'd have won the MacArthur genius grant by now."

  • Noah Hawley

    Fargo (FX)

    Charles Sykes/Invision/AP

    Category: Pop Icon

    The verdict is still out on whether Hawley can maintain the critical fervor (18 Emmy nominations and a win for miniseries) for his reimagining of the Coen brothers' classic 1996 feature in its second season, but early reviews bode well for the 48-year-old former novelist. Hey, he can't possibly flub his follow-up the way most believe HBO and Nic Pizzolatto did with True DetectiveFargo's constant point of comparison.

    Biggest job challenge I didn't have five years ago: "Yes, there's much more competition, and audiences have scattered, but the only way networks can distinguish themselves is to make shows that are cinematic and original, which makes TV 'an artist's market.' "

  • Mindy Kaling and Matt Warburton

    The Mindy Project (Hulu)

    Al Powers/Invision for the Television Academy/AP Images; ommaso Boddi/Getty Images

    Category: Network Ambassador

    After its failed attempts at cementing a scripted identity, Hulu's saving grace arrived with the acquisition of Fox's Kaling-created-and-starring comedy about a New York OB-GYN. Hulu was so hot on Kaling, 36, that it lined up the deal to save the series well before its broadcast exit.

    Silliest network fight:

    Kaling "I was once bullied into offering a guest part to someone I didn't even want to hire. I had to call, pitch it to them, and then they turned me down. I will never do that again."

    Strangest writing ritual:

    Warburton "I use the bathroom in the building next door to force myself to get sunlight."

  • Marlene King and Oliver Goldstick

    Pretty Little Liars (ABC Family)

    Evan Agostini/Invision/AP

    Category: Ratings Magnet

    When ABC Family rebrands as Freeform in 2016, the tween-obsessed cable network will do so on the back of its longest-running and highest-rated hit's January return. King, 48, and Goldstick, 54, have kept the drama on top for 130 episodes now, outlasting a slew of hopeful network companions. The recent summer finale hit two-year highs among adults 18-to-34 and 18-to-49 and averaged a whopping 3.1 million night-of viewers.

    Silliest network fight:

    Goldstick "Trying to explain to an exec why wool-clad, ship-bound, lice-infested Pilgrims may not look 'sexy' when they're wet."

    Last binge-watch:

    King The Strain

  • Robert and Michelle King

    The Good Wife (CBS)

    Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP

    Category: Network Ambassador

    The couple behind broadcast's hottest prestige drama, now in its seventh season, makes up a wildly valuable part of the CBS family, thanks in part to the series' ranking as the Big Four's most affluent-skewing show. The network is betting big on the next project from Michelle, 53, and Robert, 55: Beltway horror drama BrainDead nabbed a straight-to-series pickup for 2016.

    Biggest job challenge I didn't have five years ago:

    Michelle "Finding actors eager to commit to 22 episodes a year."

    Silliest network fight:

    Michelle "It involved using the word 'piss.' Who knew you couldn't say 'piss'?!"

  • Jenji Kohan

    Orange Is the New Black (Netflix)

    Rich Fury/Invision/AP

    Category: Pop Icon

    Kohan, 46, did not set out to redefine TV when she launched Orange in 2013. But that's exactly what she and the series have done since — presenting a level of diversity in casting rarely seen on TV and amassing legions of fans along the way. Netflix touts Orange as it continues to sell to new territories across the globe.

    Last binge-watch: The U.K. series Catastrophe

    Go-to writers room takeout: "Pitchoun Bakery & Cafe in downtown L.A. I'm digging the Atlantic sandwich lately."

  • Aaron Korsh

    Suits (USA)

    Newscom

    Category: Ratings Magnet

    USA may be in the midst of a love affair with Mr. Robot, but Suits still anchors its sprawling scripted roster. Korsh, 48, has kept the legal drama as the channel's most watched original for five seasons running, and network brass now are looking to him to help bridge the gap between its procedural past and (hopefully) a prestige future. His period drama Paradise Pictures, about 1940s Hollywood, is considered likely for a series order.

    Current showrunner role model: "David Benioff and D.B. Weiss. I know nothing about them, but in my opinion, Game of Thrones is the best show on television right now.

    Last binge-watch: Fargo

  • Bill Lawrence

    Undateable (NBC)

    Todd Williamson/Invision for The Producers Guild

    Category: Heavyweight

    Lawrence's latest challenge is to try and revive a seldom-attempted genre: the live sitcom. NBC is hoping to "eventize" the third season of his stand-up-centric Undateable with live Friday telecasts this fall. And if that doesn't work, Lawrence, 46, also has CBS' most anticipated midseason entry: a TV take on the popular Rush Hour film franchise.

    Last binge-watch: "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. I'm annoyed by how funny it is, but I've really enjoyed watching it with my daughter."

    Go-to writers room takeout: "Our room gets very excited on grocery day when there are cold cuts. The only problem is I always ask for hard salami, but somebody is secretly devouring pounds of hard salami before I get to have any. I will find out who it is, and I will destroy them. I hope I get to see this in print."

  • Steve Levitan and Christopher Lloyd

    Modern Family (ABC)

    AP

    Category: Ratings Magnet

    Like all good things, Modern Family's record five-year winning streak for outstanding comedy series at the Emmys came to an end in 2015 — but the comedy remains one of the biggest players at its network and beyond. Levitan, 53, and Lloyd, 55, kicked off the seventh season with a formi­dable 4.9 rating in the key demo and 13.1 million viewers, ensuring another season as broadcast's No. 2 comedy behind The Big Bang Theory.

    Biggest job challenge I didn't have five years ago:

    Lloyd "Getting people on our show not to be influenced by what they read on the child-controlled Internet."

    Go-to writers room takeout:

    Lloyd "Wally's Wine and Spirits."

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  • Damon Lindelof

    The Leftovers (HBO)

    AP

    Category: Pop Icon

    Lindelof, 42, returned to TV in 2014 with his follow-up to Lost only to consider pulling the plug after the first season of the adaptation of Tom Perrotta's mediation on the rapture got a mixed reception. Good thing he didn't: Critics are lapping up the second season, which premiered Oct. 4 and boasts a formidable score of 80 on Metacritic.

    Biggest job challenge I didn't have five years ago: "Making 'noise.' John Landgraf was right: There's too much TV."

    Current showrunner role model: "Noah Hawley. Brilliant show, brilliant writer, brilliant dresser."

  • Chuck Lorre

    The Big Bang Theory, Mom, Mike & Molly (CBS)

    AP

    Category: Heavyweight

    The curtain might have closed on Two and a Half Men, but Lorre, 62, is no less busy with three CBS sitcoms still in production. The Big Bang Theory's power unchallenged (see Steve Molaro), and Mike & Molly continuing to be steady schedule-filler for the network, his day-to-day focus remains on the critically beloved Mom. The latter recently nabbed Allison Janney a record seventh Emmy.

    Editor's note: When asked to answer questions, Lorre jokingly offers only this: "You can't honestly think I have time to fill out this questionnaire."

     
  • Erica Messer

    Criminal Minds (CBS)

    Courtesy of Subject

    Category: Ratings Magnet

    Criminal Minds might be CBS' most unsung hero. With no fanfare, the series ended last year as the network's top-rated and youngest-skewing drama, with an average 3.6 rating among adults in its 10th season. Messer, 41, has helped keep the series successful amid multiple cast changes. (Paget Brewster, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Mandy Patinkin and Jeanne Tripplehorn are among the big names who have come and gone.) Now CBS is entrusting Messer with a second stab at a spinoff: midseason's Beyond Borders.

    Current showrunner role model: "Remains Chris Keyser and Amy Lippman."

    Strangest writing ritual: "Getting all of the laundry done before I can write."

  • Steve Molaro

    The Big Bang Theory (CBS)

    AP

    Category: Ratings Magnet

    Eight seasons in, The Big Bang Theory remains a rare juggernaut comedy. Under the supervision of Molaro, 48, CBS has been able to move BBT around and use it to launch new shows like Scorpion and Life in Pieces on Mondays, while Thursday Night Football fills its usual slot at the beginning of the past two seasons. It is broadcast's most watched show (21.2 million viewers), and, until Empire showed up, it also was the top-rated (6.5 rating among adults 18-to-49).

    First spec: "Writing sample sketches for the Nickelodeon kid sketch show All That."

    Strangest writing ritual: "Hanging on to pencils that I think have good jokes in them."

  • Ronald D. Moore

    Outlander (Starz)

    RexUSA

    Category: Ratings Magnet

    When Moore, 51, introduced his adaptation of Diana Gabaldon's Outlander book series to Starz in 2014, he gave CEO Chris Albrecht what he'd been craving since the network moved into originals: buzz. The period romance courted fan fervor well in advance of its launch and since has given the pay cabler some of its best ratings to date.

    Silliest network fight: "Over whether or not there should be basketball games and birthday parties on the Battlestar Galactica."

    Current showrunner role model: Jason Katims

  • Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk

    American Horror Story, Scream Queens (FX, Fox)

    RexUSA

    Category: Heavyweight

    See the cover story for the full breadth of Murphy and Falchuk's work, but this year sees them add two shows to their roster: Fox's Scream Queens (with Glee partner Ian Brennan) and, in February 2016, FX's American Crime Story.

    Current showrunner role model:

    Falchuk Mike Schur

    Silliest network fight: 

    Falchuk "Brad, does every character have to end up being gay?"

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  • Peter Nowalk

    How to Get Away With Murder (ABC)

    Paul A. Hebert/Invision/AP

    Category: Ratings Magnet

    It is not easy standing out when your mentor is Shonda Rhimes. But that's exactly what Nowalk, 37, has done with How to Get Away With Murder. His series won star Viola Davis a historic Emmy for lead drama actress and, in its second season, still is thriving as broadcast's No. 4 drama; its recent premiere logged a 4.1 rating in the key demo.

    Silliest network fight: "It was over the implication of the word 'inside.' "

    Go-to writers room takeout: "It's about to be Sugarfish now that one opened up across the street."

  • Marti Noxon

    Girlfriends' Guide to Divorce (Bravo), UnREAL (Lifetime)

    Rob Latour/Invision/AP

    Category: Network Ambassador

    With a résumé that boasts Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Mad Men and Glee, to name a few, Noxon, 51, is one of TV's most formidable pitch women. The dramedy Girlfriends' Guide to Divorce and reality TV-skewering UnREAL are their networks' current internal (and fan) favorites.

    Current showrunner role model: "Shonda Rhimes for her mastery of broadcast TV."

    Silliest network fight: "On Buffy, we did one of the first lesbian kisses on network TV. [The WB] said we could show them do it once, but if they did it twice, that meant they liked it. We fought that. And lost."

  • Tyler Perry

    If Loving You Is Wrong, The Haves and the Have Nots, For Better or Worse (OWN)

    AP

    Catgeory: Heavyweight

    The only person more important to OWN is Oprah herself. Perry, 46, has seen his trifecta drive the cable network's ratings to new highs. Thanks to The Haves and the Have Nots and If Loving You Is Wrong, the third quarter of 2015 ranks as OWN's most watched and highest-rated. Perry recently bought a shuttered Atlanta Army base to house his growing studio.

    Strangest writing ritual: "I don't have any — unless you call locking myself in my basement in the Bahamas and not coming out until I have a script a ritual."

    Last binge-watch: "I watched [all of] House of Cards in four days. I started hearing Frank Underwood in my sleep."

  • Julie Plec

    The Vampire Diaries, The Originals (The CW)

    Courtesy of Subject

    Category: Heavyweight

    If Greg Berlanti is The CW's yin, Plec, 43, undoubtedly is its yang. Her vampire dramas own the network's Thursday block. The Vampire Diaries remains one of the net's top-rated shows, with an average 1.3 rating in the key adults demo, and midseason she will add a third show, Containment, giving her 30 percent of the network's primetime slate.

    Current showrunner role model: "I'm convinced: No one cares or feels more deeply than [The Leftovers'] Damon Lindelof."

    Last binge-watch: Mr. Robot

  • Shonda Rhimes and Betsy Beers

    Scandal, Grey's Anatomy, How to Get Away With Murder (ABC)

    AP; AMC

    Category: Heavyweight

    Empire-builder Rhimes, 45, still serves as the showrunner of top ABC drama Scandal and is the face of the growing Shondaland shingle, and with it, ABC. The creator has been credited with reviving the network's drama identity. Beers, 57, runs lead in developing their production house's mounting roster. A fourth series, The Catch, enters ABC's Shonda-verse at midseason. 

    Biggest job challenge I didn't have five years ago: 

    Beers "It is virtually impossible to read and watch everything that is out there." 

    Last binge-watch:

    Beers You're the Worst

    Read more Hollywood's 100 Favorite Films

  • John Ridley

    American Crime (ABC)

    Courtesy of ABC

    Category: Pop Icon

    It didn't light the ratings fire that ABC had hoped, but those 10 Emmy nominations (and a win for actress Regina King) offered some validation. The Oscar-winning 12 Years a Slave scribe, 50, also has a detective pilot and a still-gestating Marvel series in the works at the network.

    First spec: "An episode of Married ... With Children."

    Go-to writers room takeout: "There's a joint in Burbank called Mama Hong's. They have these sriracha chicken wings that I love, and I force my writers to eat there every day."

  • Steven Soderbergh, Michael Begler, Jack Amiel and Greg Jacobs

    The Knick (Cinemax)

    AP

    Category: Network Ambassador

    Their four-way collaboration on the dark 1900 hospital drama has been a boon to HBO's sibling network and helped to shed its "Skinemax" moniker of yesteryear (read: multiple Emmy noms and near-universal critical acclaim). The Knick also is reimagining how TV is made with Soderbergh helming all 10 episodes at once.

    Biggest job challenge I didn't have five years ago:

    Begler "Keeping your plotlines a secret. A photo by a background actor can be around the world within seconds."

    Last binge-watch:

    Amiel "The West Wing. I watched every episode during its run. Now my 13-year-old son is hooked."

  • Jill Soloway

    Transparent (Amazon)

    Danny Moloshok/Invision for the Television Academy/AP Images

    Category: Network Ambassador

    Fifty-year-old Soloway's passion project based on her own transgender parent has become a civil rights vehicle, an Emmy darling (see her win for directing and star Jeffrey Tambor's prize for lead actor, among others) and Amazon's calling card in courting A-list talent.

    Go-to writers room takeout: "I've installed a very convenient pellet and water dispenser in our writers cage — I mean room."

    Silliest network fight: "What's a network again?"

  • Danny Strong, Ilene Chaiken and Lee Daniels

    Empire (Fox)

    AP

    Category: Ratings Magnet

    What more can be said about the biggest show on broadcast? Fox's savior series, which averaged more than 17 million viewers and a stunning 7.1 rating among adults 18-to-49 in its first season, is on track to grow even more this season. Much credit goes to Chaiken, 58, who serves as the showrunner, while Daniels, 55, directs, and Emmy winner Strong, 41, is a permanent fixture in the diverse writers room.

    Strangest writing ritual:

    Chaiken "I cook something ambitious every time I start on a new script. I start early in the morning and intersperse the writing with cooking."

    Last binge-watch:

    Chaiken Battlestar Galactica

  • Kurt Sutter

    The Bastard Executioner (FX)

    John Shearer/Invision/AP

    Category: Pop Icon

    FX was so hot to follow ratings juggernaut Sons of Anarchy with another project from its proudly profane creator that Executioner bowed only nine months after Sons' end. The show, whose premiere averaged 3.6 million viewers, will have to build to reach Sons' heights, but Sutter, 55, remains a vital, vocal part of the FX brand.

    Biggest job challenge I didn't have five years ago: "My ego and swelling sense of entitlement."

    Last binge-watch: "Killing the Kardashians. … No, wait, that was a pitch."

  • Sarah Treem

    The Affair (Showtime)

    AP

    Category: Pop Icon

    The lack of Emmy love had to sting after her Golden Globe win for best drama, but Treem, 34, is still on top. The Affair returned for season two up 61 percent from its series premiere, with equally positive reviews.

    Silliest network fight: "None of them are silly. They're all essential, and I'm absolutely right, and I must win."

    Strangest writing ritual: "I have no more rituals. Those went away when I started having children."

  • Jennie Snyder Urman

    Jane the Virgin (The CW)

    AP

    Category: Network Ambassador

    Since its 2006 launch, The CW had little more than fanboys for feathers in its cap. Enter Jane the Virgin, the Venezuelan telenovela adapted for U.S. audiences by Gilmore Girls alum Urman, 40. Though modestly rated, the show scored a coup with its Golden Globe win for breakout star Gina Rodriguez — one that has ingratiated the showrunner to the now emboldened No. 5 net.

    Last binge-watch: Orange Is the New Black

    Strangest writing ritual: "I proofread and revise while I'm walking around in my sweatpants, hood up. I'm sure I'm known as the neighborhood weirdo."

  • Beau Willimon

    House of Cards (Netflix)

    Jordan Strauss/Invision for Producers Guild of America/AP Images

    Category: Network Ambassador

    As Netflix sees its catalog of original series multiply like binge-able bacteria in a petri dish, it is the streamer's first foray that remains its flagship. The dark political drama from Willimon, 37, which debuts its fourth season in 2016, is Netflix's biggest Emmy bait and virtual-watercooler fodder.

    Strangest writing ritual: "[Doing it] on less than four hours of sleep."

  • Dick Wolf

    Chicago Fire, Chicago P.D., Chicago Med, Law & Order: SVU (NBC)

    Andy Kropa/Invision/AP

    Category: Heavyweight

    No one occupies more real estate on one network this year than the 68-year-old executive producer, whose NBC roster includes three Chicago-set procedurals and the most successful spinoff to his original Law & Order franchise — Special Victims UnitLaw & Order also gets the reality treatment in 2016 with You the Jury.

    Biggest job challenge I didn't have five years ago: "Keep up with [my] other shows so we're not repeating ideas. With the number of series practically doubled, that is now virtually impossible."

    Last binge-watch: Naked and Afraid

    Read more Hollywood's 100 Favorite TV Shows

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