The Top 50 Showrunners
Take it from the Kings, the husband and wife showrunning team of CBS' The Good Wife: Mixing work and pleasure is no easy feat. Here Michelle, 50, and Robert, 52, who will be married 25 years next month, reveal the perks (and perils) of being married to their work.
THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER: What's the best part about working with your spouse?
Michelle King: You can't resent someone not doing dishes if they're in the midst of a rewrite.
Robert King: I can be in editorial while Michelle is in the writers room. Michelle can be in the production meeting while I take a nap.
THR: What's the worst part?
Michelle: I can't exaggerate what happened to me at the office since he was there to witness it!
Robert: It's harder to slip bad work past your writing partner. There's also little time to talk about something other than work.
THR: What is Robert's biggest pet peeve at work?
Michelle: When locations, actors or directors fall out, always at the last minute.
Robert: Yes, people breaking promises.
THR: What is Michelle's biggest pet peeve?
Michelle: Robert will say it's our antiquated phone system, in which, inexplicably, two people can't talk on the same line.
Robert: Actually, I was going to say a lack of coverage [options for alternative takes] in the dailies.
THR: Which of you is the good cop and which is bad cop?
Robert: I'm never the bad cop. I try to be! But people just laugh. Michelle gets very tough with standards and practices. It's quite charming.
THR: Who gets veto power on stories?
Michelle: It isn't so much about veto power. The good thing about stories is that they can be changed. If we collaborated on making kimonos, it would be harder. You cut the silk wrong, you're screwed.
THR TOP 50 SHOWRUNNERS: THE LIST
Shonda Rhimes & Betsy Beers
Grey's Anatomy, Private Practice, Scandal (ABC)
Ages: 42, 54. Twitter Handle: @ShondaRhimes. My Big Break: Rhimes: I sold a spec called Human Seeking Same. It was a romantic comedy, and it enabled me to quit my day job. My TV Mentor: Beers: [Former ABC executive] Suzanne Patmore Gibbs encouraged me to work in television. She suggested me meeting Shonda, so I have a lot to thank her for! And Channing Dungey is another person who has always been an incredible advocate and friend. My Proudest Accomplishment This Year: Beers: Getting Scandal up and running and being brought back for a second season. The Toughest Scene I Write This Year: Rhimes: In the season-one finale of Scandal, Mellie (Bellamy Young) yells at Olivia (Kerry Washington) and says that she is taking her husband back. I'd spent the whole season standing in Olivia's shoes, seeing the world from her point of view and that was the first moment that I really needed to tap into compassion for Mellie. If I Could Add Any Writer to My Staff, It Would Be: Rhimes: Norman Lear, on any one of my shows. The Funniest Note I've Ever Gotten: Beers: Regarding Grey's Anatomy's Meredith Grey (Ellen Pompeo): "Women will not relate to a woman who has a one-night stand the night before her first day of work." If Wish I Could Delegate: Beers: Anything that has to do with live tweeting or product integration.
Parks and Recreation (NBC)
Age: 36. Twitter Handle: @KenTremendous. The Show That Inspired Me to Write: Cheers was the first show I was ever religious about. Also, Saturday Night Live and Late Show With David Letterman. My Big Break: SNL in 1998. But technically my first professional writing experience was when Jon Stewart hired me to pitch some ideas for a book he was writing, and he probably used one-fourth of one of the ideas that I pitched him but very kindly paid me actual American money, which was a miracle to me at the time because it meant that I could stay in New York and pay my rent. I was 21, right out of college, and then I got hired at SNL about six months later. My TV Mentor: Lorne Michaels. He is arguably the greatest TV producer of all time, and I still carry pieces of wisdom around that he gave me. In the sitcom world, it's Greg Daniels, who hired me on The Office. Everything we do at Parks and Rec is something I learned from him at some level. How I Break Through Writer's Block: My wife [J.J. Philbin], who writes for New Girl, taught me her method: She picks a song that she thinks fits the mood of the scene or script she's writing and plays it on endless repeat through her headphones. If I Could Add Any Writer to My Staff, It Would Be: Glen and Les Charles, who created Cheers. Also, if David Foster Wallace were still alive, I would hire him as a consultant. He is my favorite writer of any kind. What I Need in Order to Write: I write on the couch or a chair, and then I have a lap desk. It's old and beat-up, and the cushiony part has torn off three times since I've duct-taped it together in a very jury-rigged kind of way. It's a real crutch of mine.
Josh Schwartz & Stephanie Savage
Gossip Girl, Hart of Dixie (CW)
Ages: 36, 43. Twitter Handle: @JoshSchwartz76. The Show That Inspired Me to Write: Schwartz: The Muppet Show, Family Ties. My Big Break: Schwartz: My retrospective on the career of Steven Spielberg for my camp newsletter when I was 7. When you are not a gifted athlete, you must find other ways to impress the campers. My TV Mentor: Schwartz: Bob DeLaurentis was hired to help me run my first series, The O.C. Also, Stephanie Savage has taught me a ton. Savage: John McNamara, Bob DeLaurentis, Shaun Cassidy. And Josh Schwartz gave me my first script, which is the job that changed my life. My Proudest Accomplishment This Year: Schwartz: That would have to be Stella, my 9-month-old daughter. Also, I directed my first movie, Fun Size, which comes out in October for Paramount. Both have been tremendous experiences for growth and learning, but only one requires diaper changing at 6:30 a.m. Savage: Gossip Girl finishing, the debut of The Carrie Diaries and Fun Size coming out -- all in the same week. The Toughest Scene I Had to Write This Year: Savage: The final scene of Gossip Girl. Tears make it hard to see the keyboard. The Funniest Feedback I've Ever Gotten: Schwartz: Pitching the pilot story of Chuck to a network executive who looked at me when I finished and said, "Why would you want to write that?" The Show I'm Embarassed to Admit I Watch: Schwartz: I make teen dramas, so I'm not embarrassed to admit I watch anything. Savage: MSNBC's Lockup and TLC's My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding. The Three Things I Need in Order to Write: Schwartz: An idea, some time and the knowledge that failing to deliver could result in a network airing color bars. Savage: I've written with a broken wrist and while suffering from pneumonia. I've finished a script sitting at a bus stop during a snowstorm. So as long I have headphones, a playlist and my laptop, I'm good.
Age: 45. My Inspiration to Write: My dad, Harvey Shephard. He'd been the head of programming at CBS during my childhood and then became the president of Warner Bros. Television. The electricity and creativity surrounding his job was very alluring. He also provided great role models and opportunities for women by developing shows like Cagney & Lacey, Murphy Brown and China Beach. He also introduced me to Bo and Luke Duke when I was 13 -- that was pretty big. My Big Break: Showrunning Popular, a teen dramedy for The WB that I worked on with Ryan Murphy and my partner, Mike Robin. My Proudest Accomplishment This Year: I was able to juggle being a single mother of a 2-year-old while producing Longmire out of state. The Most Abusrd Note I've Ever Gotten: Somewhere in my boxes is a framed copy of the Standards and Practices notes we got from FX after delivering the pilot of Nip/Tuck. I remember thinking the notes were more pornographic than the film itself, with elaborate descriptions of thrusting and side nipples that had us all blushing. We finally resorted to the shorthand, "No pink, no fuzz," to avoid further embarrassment. I'd Rather Delegate: Budget issues. Thankfully, my partner, Mike Robin, shoulders many of these burdens. I also try to avoid all issues concerning hair. The Show I'm Embarassed to Admit I Watch: It's not the show that embarrasses me; it's the number of times I rewatch Friday Night Lights. There is something soothing about the show's nostalgic portrait of high school football, Texas and Coach Taylor's character. Longmire was born out of my desire to develop a series equally escapist, romantic and noble. And we even cast Grandma Saracen [Louanne Stephens]! The Three Things I Need in Order to Write: Hot chocolate from Starbucks (preferably with whipped cream), a bottle of Advil and breaks to play with my daughter.
Age: 51. The Show That Made Me Want to Write: M*A*S*H. [Creator] Larry Gelbart didn't segregate drama and comedy. There would be jokes, terror and heartbreak in the same episode. My Proudest Accomplishment This Year: Other than it being the 11th consecutive year of keeping my child alive, The Newsroom. The Most Absurd Note I've Ever Gotten: At the end of the second episode of The West Wing, a U.S. Air Force jet is shot down when it accidentally wanders into Syrian airspace. NBC got an angry letter from the Arab-American Anti-Defamation League and a few episodes later I had Toby (Richard Schiff) make a reference to Hebrew slaves in Egypt 5,000 years ago. I got a note from the legal department, now sensitive to the issue, asking me to show my research. So I sent them Exodus. How I Break Through Writer's Block: Talk it out with the writing staff. Sometimes beat up an intern. If I Could Add Any Writer to My Staff, It Would Be:Rod Serling. The Two Things I Need in Order to Write: Dr Pepper and long stretches of solitude.
Sons of Anarchy (FX)
Age: 49. The Show That Made Me Want to Write: I didn't know I wanted to be a writer until grad school. But if I look back at the TV I watched growing up, I'd say Hill Street Blues impacted me the most creatively and from which I had the awareness of "writing and tone." My Big Break: The Shield My TV Mentor: I consider [The Shield's] Shawn Ryan the guy who help me find my voice. He saw my potential and navigated around my "big personality." Also [FX president] John Landgraf helped me become a better showrunner, a better boss and, generally, less of a dick. And yes, clearly, there's some more work to be done. My Proudest Accomplishment This Year: My greatest accomplishments are always my kids. Knowing that I got through another year without f--ing them up, always makes me happy. Professionally, it would be making the overall deal with FX and 20th. The money was awesome, but it was their confidence in me as a creator that meant the most. The Funniest Note I've Ever Gotten:"I don't think people are going to want to see the severed sack of rapist clown," from Landgraf. I'd Rather Delegate: It changes day to day. I'm a moody f--, so no one ever knows what's going to overwhelm on any given day. The Three Thigns I Need in Order to Write: Quiet, a whiteboard and lots of coffee. The Show I'm Embarassed to Admit I Watch: A f--load of HGTV. House Hunters International is destination TV for my wife, Katey [Sagal], and me.
Rizzoli & Isles (TNT)
Age: 44. My Big Break: I wrote a freelance episode for the first season of Law & Order: SVU while I was still a working journalist. My TV Mentor: I was a television correspondent before I started writing TV dramas. John Jacobs, a great political reporter, told me I had the goods. Bob Young, John Tomlin and Bill O'Reilly all assigned me tough news stories without regard to age or gender. And every news director I worked for. You learn fast they don't suffer fools. My Proudest Accomplishment This Year: Not tapping my health insurance for a long stay in a sanitarium and finding enough fun, fresh, produceable ideas in a continuing series, while staying on a basic cable budget. I'd Rather Delegate: There is honestly nothing I would ask someone else to do that I wouldn't do myself. That is the truth. I love what I do, and I come from a big family. Once you stopped teething, you had chores. The Most Absurd Note I've Ever Gottten: One executive gave me this note on an interracial love story I'd written. "Can they both be white?" Uh … How I Break Through Writer's Block: I work out. Exercise is my heroin. That's when the ideas come to me. If I Could Add a Writer to My Staff, It Would Be: Tom Wolfe. Please don't tell him I said that. If I Could Scrub One Credit From My Resume, It Would Be: The year I scraped together enough money to go to graduate school by writing fabulous missives about pineapple cutters in Dole's P.R. department: "It slices and dices." Aloha?
Mad Men (AMC)
Age: 47. The Show That Inspired Me to Write: I wasn't really allowed to watch television during the school week, but I was exposed to some television, like Roots and All in the Family, because it was on Saturday. I was out of college when Twin Peaks came on, and that's where I became aware of what was possible on television. My Big Break: Party Girl, the series. The creator was the writer-director of the movie and she brought me on as a joke writer. That was my first paid TV job. My first paid writing job was on a CD-ROM about Richard Nixon. It was a companion encyclopedia to Oliver Stone's movie. My TV Mentor: David Chase of The Sopranos showed me how to be a showrunner, but Alan Burns [The Mary Tyler Moore Show] encouraged me to go into television after he saw my high school graduation speech. I''d Rather Delegate: Responding to e-mails. I was very late to get a smartphone because I have a short temper, and I thought it would be destructive for me to be able to answer things in my pocket. I always would rather talk on the phone and have things settled. How I Break Through Writer's Block: Fifteen minutes into the Mad Men pilot, Don Draper has one of the worst creative problems he's ever had. Like no hero before him, he goes and takes a nap. I don't know if it's my body shutting down or brain needing to go elsewhere, but that has always done me better than a long walk. If I Could Add Any Writer to My Staff, It Would Be: Billy Wilder. I love the way he worked with his various writing partners. The Apartment has been very influential on Mad Men. If I Could Scrub One Credit From My Resuyme, It Would Be: I already did it!
D.B. Weiss & David Benioff
Game of Thrones (HBO)
Ages: 41, 42. The Show That Inspired Us to Write: The run of HBO classics: The Sopranos, Deadwood, The Wire. There were other great TV dramas before Sopranos, but David Chase showed how ambitious a series could be. Our TV Mentor: [Former HBO exec] Carolyn Strauss. She stared at us with her hitman eyes when we pitched to HBO and she bought it, in spite of the fact that we'd never worked in TV before. Our Proudest Moment This Year: Just getting through season two with all the material we wanted and needed so well shot and acted. It's an enormous logistical challenge, producing the show on even the most generous TV schedule, and there were times when we thought one more gale force wind blowing our sets into the sea would sink the ship. Now we get to spend all of our days wondering who or what will get blown into the sea this year. We'd Rather Delegate: Anything that happens before 8 a.m. How I Break Through Writer's Block: Fiber. If We Could Add Any Writer to Our Staff, It Would Be: Robert Bolt or Dalton Trumbo. Are they available? The Three Things We Need in Order to Write: Three solid hours in a row would be nice.
Age: 56. The Show That Inspired Me to Write: Hill Street Blues. The multiple-layered stories, as well as the human element and drama, were all a revelation to me. It was the first time I realized episodic television could tackle the same complex themes that the films of the late 1970s and early 1980s were attempting. My Big Break: Warner Bros. [CBS TV series] Shell Game starring Marg Helgenberger and Margot Kidder. It was an unsuccessful attempt to knock off Moonlighting and my first script upheld the unsuccessful nature of that attempted mimicry. The Most Absurd Note I've Ever Gotten: "Can't the president be an ex-pro wrestler? Like that guy in Minnesota. Everybody loves that guy." You can't make this stuff up. The Three Things I Need in Order to Write: Time, inspiration and a power cord.
Kevin Wiliamson and Julie Plec
The Vampire Diaries (CW)
Ages: 47, 40. Twitter Handles: @kevinwilliamson, @julieplec. The Show That Inspired Me to Write: Plec: I watched soap operas religiously when I was a kid. I used to sneak them in when I was in elementary school with my cousin, who was my babysitter. In junior high school, when we got our first VCR, I used to tape four soaps a day. I was a diehard General Hospital fan from when I was 9 to 25. My Big Break: I didn't get paid to write professionally until my first episode of [the ABC Family series] Kyle XY, which was the fourth episode of the first season. My TV Mentor: Prior to working for Kevin Williamson, I was very in love with the shows Edward Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz produced: My So-Called Life, Once & Again. I also loved David E. Kelley, everything from Ally McBeal to The Practice. And Greg Berlanti was one of my closest friends from college and became a a staff writer on Dawson's Creek the year I worked on the show. He and I would get together on the weekends to watch Ally and The Practice. My Proudest Accomplishment This Year: When it's all said and done, as we go into our fourth season, there isn't a single episode of Vampire Diaries about which I would hang my head low. The Most Absurd Note I've Ever Gotten: On Kyle XY, we got one that said: "Kyle needs to be more of a superhero" and the next day, it's "Why is this so comic book?" The next day, it's "We need to write towards guys" and the following day, "Where's all the stuff girls will like?" I''d Rather Delegate: Being in the room and breaking story [hashing out the plot]. You could poll 100 showrunners and at least 70 of them would say the same thing. Damon Lindelof said to me a couple years ago after I told him Kevin and I needed someone who's good at that: "Hate to break it to you, Julie, I needed the same thing. You are that person." That is where you are at your most insecure: staring at a blank white board. If I Could Add Any Writer to My Staff, It Would Be: My friend Liz Tigelaar, who is one of the most vibrant personalities and hilarious wonderful women. The Show I'm Embarassed to Admit I Watch: Nothing's better for a good cry than watching Fox's So You Think You Can Dance. It sometimes tells a better story in a four-minute dance piece than other television shows. The Three Things I Need in Order to Write: A case of ice-cold Diet Coke, my Bose noise-canceling headphones and Pandora, featuring an eclectic playlist, from Snow Patrol to Adele to Josh Groban.
Boardwalk Empire (HBO)
Age: 52. The Show That Made Me Want to Write: The Honeymooners. My Big Break: The Great Defender, which ran briefly on Fox in 1995. My TV Mentor: George Schenck and Frank Cardea on The Great Defender and The Cosby Mysteries. And then Frank Renzulli on Mysteries. And Renzulli and David Chase on The Sopranos. My Proudest Moment This Year: When Boardwalk Empire was once again nominated for an Emmy for outstanding drama series. The Most Absurd Note I've Ever Gotten: "When he tells her, 'I'd like to visit Uranus,' is that a joke, or does he really want to go there?" That was for an unproduced pilot I worked on that shall remain nameless. I'd Rather Delegate:Telling actors that their characters are going to get killed off. How I Break Through Writer's Block: I lie to everyone about how much progress I'm making on a script, then let the waves of guilt and panic spur me on. My Toughest Scene to Write This Year: Nucky (Steve Buscemi) killing Jimmy (Michael Pitt). Even though I knew it had to happen, I didn't want it to. If I Could Add Any Writer to My Staff, It Would Be:Paddy Chayefsky. Is he available? IfI I Could Scrub One Credit From My Resume, It Would Be: The 50-Cent movie, Get Rich or Die Tryin'. It's a film that bears absolutely no resemblance to the script I wrote.
Age: 53. The Show That Made Me Want to Write: Hill Street Blues because it encouraged and allowed serialized storytelling. There would be something going on where you could go, "That was a satisfying hour of television." We shoot for that. Pretty much anything I've worked on tried to have that element. My Big Break: My first big scripted job was Hey Dude on Nickelodeon and I worked on the 65 episodes produced in two years. Then I did a four-day stint on Full House and promptly quit. My TV Mentors: I worked on NBC comedy The Powers That Be, created by Marta Kauffman and David Crane, who then went on to do Friends. The showrunner in the first season was Charlotte Brown, who I think had been a higher-up on Rhoda. She'd come out of the Jim Brooks school. And of course, Norman Lear. Those two men were very critical in helping to goose my writing along. And then -- it'll sound like sucking up, but it wasn't so much that he was a mentor as he gave me an opportunity -- Tom Hanks on From the Earth to the Moon. My Proudest Moment This Year: At the end of the third season of Justified, the very last scene between Raylan and Winona, the script was written by Fred Golan, but we all had a part in figuring out that last scene. I did a draft, Fred did a draft, Timothy [Olyphant] weighed in. And the thing we landed on -- it's not a personal pride thing for me, but a group pride -- this one moment between Raylan and Winona when he tells her that his father was ready and willing to shoot a cop in a hat, even if it was his son. From the way Tim performed it with Natalie [Zea], and the way it was directed by Dean Parisot, it was a superb way to end the third season. I'd Rather Delegate: Casting sessions. I don't go to them anymore, I just see clips on my computer. That becomes the duty of the writer who's producing the episode, along with the director and our brilliant casting people. How I Break Through Writer's Block: There is a joke in the writers room about me and the yellow pad, and I'll say, "I'm just gonna go yellow pad this for a while." And one of the writers got a T-shirt made for me last year which has a yellow pad on it, and the phrase, "The yellow pad giveth and the yellow pad taketh away." The Three Things I Need in Order to Write: I always need food. I'm a salt and fat guy more so than sugar. I find that if I start with sugar, that just starts an unhappy roller coaster of climbs and dives. So salt and fat is always good and caffeine-free Diet Coke. I'm right there with Gov. Romney on that one. Not much else, but we agree on the caffeine-free Diet Coke. If I Could Scrub One Credit From My Resume, It Would Be: I did a credited rewrite on the Howie Long movie, Firestorm, and you know what? They actually paid me. I got to go to Vancouver and meet Howie. He got injured on the film, so I'm sure he doesn't look back on it all that fondly. But we gave it a shot.
ONES TO WATCH: Here are some likely candidates for next year's rundown of power showrunners.
Matthew Carnahan, House of Lies (Showtime): His acid-tinged take on consultant work (now filming its second season) earned star Don Cheadle an Emmy nomination.
Rob Doherty, Elementary (CBS): Early ratings showed his modern twist on Sherlock Homes had beaten CBS' The Mentalist in its old 10 p.m. Thursday slot.
Dana Fox, Neil Goldman and Garrett Donovan, Ben and Kate (Fox): Her brother-sister comedy had a modest debut but was that rare new (network!) comedy to earn nearly all positive reviews.
David Guarascio and Moses Port, Community (NBC): Being asked to take over for ousted showrunner Dan Harmon warrants watching. And the series scored its first-ever Emmy nomination last season for comedy series writing.
Dee Johnson, Nashville (ABC): The soap (penned by Callie Khouri) is set to bow Oct. 10 amid positive pre-buzz for its mingling of stars (Connie Britton, Hayden Panettiere) and country-style behind-the-music drama.
Mindy Kaling and Matt Warburton, The Mindy Project (Fox): Its New Girl lead-in allowed the single-gal comedy to perform better than the network's previous inhabitant at 9:30 on Tuesday, Raising Hope.
Andrew Kreisberg, Arrow (the CW): With built-in comic-book cred and a star-on-the-rise in lead Stephen Amell, his superhero saga could emerge the network's much-needed new hit.
Eric Kripke, Revolution (NBC): His drama is the latest brain-bending J.J. Abrams creation, whose debut crushed its Monday-night competition (ABC's Castle, CBS' Hawaii Five-0).
Shawn Ryan and Karl Gajdusek, Last Resort (ABC): Andre Braugher and Scott Speedman top Ryan's modest-performing but well-received new military drama.
Greg Walker, Vegas (CBS): Total viewers exceeded 14 million for his new 1960s-set Sin City backstory featuring Dennis Quaid and Emmy winner Michael Chiklis.
Lizzy Weiss, Switched at Birth (ABC Family): Her teen drama is now the No. 1 scripted cable series on Monday nights for women ages 18 to 49.