- Share this article on Facebook
- Share this article on Twitter
- Share this article on Flipboard
- Share this article on Email
- Show additional share options
- Share this article on Reddit
- Share this article on Comment
- Share this article on Whatsapp
- Share this article on Pinit
- Share this article on Linkedin
- Share this article on Print
- Share this article on Tumblr
This story first appeared in the Oct. 25 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
After another 12 months of business that saw more headline-grabbing showrunner exits (The Walking Dead’s Glen Mazzara) and audacious debuts (House of Cards’ Beau Willimon), THR editors and reporters were intrigued once again to answer the question: What really goes into being the CEOs and creative chiefs of TV’s hottest series? Is it balancing multiple writers rooms in a single afternoon? (Yep.) Is it managing the marketing identity of a series, including even the branded Legos? (Uh-huh.) Is it surviving a shooting schedule that can make a Friday so long, one is inspired to create a new day of the week. (Indeed, that would be “Fraturday,” courtesy of first-time showrunner Willimon.) The most influential brains in the business reveal once again that showrunning TV’s biggest series is an occupation both defined by — and dependent on — a near-maniacal commitment to their crafts.
10 Power Showrunners: A Day in the Life, From Carlton Cuse to Jenji Kohan
Power Showrunners: 10 to Watch for 2014
5 Top Showrunners Share Advice for Vince Gilligan on How to Move On
'Breaking Bad's' Vince Gilligan Reveals Details of 'Saul' Spinoff, and Terror Over What's Next
TV's Top Showrunners Talk Deleted Scenes, Network Censorship, More
Salim and Mara Brock Akil
The married couple represents the collective brainpower behind BET’s hit football comedy — the network’s biggest scripted series — since the show jumped from The CW in 2009. Salim, 49, and Mara, 43, also created BET’s biggest summer ratings hit with their telefilm Being Mary Jane, about a lovelorn news anchor (Gabrielle Union), which they’re developing into a series slated to premiere in January. BET bought the idea for Jane from the Akils before a word had been written.
Carter Bays and Craig Thomas
Can a comedy’s audience grow in its ninth and final season? Bays and Thomas’ HIMYM not only has done this, the show also is anchoring CBS’ struggling Monday night comedy block alongside the recently relocated 2 Broke Girls. Returning to 9.5 million viewers, HIMYM is bolstered by an A-list cast — including Emmy and Tony host Neil Patrick Harris — and is building toward a buzzy finale in the spring, when the former college pals from Wesleyan University, both 38, likely will dive into creating new shows for 20th Century Fox Television per their lucrative overall deal, which expires after this season.
Sure, his Emmy-nominated series won’t air this year, but that doesn’t take away from C.K.’s enduring influence as television’s most coveted (and darkly relatable) voice in comedy, and he is a calling card for FX’s comedy brand. With a career total of 25 Emmy nominations and four wins, C.K., 46, has thrived at FX: Ratings have increased each season (its third-season premiere audience of 1.4 million was double the viewers compared with the previous year), and there has been plenty of critical acclaim for his one-man-band routine in the autobiographical series about a shlubby divorced dad who performs stand-up comedy. Add these accolades to C.K.’s elusive celebrity, and he’s the guy every cable network wishes they had and many comedians wish they were.
Lena Dunham and Jenni Konner
It doesn’t matter if you like it (or, frankly, if you watch), because the creation by Dunham, 27, and Konner, 42, is still the buzziest comedy in recent memory. Sure, season two got a little weird and ratings hovered at about 5 million gross viewers, but Dunham’s star-wattage only burned brighter and included a Golden Globe win for best comedy and Emmy noms for comedy actress, series and directing.
And Konner, who cut her TV teeth more than a decade ago under Girls’ executive producer Judd Apatow on his comedy Undeclared, is crucial to their bicoastal story-planning, which happens alongside Dunham and Apatow in L.A. and New York.
Dan Harmon and Chris McKenna
Harmon’s professional trajectory is as absurd a storyline as one he could dream up for Community. The series creator was ousted in May 2012 only to be rehired in June this year, complete with a season-five renewal for the single-cam comedy about a group of community college misfits (now minus embattled co-star Chevy Chase). With McKenna, 35, Harmon, 40, is prepping an as-yet-to-be-scheduled new batch of episodes while Community settles into its new syndicated home on Comedy Central. And his animated comedy Rick and Morty premieres in December on Adult Swim
The Primetime Animators
These animation kings create content that regularly outperforms (and out-cools) most live-action series. They court a coveted and elusive male demo and in some cases make big money in syndication. On Fox, Oscar host and blossoming film director MacFarlane, 39, and his team continue to push boundaries (mostly of decency) with two sturdy ratings performers in Dad and Guy, which help to anchor the network’s giant Sunday night “Animation Domination” block, which includes The Simpsons and Bob’s Burgers.
Jean, 52, recently saw The Simpsons earn a record 26th-season renewal and emerge with the best Sunday premiere of the season on Sept. 29 (the same night as Breaking Bad’s monster finale). And Bouchard, 43, and Dauterive, 56, recently cooked up a fifth-season renewal for Burgers, which was a top 10 comedy among the coveted demos of males 18-to-49 and 18-to-34.
On FX, the Archer team — Reed, 43, and Thompson, 44 — saw its fourth-season premiere attract 2.5 million viewers, making it FX’s top-performing comedy. And led by Senreich and Green, both 39, Chicken is a 10-time Emmy nominee, three-time winner and cornerstone of their network’s geek cachet.
With five 2013 Emmy nominations and wins for lead actress in a comedy (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) and supporting actor (Tony Hale), Veep had a bang-up year. Iannucci, 49, a veteran showrunner on such cult-hit British fare as The Thick of It and Alan Partridge, brings a wry, sophisticated sensibility to HBO’s drama-heavy slate, which was sorely in need of a smart adult comedy.
Mindy Kaling and Jack Burditt
Last season’s only surviving new comedy on Fox has charm to spare, and that’s largely because of Kaling’s everygirl appeal as both the lead actress and creator of the workplace comedy (think of her as broadcast TV’s Lena Dunham).
Following a creative reboot in season one, the series has turned into a sturdy companion for New Girl on Tuesdays and has been bolstered by the 34-year-old Kaling’s pop-culture base (she has nearly 2.6 million followers on Twitter) as well as Burditt’s six years spent producing 30 Rock. The series is a solid example of Universal’s willingness to sell — successfully — outside of NBC.
NBC (finally!) has expressed confidence in Katims’ beloved veteran drama, picking up the pricey ensemble for its largest episode order — 22 — since season two and moving the critical favorite to the prime 10 p.m. Thursday slot for its fifth season. Katims, 52, also will bring his aptitude for adaptations (Friday Night Lights included) to NBC’s midseason comedy About a Boy, starring David Walton and Minnie Driver, which is seeing positive advance buzz in a brutal season for new comedies.
The Weeds creator wisely chose the hottest medium in TV for her next project, and it paid off: Kohan, 44, saw her women’s prison-set dramedy’s 13-episode first season earn universally positive reviews (Netflix’s Arrested Development reboot couldn’t claim the same) thanks to buzzy lead actress Taylor Schilling and a remarkably diverse group of female stars. She also lured hot guest directors (Oscar winner Jodie Foster helmed an episode) while Hollywood fans like Lena Dunham geeked out over the series on social media. But with Netflix mum, the number of viewers actually watching remains a mystery.
Development season’s biggest winner, Lawrence, 44, is approaching Chuck Lorre territory with an impressive volume of series on his docket. With Jeff Astrof, he’s running TBS’ forthcoming comedy Ground Floor (premiere date: Nov. 14) and still executive produces his flagship series Cougar Town alongside Blake McCormick.
Lawrence also is prepping two other midseason series: Undateable with Adam Sztykiel for NBC and Surviving Jack with Justin Halpern and Patrick Schumacker for Fox. Clearly thriving with his deal at Warner Bros. TV, Lawrence recently added — after a bidding war among networks — yet another title to his slate, the family comedy Middlescence (with Astrof), which is in development for CBS.
Steven Levitan and Christopher Lloyd
What should be mentioned first when classifying this duo’s power? Is it their fourth straight Emmy win for best comedy series? Or 10 million viewers who still tune in each week? Or maybe it’s the $600 million ABC has earned during the series’ run and the $1.8 million per episode that USA is forking over for syndication? However you slice it, Levitan, 51, and Lloyd, 53, are the reigning kings of the modern TV comedy.
Team Chuck Lorre
This fall, Lorre, 60, expanded his monster presence on CBS to four shows on two nights, adding the freshman Anna Faris and Allison Janney comedy Mom. The series — from showrunner Gorodetsky, 57, a former executive producer on Lorre’s veteran Two and a Half Men, which now is run by Reo, 67, and Patterson, 46 — opened modestly.
Under Molaro, 46, The Big Bang Theory returned bigger than ever in its seventh season, setting a viewership record with 20.4 million viewers and a massive 6.1 rating among adults 18-to-49. It also earned eight Emmy noms, including a third win for its lead, Jim Parsons. Additionally, the 45-year-old Higgins’ Mike & Molly could prove a sturdy pinch hitter when it returns to Mondays in November for its fourth season, filling the void left by the recently axed new CBS comedy We Are Men.
Liz Meriwether, Brett Baer and David Finkel
Not since Ross and Rachel’s tango on Friends has watching a comedy romance been so satisfying. Meriwether, 31, Baer, 43, and Finkel, 47, did the impossible by engaging their leads in a love story, which only strengthened the artistry of the single-cam comedy (no love from the Emmys notwithstanding).
Anchored by star Zooey Deschanel, Girl has proved the foundation of Fox’s comedy brand. What’s more, it is TV’s biggest time-shifted comedy — its current season is jumping 62 percent in the key demo — which no doubt is helping keep its Tuesday night sidekick, The Mindy Project, alive and well.
Perry should be expecting a very nice fruit basket from his friend Oprah (or maybe a new car?). The Atlanta-based theater and film powerhouse, 44, nearly single-handedly has lifted his mentor’s basic cable network with three juggernaut original scripted series, long a missing piece in the lineup on O’s self-help and reality-heavy 3-year-old network: The September finale of Have Nots earned 2.6 million total viewers; the premiere of Neighbor earned 1.8 million; and For Better or Worse has hovered at 1.6 million.
Mike Schur and Dan Goor
NBC’s only returning comedy this fall (Community is expected to air midseason), Parks has settled into a groove as the network’s best DVR performer, growing 54 percent to a 2.0 rating. Under Schur, 37, Parks also is set to celebrate its 100th episode this season and, despite niche viewership, has one of the most beloved casts in television, anchored by perennial Emmy nominee and Golden Globe co-host Amy Poehler. Schur and Goor, 38, saw their new series, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, starring Andy Samberg, become one of the fall’s best-reviewed comedies in a sea of disappointing duds.
Jeff and Jackie Schaffer
The Schaffers’ fantasy football comedy removed all doubts about retaining its audience when it moved to new network FXX. It held on to an impressive 94 percent of its viewership from last season’s premiere, even though the new network had launched just three days earlier in nearly 20 million fewer homes.
Husband-and-wife team Jeff, 43, and Jackie, 39, also oversee one of the most prolific casts in the business: Mark Duplass (who’s married to League co-star Katie Aselton) is a busy filmmaker and movie actor (this fall’s JFK pic Parkland); Nick Kroll has his own series on Comedy Central; and Paul Scheer created and stars in Adult Swim’s NTSF:SD:SUV and has a network comedy vehicle in development.
Team J.J. Abrams
In the three years since the much-debated finale of his juggernaut series Lost, Abrams, 47, has continued to breathe new life into the Star Trek film franchise, became king of the forthcoming Stars Wars reboot and has assembled a formidable team of partners in primetime: On Person, Nolan, 37, and Plageman, 44, have given CBS a valuable prestige drama in a sea of procedurals; on NBC, 39-year-old Kripke’s Revolution made it through a brutal 2012-13 season to emerge with Chicago Fire as NBC’s only surviving new series.
With more than 2 million viewers tuning into its Sept. 22 finale, Ray secured its place on the mantel as Showtime’s most successful freshman series, besting the first season of Homeland by more than 30 percent. For her saga about a morally challenged Boston family living in Los Angeles, Biderman (Southland) amassed one of the most impressive casts in years, with movie stars Jon Voight and Liev Schreiber as estranged father and son. Their magnetic performances make them — and the series — instant Emmy contenders.
Under the watchful eye of executive producer Steven Spielberg, the veteran showrunner (Law & Order: SVU) and doctor (he’s a pediatrician) oversaw the summer’s biggest hit in Dome, proving it’s possible to draw nearly 14 million viewers a week in July and August with a high-quality show. (It was Amazon’s most watched series ever.) Baer, 58, easily earned a second season and even secured author Stephen King, on whose novel the dystopian sci-fi series is based, to write the second-season premiere, slated for 2014.
Team Greg Berlanti
One of TV’s most diverse writer-producers (his Washington-set USA miniseries Political Animals earned five Emmy nominations), Berlanti now is the owner of an entire block of The CW this fall. Last season’s ratings champ Arrow with Kreisberg, 42, and Guggenheim, 43, and freshman The Tomorrow People, with Klemmer, 39, air back-to-back on Wednesdays. Recently extending his contract with Warner Bros. TV through 2018, Berlanti, 41, has several projects in the works across broadcast and cable, including The Flash, a series based on the DC Comics superhero that will be spun off of Arrow this season.
Recently absent from this list following the 2012 departure of his groundbreaking ABC dramedy Desperate Housewives, Cherry is back with another soapy concoction in Devious Maids, which initially was passed over at ABC and is proving a salvation for Lifetime.
Maids steadily grew over the first season and saw a series-high 3 million viewers tune in for its Sept. 23 finale (the same night as the Primetime Emmy Awards telecast, Dexter’s series finale and Breaking Bad). Cherry, 51, now is the network’s most valuable scripted showrunner, with Army Wives, Lifetime’s highest-rated scripted series, canceled in September.
Carlton Cuse and Kerry Ehrin
For a network that’s had little trouble garnering high ratings with unscripted shows like Duck Dynasty, A&E execs turned to Ehrin, 48, and Cuse, 54, to deliver something different: critical attention for a scripted series. Their modern-day Alfred Hitchcock prequel, Bates Motel, did precisely that, with heavy praise and an Emmy nomination for its lead actress Vera Farmiga. It delivered viewers, too, with 4.4 million tuning in each week, turning it into a top five show for the cable network.
Cuse also is developing a remake of the French thriller The Returned for the network in addition to teaming with Guillermo del Toro for FX’s The Strain, based on the novel co-written by del Toro. Ehrin has a handful of projects in development, including re-teaming with Friday Night Lights creator Jason Katims for a comedy set up at NBC.
Reinventing Sherlock Holmes — again — was a dicey proposition, but Doherty, 39, has done it with flair. The character-focused detective series starring Jonny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu has settled comfortably in its 10 p.m. Thursday perch, opening season two with 15.1 million viewers.
Creatively, Doherty took risks (a female Watson!) and secured an impressive guest cast (Rhys Ifans as Sherlock’s brother, Mycroft). Critics rewarded Doherty’s efforts with a Television Critics Association best new program nomination, while CBS TV Studios extended his deal, keeping him firmly rooted in the CBS family.
His previous creation, The Closer, was among TNT’s most successful dramas before its August 2012 finale, so a spinoff wasn’t a distant notion. But a spinoff that has retained more than 7 million of the original’s 9.1 million audience, and critical acclaim to boot? Duff, 58, pulled off both tricks with Crimes — which also outperformed TNT’s reboot of Dallas — and became the network’s No. 1 scripted drama. And over the summer, Crimes attracted a steady 5 million viewers, which impressed the suits so much, they increased Crimes’ second-season order from 15 to 19.
Julian Fellowes and Gareth Neame
After a soap-tastic season-three finale that sent shockwaves around the world (Farewell, Matthew!), Fellowes, 64, and Neame, 46, have solidified their costume drama as a bona fide international phenomenon. Which is why on Oct. 7, fans lit up the Internet (again) when a new episode depicting a rape aired in the U.K. (Season four returns stateside in January.) Such a global uproar is evidence of why the series about 1920s British aristocrats is Masterpiece’s biggest in its 40-year history, with an estimated 120 million viewers tuning in at one point. Downton is now a perennial Emmy contender (it won best miniseries in 2011).
Hart Hanson and Stephen Nathan
Nathan, 65, and Hanson’s pairing of will-they-or-won’t-they leads Emily Deschanel and David Boreanaz broke the Moonlighting curse for Fox’s most senior drama. The procedural recently kicked off its ninth season with steady ratings — an average of 2.8 in adults and 9.5 million viewers for last year — and Hanson, 56, remains one of the biggest movers in development season. Though his latest pilot didn’t go at CBS, he already has a buzzy adaptation of the book series Good Thief’s Guide in the works at ABC.
Alex Gansa and Howard Gordon
It couldn’t duplicate last year’s Emmy sweep, but with Dexter dead and gone, Homeland is the reigning drama at Showtime. Gansa, 52, saw his terrorism thriller-romance recently return to bring in 6.4 million viewers in its earlier Sunday slot, reaffirming its status as the cable net’s most watched; last year’s second-season run had a weekly average of nearly 6.3 million fans. These stats only bolster an enduring swell of critical kudos, including 10 Emmy noms and star Claire Danes’ second win in a row for lead drama actress. Gansa’s exec producer Gordon, 52, has seen his producing slate soar: He’s filming the FX pilot Tyrant and will return to oversee Fox’s forthcoming limited-series reboot of 24.
It was mid-February of this year when Gilligan settled in to finish the script for Breaking Bad’s 62nd and final episode. Filming was set to begin in a little over a week. He sat down at the dining-room table of his Albuquerque, N.M., condo, which had doubled as the temporary home of Bryan Cranston’s Walter White when his wife kicked him out of the house a few seasons earlier.
With an Old 97s version of “El Paso” playing on a continuous loop on his iPod, he wrote the final scene in which the camera pulls away from White one last time. After five seasons of morally reprehensible behavior, the chemistry teacher turned meth dealer — one of television’s least sympathetic antiheroes — finally would meet his demise. But as Gilligan typed “End of Series” at the bottom of the page, his hazel eyes grew heavy with tears. “I knew it was the end of an era for me,” he says. “The end of the best job I will likely ever have.”
Scott M. Gimple
Normally a showrunner whose work is untested wouldn’t find his name on this list. But under Gimple, 42, TWD soared to a record-shattering 16.1 million viewers in its season premiere Oct. 13 and 10.4 million adults 18-to-49, making it the most watched series on TV in the demo. Gimple was promoted in February (after Glen Mazzara exited) and had penned some of the ratings juggernaut’s best-reviewed episodes from last season, as well as the pivotal season-two hour that featured one of the show’s most shocking deaths. The first-time showrunner also wrote the season-four premiere, as the adaptation of Robert Kirkman’s long-running comic takes a “remix” approach to the source material and a slower pace.
Gary Glasberg and Shane Brennan
Eleven years in, NCIS is the most-watched scripted program on TV with an average 21.3 million viewers last season — edging out even Sunday Night Football for bragging rights. Glasberg’s recent handling of Cote de Pablo's exit also saw ratings swell, propelling neighbor, Brennan’s series NCIS: Los Angeles with it, and giving CBS a reason to again consider another spinoff for the franchise.
Oliver Goldstick and Marlene King
Goldstick, 52, and King, 46, received a huge vote of confidence when ABC Family issued an early season-five pickup for its flagship teen series months before season four. That same day, the millennials-targeted network gave a straight-to-series order to Liars spinoff Ravenswood, premiering Oct. 22. Their first series continues to be the beacon for the network as it strives to replenish its originals: The Aug. 27 finale was Liars’ most watched summer closer with 3.3 million viewers, ranking as the No. 1 discussed episode on Twitter ever, with 1.89 million tweets.
Two years after moving into Sunday’s 10 p.m. slot, The Mentalist may be on ratings cruise control with slightly more than 12.8 million viewers (including DVR), but the 53-year-old Heller’s stock as a sought-after showrunner continues to rise. He recently nabbed a rare straight-to-series commitment at Fox for the Warner Bros. Batman prequel Gotham, centering on the character of Commissioner Gordon.
History hit a gold mine with its first scripted drama — penned by 51-year-old English screenwriter Hirst. Its first season about the legendary Norsemen capitalized on a monster lead-in (The Bible) and averaged more than 4 million weekly viewers on Sundays. Though historical accuracy oftentimes went out the window, Vikings returns in 2014, furthering History’s new story as a formidable player in the scripted game.
Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis
Their fantasy/fairy-tale mashup Once Upon a Time is still a Sunday mainstay on an increasingly competitive night. So much so that late in development season, ABC tasked Lost vets Kitsis, 42, and Horowitz, 41, to spin off their flagship series. What followed was impressive: ABC gave Once Upon a Time in Wonderland — a closed-ended story centered on Alice that premiered Oct. 10 to a modest 5.8 million viewers — a series greenlight after seeing only a 19-minute pilot presentation.
Michelle and Robert King
Since 2009, CBS’ critical darling has provided the network with something many of its other shows have not: cachet. The legal drama has notched an impressive number of awards, including a Peabody, four Emmys, a Golden Globe and two SAGs. Holding court on a busy Sunday night, the husband-and-wife team has managed to sustain a smartly written and performed hour-long drama that often earns comparisons to similarly acclaimed cable efforts. Although they were shut out of the recent Emmy race, Michelle, 51, and Robert, 53, have the admiration of industry heavyweights such as Vince Gilligan, who told THR in the spring that they were the showrunners he most admired.
With the network’s longrunning Burn Notice off the air, Korsh’s Suits is a worthy successor to assume the USA throne. And the 46-year-old’s slick legal drama has something for everyone: Not interested in the cases? There’s the internal politicking and maneuvering at the law firm. Not enticed by that? Maybe the twisted web of romantic entanglements is a better fit for you. Since 2011, Suits has captured high-profile guest stars (Game of Thrones’ Michelle Fairley) and landed the most decorated Olympian of all time, Michael Phelps — it’s one of his favorite shows — for a cameo on the midseason return in 2014. The series is averaging a robust 5.7 million viewers per episode, including DVR.
Carol Mendelsohn and Don McGill
The last remaining procedural in the CSI franchise, the flagship drama celebrates its 300th episode this month and is still one of the top properties, airing across the globe. In its 13th season last year, CSI earned the International TV Audience Award as the most watched show in the world for the third year running and sixth time in seven years. Under Mendelsohn, 62, and McGill, 51, CSI still regularly wins its 10 p.m. Wednesday slot, making it CBS’ most stable performer.
Inheriting a 50-year-old television series is no easy task, but Moffat’s short tenure at the helm of the British cult hit has seen him increase the time-traveling drama’s global footprint considerably — not to mention making it the top show on stateside carrier BBC America. Its Christmas special, with 1.43 million viewers, also was a record breaker for BBC America. This year, Moffat, 51, who also is a busy screenwriter, takes the lead on the golden anniversary festivities, including a rare episodic simulcast in the U.S. and the U.K. (while juggling writing duties on Sherlock) and planning a high-profile change of the guard when Peter Capaldi takes the titular role from outgoing star Matt Smith.
Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk
The term “lightning rod” barely does this duo’s influence justice, as they boldly cross — and create — genres within their respective imprints at 20th Century Fox Television. Murphy, 47, and Falchuk, 42, saw their horror opus return for a third season Oct. 9 on FX to giant ratings: The debut of Coven was the anthology’s best so far, seen by 5.5 million viewers, up 44 percent from last year’s installment, Asylum, which earned 17 Emmy nominations, more than any other series. The duo also run Fox’s Glee, whose cast suffered a shattering loss in Cory Monteith’s death in July. His character, Finn, received a sendoff Oct. 10, with a tearjerking episode seen by 7.4 million viewers, the series’ best rating in a year.
Plec has carved out a niche in the teen drama space, leading the charge (with the help of longtime producer Caroline Dries) on The CW’s teen saga The Vampire Diaries, still proving its worth as the flagship watercooler series kicks off season five. The CW looked to Plec, 41, to capitalize on its most successful franchise, launching Diaries spinoff The Originals and anchoring it on Tuesday nights. Plec also serves as an executive producer on The Tomorrow People. Adding still more value: She boasts more than 400,000 Twitter followers and often live-tweets her shows.
Shonda Rhimes and Betsy Beers
Rhimes, 43, and Beers, 55, oversee two of ABC’s most important dramas in veteran Grey’s Anatomy — still the No. 1 scripted drama in the demo after a decade — and the third-year sensation Scandal. The fast-paced political fixer drama starring Emmy nominee Kerry Washington returned to a series high Oct. 3 in total viewers and in the adult 18-to- 49 demographic, up 71 percent year-over-year, turning millions of tweets and strong buzz into a bona fide hit. Scandal is even outpacing lead-in Grey’s, which will bid farewell to original castmember Sandra Oh at season’s end.
Arguably more famous than anyone in his cast, Sorkin added another feather to his cap when, in an astonishing upset, Newsroom star Jeff Daniels beat Bryan Cranston and Kevin Spacey in the best drama actor category at the Emmys. Sorkin’s chat-fest ode to cable news, his first series for HBO, has delivered an upscale, thinking audience that includes superfans Brian Williams and Piers Morgan. A vocal subset of TV critics have been less kind, with the show hotly debated on Twitter. As for a renewal, HBO is hopeful that the 52-year-old Oscar winner (The Social Network), who is busy penning a biopic on Apple founder Steve Jobs, can find time in his schedule for a third season.
Sutter’s grisly biker drama heads toward its final run next year as FX’s biggest hit. The series returned for its sixth season in September with record ratings of more than 8 million viewers — a freakish rarity for a veteran drama. (When factoring in live-plus-7 DVR viewing, Sons’ season-six premiere ranks as FX’s top-rated telecast ever.) FX also inked the heavily inked Sutter, 47, to a development deal, in which he’s prepping comedy Diva. Clown. Killer. with his wife and Sons co-star Katey Sagal, and recently made waves — again — defending Sons’ current storyline, which featured a scene in which a child murders his classmates with a semi-automatic weapon, by saying, “I’m a f—ing storyteller.”
Breaking Bad may be grabbing buzz and collecting Emmy gold, but it was Weiner’s Mad Men that put AMC on the map in 2007. The Madison Avenue retro drama remains in the pantheon of great TV series, according to THR’s chief TV critic Tim Goodman, and it has earned the cable network 15 Emmys. In a bid for still more accolades, AMC execs recently announced that Mad Men’s final season of 14 episodes would be split in half. Weiner, 48, remains in control of a talent roster that includes Jon Hamm, Christina Hendricks and Elisabeth Moss, all of whom are now coveted performers outside the (faux) walls of Sterling Cooper Draper Price.
D.B. Weiss and David Benioff
In its third season, Thrones averaged a shattering 14 million viewers (on all platforms), usurping True Blood’s crown as the most watched series on HBO. Similarly impressive, it has garnered stellar reviews and most recently 16 Emmy nominations — including for drama series and drama writing. All of it makes co-creators Weiss, 42, and Benioff, 43, HBO’s most formidable pairing since Tony and Carmela.
The horror-movie king of the 1990s (I Know What You Did Last Summer, Scream) returned to his roots this year and scared up the biggest new in-season network drama. Luring film actor Kevin Bacon to his first regular-series gig as a fallen FBI agent on the trail of a serial killer, Williamson, 48, attracted nearly 12 million viewers (including DVR) during the first season, earning the showrunner a slam-dunk renewal for a second season.
Netflix has Willimon’s House of Cards to thank for making it the most desirable, and lucrative, locale in town. The work of the Oscar-nominated screenwriter (The Ides of March) was bolstered by A-list Oscar talent — Emmy-winning director-producer David Fincher and Emmy nominee/producer Kevin Spacey — which helped his political thriller (based on the limited British series of the same name) instantly engage as a water-cooler hit. It also posed the most serious Emmy threat in history to mainstay contenders like Mad Men and Breaking Bad via the most in-your-face — L.A. residents’ political yard signs included — awards campaign. The world may very well never know how many people watched House of Cards — thanks, Netflix! — but its ratings were irrelevant considering the impact it made as the streamer’s debut series, earning nine Emmy nominations and two wins for directing and casting along the way.
The most winning series at the Emmys this year wasn’t Mad Men, Breaking Bad or Homeland, but HBO’s four-year-old Prohibition drama: It nabbed five statues, including a shocker win for supporting actor Bobby Cannavale. Maybe it’s having Martin Scorsese as his executive producer, or his enviable Sopranos legacy, but Winter, 53 — who also penned Scorsese’s forthcoming awards-bait feature The Wolf of Wall Street, starring Leonardo DiCaprio — has never wavered in putting the methodical artistry of his series above all else, earning 2.5 million viewers for the fourth-season premiere and a coveted fifth-season renewal.
Team Dick Wolf
Wolf’s remaining piece of the Law & Order franchise, which he oversees with Leight, 56, continues to be a strong performer for NBC: The veteran police procedural earned an impressive 9.5 million viewers for its 15th season, a 29 percent jump over last year. Wolf's newer entry Chicago Fire, with Olmstead, 48, proved a rare scripted bright spot on NBC’s schedule in its freshman run, even occasionally topping CSI. More proof of its value: It spawned the forthcoming midseason spinoff Chicago PD, further signaling that Wolf, 66, even after more than two decades of creating content for NBC and others, is nowhere close to retirement.
Team Graham Yost
Yost’s stock has continued to rise at FX, where his moody Western drama Justified is still notching ratings records (its season-four premiere was its most watched episode with more than 2.5 million viewers). Yost, 54, partnered up well for his second FX drama venture, The Americans, which in January became the most popular new drama in the network’s history. The taut 1980s spy thriller, created by former CIA officer Weisberg, 47, and Fields, 49, garnered universal praise and awards attention for the network.
Sign up for THR news straight to your inbox every day