Hollywood's 50 Most Powerful TV Showrunners of 2020

6:00 AM 10/22/2020

by Michael O'Connell

From the dreaded "Zoom room" to hermetically sealed sets, the influential creators on The Hollywood Reporter's annual rundown — including Michaela Coel, Daniel Levy, Ramy Youssef and more — reveal how they have overcome an unprecedented year with panache.

Showrunners Angela Kang ('The Walking Dead'), Bill Lawrence ('Ted Lasso'), Michaela Coel ('I May Destroy You'), Ramy Youssef ('Ramy'), Daniel Levy ('Schitt’s Creek'), Dee Harris-Lawrence ('All Rise') and Krista Vernoff ('Grey’s Anatomy').
KANG: ALBERTO E. RODRIGUEZ/GETTY IMAGES. LAWRENCE: GREGG DEGUIRE/GETTY IMAGES. COEL: JEFF SPICER/GETTY IMAGES. YOUSSEF: ROY ROCHLIN/WIREIMAGE. LEVY: GEORGE PIMENTEL/GETTY IMAGES. HARRIS-LAWRENCE: LEON BENNETT/FILMMAGIC. VERNOFF: PHILLIP FARAONE/FILMMAGIC.

Showrunners Angela Kang ('The Walking Dead'), Bill Lawrence ('Ted Lasso'), Michaela Coel ('I May Destroy You'), Ramy Youssef ('Ramy'), Daniel Levy ('Schitt’s Creek'), Dee Harris-Lawrence ('All Rise') and Krista Vernoff ('Grey’s Anatomy').

Not even a year ago, it seemed as though almost anybody could sell a TV series in the free-spending Peak TV economy. Now, just to get a project up and running, one must possess the acumen of a surgeon general. "My line producer has become a semi-expert in medical tech as he deals with setting up our mobile lab for testing," says The Walking Dead showrunner Angela Kang, whose AMC drama resumed filming at the top of October. "Everything is almost unrecognizably different."

TV's most powerful producers aren't just responding to the COVID-19 pandemic with script overhauls, frequent nose-swabs and meticulous scene blocking. They're adapting to new normals that shatter and reset on a nearly daily basis. And as some go back to set — most of them after the longest breaks of their career — the changes to the day-to-day are dramatic. "Being on set in 2020 reminds me of what a dystopian television show being taped during a civil war would look like," says Kenya Barris. "I fear I will never know set life as back to normal, sadly."

If there's a silver lining to this supremely bizarre year, it's that the appetite for scripted programming endures. From such buzzy breakouts as Michaela Coel's I May Destroy You and Tony McNamara's The Great to the offerings of prolific uber-creators Tyler Perry and Greg Berlanti, even a pandemic and the recent spate of un-renewals can't slow the content race. And in its annual survey of TV's most influential players — those in-demand writer-producers who kept the pipeline full with original episodes over the past 12 months (sorry, Handmaid's Tale!) — THR polled the creative class on everything from new precautions and rethinking police procedurals amid calls for social justice to life without agents and the shows that got them through lockdown … with only one mention of Tiger King.

Methodology: THR selected its 2020 power showrunners from all writer- producers with scripted series that aired original episodes between September 2019 and September 2020. They are not apples to apples, rather judged relative to slates, deal size, ratings, value to platform and studio, cultural impact and awards. Profiles written by Michael O’Connell and Lesley Goldberg.

  • JJ Abrams

    A year into his nine-figure megadeal with WarnerMedia, Abrams' Bad Robot banner has already mapped out three new series for top studio priority HBO Max: Justice League Dark, Overlook (i.e., the hotel from Stephen King's The Shining) and the original crime drama Duster. Though eons past being a day-to-day showrunner, Abrams is a busier TV producer than ever. Recent sales join upcoming projects at Apple TV+ and a growing HBO roster that includes breakout Lovecraft Country, Westworld and forthcoming Demimonde.

    Favorite lockdown binge watch

    "Finally caught up and finished Watchmen. What a masterpiece. Also, our family became obsessed with Alone and Love on the Spectrum, which is maybe the sweetest show ever."

  • Jesse Armstrong

    Last seen remotely accepting big Emmy wins for outstanding drama and drama writing from an aesthetically problematic hotel room across the pond, the Succession creator now has to contend with even bigger expectations for his darkly comic HBO series' third season. When production begins later in the year — after a lengthy COVID-19 delay — the British import no longer will be able to ignore the fact that he's making one of the industry's (and, with a total of seven 2020 Emmys, certainly HBO's) favorite projects.

    Favorite lockdown binge watch

    "My diary for April through September of this year pretty much goes … April: Unorthodox; May: Normal People; June: I May Destroy You; July: Once Upon a Time in Iraq; August: I Hate Suzy; September: PEN15.

    Best 2020 home office upgrade 

    "I took the decision to paint it entirely black, install an unmutable rolling news quad screen and, for setting, to invest in a 28-inch diameter ‘Swiss’ yoga ball fashioned from Montgomery cheddar cheese.”

  • Kenya Barris

    Though based at Netflix for two years, Barris has made the most news at former home Disney in recent months. Shelved Black-ish episode "Please, Baby, Please" finally got a Hulu release amid increased calls for social justice in the U.S., and the showrunner raised eyebrows with word that he's penning a third spinoff, Old-ish, for ABC. Meanwhile, Barris is keeping busy at Netflix with the sophomore run of #BlackAF and a still untitled animated series.

    What I learned about myself during lockdown

    "I need to get into more 'good trouble,' like [the late Rep.] John Lewis."

    My staff's favorite show to discuss is ...

    "The Jeffrey Epstein documentary."

  • Greg Berlanti

    With 19 scripted series in various stages of production (and more in development), Berlanti remains the most prolific producer in TV history. The WarnerMedia-based genre fan continues to add comic book fare to his CW roster (Superman & Lois) and helps populate HBO Max (see his pricey take on Green Lantern, anthology Strange Adventures and Kaley Cuoco's The Flight Attendant), even as Netflix becomes a bigger priority. There, political drama The Girls on the Bus will join juggernaut You — the Sera Gamble thriller that recently reached, per the streamer, 54 million subscriber views.

    My staff's favorite show to discuss is …

    "Cobra Kai."

    What I learned about myself during lockdown

    "I never want to sit in two hours of traffic a day shuttling between shows again. I want that time with my family."

    I'll know set life is back to normal when …

    "When it's only us hypochondriacs that are freaked out every time someone coughs."

  • Michaela Coel

    All of Hollywood being stuck inside when the searingly personal comedy I May Destroy You bowed in June likely only accelerated Coel's transformation from an artist on the rise to the auteur of the moment. The British wunderkind, who brought Chewing Gum to the U.S. via Netflix, arguably had the most-talked-about series of the summer. A second season is said to be unlikely, but the fervor for Coel (as a writer, actress and producer) is not dissipating.

    One big change I'd like to see in the industry in 2021

    "Wouldn't it be dreamy if intimacy directors could be employed on all sets where there is physical intimacy or scenes of a sexual nature? Wouldn't it also be dreamy if independent projects shooting such scenes referred to Ita O'Brien's "Intimacy on Set Guidelines," if they feel unable to afford an intimacy director? It's very useful and worth taking into consideration to keep all on set safe.

    Favorite lockdown binge watch

    "I didn't binge any TV, but Ramy is a delight to slowly devour."

    What I learned about myself during lockdown

    "Although at times I find myself working 20 hours a day on a project, I am happiest when I am diversifying my life — seeing friends and family on weekends and creating structures around work instead of allowing work to be the only structure in my life. Daily walks, cooking, yoga and, importantly, sleeping for a minimum seven hours a day. Diversity and sleep prevent me from being a miserable self-pitying dick."

  • Greg Daniels

    The creator of The Office emerged from a long hibernation with two streaming projects in 2020: Amazon's futuristic satire Upload and Netflix's Space Force, a reunion with Steve Carell. Of the pair, it was Upload, a passion project originally developed at HBO, that broke through with both critics and its platform — which quickly renewed it for a second season. Sources say Daniels is now prepping a new venture as he awaits word on the future of Space Force.

    Biggest pandemic-inspired script tweak

    "Every idea, I wonder if it can be animated instead."

    Best home office upgrade this year

    "Fast business internet, so my kid can attend Zoom school without being a drag on my random YouTube procrastination."

  • Ava DuVernay

    Splitting her time among features, series and film collective ARRAY, DuVernay's 2020 TV moves included the tail end of the awards run for the Netflix mini When They See Us (an AFI Award, a Peabody and multiple NAACP Image Awards) and the launch of the drama anthology Cherish the Day at OWN — where she just started filming a timely season of network flagship Queen Sugar.

    Biggest pandemic-inspired script tweak

    "Rewrite an entire season of Queen Sugar from scratch just six weeks before production in order to capture what Black American life has been like during these tumultuous times."

    Election Day plans

    "I'm a poll worker, so I'll proudly be at my assigned station all day."

  • Kerry Ehrin

    Finally launching top Apple TV+ priority The Morning Show at the end of 2019, Ehrin was rewarded with a warm critical reception, a pre-ordained renewal, eight Emmy nominations (including a win for supporting player Billy Crudup) and a new overall deal with the deep-pocketed streamer.

    I'll know set life is back to normal when …

    "I don't have to get something jammed up my nose each morning."

    Favorite lockdown binge watch

    "I May Destroy You."

    Best 2020 home office upgrade 

    "I got an iPad so I could be on two Zooms at once. I also got a puppy — which I guess isn’t exactly office equipment, but I’m writing it off."

  • Sam Esmail

    Among the top-tier talent at Universal Content Productions, the Mr. Robot creator is juggling production on the Peacock limited series Angelyne (starring wife Emmy Rossum and based on a THR feature) with overseeing what may be the streamer's most anticipated original — yet another new take on Battlestar Galactica. Esmail, with an aggressive development slate, also is making a rare foray into broadcast with a pair of dramas in the works at ABC.

    One big change I'd like to see in the industry in 2021

    "I'm hoping the theatrical window vanishes and theaters accept a new form of business where any movie can screen in a theater, regardless of their studio or platform."

    What I learned about myself during lockdown

    "Given how much I don't miss socializing, I would go with … confirmation that I am indeed antisocial."

    Favorite lockdown binge watch

    "PEN15."

  • Jon Favreau

    Shepherded from the start by Favreau, the Mandalorian launch told the world that Disney+ isn't just a hub for old cartoons when the show nestled itself into the zeitgeist with viral "Baby Yoda" and pleased oft-petulant Star Wars fans with its new spin on the deeply valuable IP. And with a surprise 15 Emmy nominations and a second season on deck for Oct. 30 — replenishing airwaves starting to feel a COVID content drought — its creator's TV stock is likely to only keep rising.

    Best home office upgrade this year

    "A linked VR station to be able to do scouts and preproduction with the crew."

    What I learned about myself during lockdown

    "I'm a good gardener, and I like to pickle things." 

  • Liz Feldman

    Veteran comedy writer Feldman saw the second season of Dead to Me get higher viewership during lockdown, an Emmy nom tally that jumped from one to four, and a renewal for a third and final season for the Christina Applegate and Linda Cardellini show. Moving her overall deal from CBS Studios to Netflix in July, Feldman is primed for a next act on the streamer when the curtain closes on her dark comedy.

    Favorite lockdown binge watch

    "I went through a very dark phase in March where I watched every true-crime series on Netflix — everything from The Ted Bundy Tapes to The Devil Next Door. Then I segued into Love Is Blind and Too Hot to Handle, which might have been an overcorrection."

    I'll know set life is back to normal when …

    "We aren’t afraid of anything other than losing the light."

  • Dan Fogelman, Isaac Aptaker and Elizabeth Berger

    With broadcast's top scripted series among adults 18-49 heading into its fifth season, This Is Us still is NBC's biggest thing to brag about outside of football, thanks in part to this trio of showrunners who are now starting to tackle side projects. Fogelman has Only Murders in the Building at Hulu, and Aptaker and Berger launched teen drama Love, Victor (also at Hulu) — already renewed for a second season. 

    I'll know set life is back to normal when …

    Fogelman: "I can watch a grip dig his bare hands into a large bowl of warm fruit."

    Aptaker: "The actors don’t have to go into plexiglass stables in between takes."

    Favorite lockdown binge watch

    Aptaker: "We just did Harrison Ford's entire filmography. That man is a movie star."

    A year without an agent taught me …

    Berger: "That I would make an absolutely terrible agent."    

    Best 2020 home office upgrade 

    Berger: “I’ve tried to make my workspace feel as much like a real writers room as possible, which means plenty of food and mediocre lighting.”

  • Scott M. Gimple and Angela Kang

    While AMC's flagship series will end with its 11th season in 2022, franchise content chief Gimple is reteaming with showrunner Angela Kang to continue the story with a third spinoff (an untitled entry following fan favorites Norman Reedus and Melissa McBride). Gimple also is plotting an anthology to join veteran spinoff Fear the Walking Dead (now in season six).

    I'll know set life is back to normal when …

    Gimple: "I'm able to hop between TWD in Georgia, Fear in Texas and World Beyond in Virginia — all in the same couple of weeks. That and the return of big, communal buckets of Red Vines."

    What I learned about myself during lockdown

    Kang: "I was paying a huge 'pink tax' to go into an office and look 'presentable' every day. I feel really happy and productive with athleisure, no makeup, no hair processing."

    Favorite lockdown binge watch

    Gimple: "We're revisiting Lost — mostly for the storytelling, somewhat for the tropical vacation."

    A year without an agent taught me …

    Kang: "I like setting more of my own meetings, but an agency is quite helpful when you're trying to produce things outside your day-to-day writing job."

  • Peter Gould and Vince Gilligan

    As critically adored as ever during its recent fifth season, Gilligan and Gould's Breaking Bad prequel enters its final run in 2021 with a total 38 Emmy nominations (no wins yet). Expect the duo, both at Sony, to finally depart their beloved source material now that companion movie El Camino is done and dusted and Better Call Saul's run is coming to a close.

    My staff's favorite show to discuss is …

    Gilligan: "Oddly enough, we find ourselves talking an awful lot about Columbo lately. That was one hell of a TV character."

    A year without an agent taught me …

    Gould: "How incredibly useful agents can be — even when you're already making a show. Here's hoping my friends at CAA figure out how to proceed so we can go back to working together." 

    Favorite lockdown binge watch

    Gould: "I Think You Should Leave. I've seen every episode at least five times. I have to struggle to stop myself from quoting it daily."

  • Misha Green

    Though theaters were closed during summer 2020, U.S. audiences weren’t completely denied a blockbuster. HBO’s Lovecraft Country — a drama about a Black family in 1950s Chicago battling both monsters and some seriously messed-up white people — blended action, sex, horror and timely commentary on America’s insidious history of racism for gleeful critics and an audience of 9 million multiplatform viewers to date. “The [resources] we have on this show — it’s amazing,” says writer-producer Misha Green of the unexpected follow-up to her previous series, WGN’s comparatively modest Underground. “It’s the equivalent of going from an independent film to a Marvel movie.”

    With the first season now concluded, Green, 36, spoke with THR about subverting any expectations for the sophomore run and her plans to bring more people of color into horror and other genres.

    This is your first project as solo showrunner. How do you think your cast and crew would describe your leadership style?

    Oh, it depends on who you talk to. (Laughs.) I think that they would describe it as direct and empowering. I feel like a lot of people come to set and say, “It’s been so long since someone asked me what color I liked.” But you’re the costumer! What do you mean no one is asking you what color you like? The whole point is for you to bring your zhoosh to the moment. If you’ve got something doper than what I have come up with, let’s use it. Because it’s not just about what I want. If we just do what I want, we’ll be fine. If we build on that, we’ll be more than fine. We’ll be amazing.

    Read the rest of the interview here.

  • Katori Hall

    The playwright (and fresh Tony nominee for Tina: The Tina Turner Musical) made a big impression when she adapted one of her theatrical works for Starz's P-Valley, a Mississippi-set strip club drama that launched in July to raves and boasts a rare 100 percent rating on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes. The TV newcomer earned a speedy season two renewal for the series, which bucked ratings trends and grew week-to-week, and Starz is said to be making big overtures to Hall to bring her in-house with an overall deal.

    One big change I'd like to see in the industry in 2021

    "Pay parity for women and people of color. For too long, people have relied on the 'quote' system — your pay for your next job is dependent on what you got paid on your previous job. In this industry, more opportunities to make a living over time lead to higher quotes. Unfortunately, those opportunities have disproportionately been given to white men. Supposedly, the quote system has been abolished, but I still see it flourishing."

    Best 2020 home office upgrade 

    "I hired a team of interior designers to hook a lady up! I've never had a private space dedicated to writing at home. It's been the den couch, the kitchen table, hell, even the toilet! Forbes + Masters, two Atlanta-based designers named Tavia Forbes and Monet Masters, have made my writing and Zoom room an Afro glam procrastinator's heaven."

  • Dee Harris-Lawrence

    The veteran writer who got her industry start working for Quincy Jones added showrunner to her résumé in 2019 with OWN's coming-of-age drama David Makes Man. The series, which counts Oprah Winfrey, Michael B. Jordan and Tarell Alvin McCraney among its producers, earned a Peabody and a second season. Its success helped elevate Harris-Lawrence, who boarded the CBS legal drama All Rise as co-showrunner halfway through its first season.

    I'll know set life is back to normal when …

    "I no longer hear the first AD yelling out, 'Zone A in, Zone B out!' — and I don't see face shields and masks."

    Favorite lockdown binge watch

    "All three seasons of Stranger Things with my 11-year-old daughter."

    What I learned about myself during lockdown

    “That I can sit on my ass, in front of my computer, for hours at a time.”

  • Noah Hawley

    FX's erudite boy wonder returned for a fourth installment of his celebrated anthology in September after a three-year hiatus. Fargo, with Chris Rock now the star, also made Hawley one of the first showrunners to get back to work under COVID-19 restrictions — completing filming on his thus-far-lauded limited series over the summer and setting up FX for 2021 awards contention. 

    One big change I'd like to see in the industry in 2021

    "I'd like to see the networks recognize that they judge material through a narrow lens, a lens that marries shows to an old paradigm — a paradigm in which all heroes are active and all obstacles can be overcome, a paradigm based on an entitled worldview. What would our shows look like if they truly reflected not just a diversity of faces but a diversity of life experience and an understanding that different cultural stories don't need to be structured in the same way?"

  • Lisa Joy and Jonah Nolan

    Though the married duo is one year into their a nine-figure, five-year overall deal with Amazon, it's HBO's Westworld for which they're both still best known while quietly prepping a slew of projects for the rival streamer (see their adaptation of William Gibson's The Peripheral, which just found its lead in Chloë Grace Moretz). Westworld most recently scored 11 Emmy nominations and a renewal for a fourth season.

    Biggest pandemic-inspired script tweak

    Joy: "If anything, these strange days are just making some projects more relevant. The Peripheral anticipates an apocalyptic “jackpot” event caused by a convergence of factors including a pandemic, climate crisis and political corruption. Sound familiar? We keep asking William Gibson to tell us what happens next and he just smiles..."

    Nolan: "Trying to out-weird whichever asshole is writing reality."

    One big change I'd like to see in the industry in 2021

    Joy: "Higher pay and benefits for assistants. And more inclusion — with programs designed to foster new and emerging talents." 

    My staff's favorite show to discuss is …

    Nolan: "We’re having fun with The Boys. And we regularly debate on how we each fall into the Succession Cinematic Universe."

  • Mindy Kaling and Lang Fisher

    As perennially in-demand multihyphenate Kaling preps new projects for WarnerMedia, her coming-of-age comedy Never Have I Ever (from former studio NBCUniversal) earned raves on — and an audience of 40 million households, per Netflix — with its April launch. Co-creator Fisher, who serves as showrunner, also had a hand in July's one-off 30 Rock reunion special. 

    I'll know set life is back to normal when …

    Kaling: "I can sneeze and people don't look at me like I betrayed them."

    One big change I'd like to see in the industry in 2021

    Lang: "I'd like to see more diversity and inclusion onscreen and off. And, honestly, I'd like to see more kindness and empathy toward one another. After this incredibly hard year, I think we should all have a zero-tolerance policy for assholes on set or in writers rooms."

    Best 2020 home office upgrade 

    Kaling: "Making my Zoom backdrop a still from Emily in Paris."

    My staff's favorite show to discuss is …

    Lang: "We've been talking a lot about HBO's The Vow. The consensus is that people should've known they were in a cult when they were asked to play volleyball at three in the morning."

    Favorite lockdown binge watch

    Kaling: "Ozark. During my last pregnancy it was Game of Thrones. When I'm growing a baby I love violence, I guess."

  • David E. Kelley

    The TV icon continues to beef up his offerings across the landscape, with a return to broadcast (ABC's Big Sky) joining dramas at Netflix (the limited series Anatomy of a Scandal), Hulu (the starry Nine Perfect Strangers), Disney+ (John Stamos vehicle Big Shots), HBO (Nicole Kidman's The Undoing, out Oct. 25) and Amazon (the final season of Goliath). Next up, expect a streaming deal for CBS' rejected The Lincoln Lawyer reboot.

    Biggest pandemic-inspired script tweak

    "Lose the group scenes. Losing the kissing. Lose the breathy chemistry."

    Favorite lockdown binge watch

    "Alone."

    Best 2020 home office upgrade 

    "More quality time with my cat."

  • Courtney Kemp

    With one Power spinoff (Power Book II: Ghost) on the air and another three in the works, Kemp has cemented her status as Starz's most important player. Under her overall deal at parent company Lionsgate TV, Kemp scored a quick renewal for Power Book II: Ghost — 7.5 million viewers tuned in to the premiere across platforms — as she readies a dirty cop drama at HBO.

    Biggest pandemic-inspired script tweak

    "Stripping out the party, club or any big crowd scenes just to eliminate background performers isn't as big a deal as having to change locations because of filming restrictions in New York City. The toughest challenge will be [Power prequel] Raising Kanan because we can't shoot that outside the city limits, and any period piece is more difficult if you can't control both sides of the street [a new NYC restriction] while shooting. No one wants to pretend it's 1996 while a Tesla drives by in the background."

    Favorite lockdown binge watch

    "Great British Baking Show, from the beginning, and Ratched — basically cooking shows and anything with a murder or two. That's my comfort zone."

  • Michelle and Robert King

    Though their Good Wife spinoff continues to miss out on Emmy love, much to critics' chagrin, the Kings' streaming legal drama The Good Fight remains one of the most timely (and scathing) series of the Trump presidency. Their portfolio gets more diverse with the genre outing Evil on CBS, the Bryan Cranston thriller Your Honor arriving on Showtime in December and recent sale of COVID-19 drama The Second Wave to Spectrum.

    A year without an agent taught me …

    Michelle: "The best advocate for writers is another writer. While we were staffing, several showrunners reached out with unsolicited recommendations. Those suggestions proved invaluable."

    One big change I'd like to see in the industry in 2021

    Robert: "I'd love to see mini writers rooms go away. They take the worst abuses of the feature world and move them to TV: underpaying writers and removing them more and more from the process."

    Biggest pandemic-inspired script tweak

    Robert: "We threw out the first episode premise for this season of Evil. It was about a haunted subway stop — and we quickly realized there was no way to film it, given the current permit issues in New York. For a while there, we thought we could execute it with a lot of green screen and VFX. But, at a certain point, it required too much unreality."

    Best 2020 home office upgrade 

    Michelle: "Taking over our daughter's old bedroom and moving Snoopy to a less prominent position."

  • Jenji Kohan

    While her Netflix output is waning (see the 2019 conclusion of Orange Is the New Black and the October surprise cancellations of GLOW and Teenage Bounty Hunters), Kohan remains one of the most dependable pitchers in Hollywood. Recent launch Social Distance was among the first COVID-specific productions sold back in April.

    I'll know set life is back to normal when …

    "Craft service is back to buffet."

    "Favorite lockdown binge watch

    "The Great, Ted Lasso, This Way Up, Love It or List It and Jenny Nicholson on YouTube."

  • Alex Kurtzman and Jenny Lumet

    Having mapped out CBS Studios' sprawling Star Trek franchise through 2027 with three dramas and two animated shows in the works and more on the way, Kurtzman solidified his place as one of the studio's most versatile producers with Showtime limited series The Comey Rule. Next, he's readying CBS' Silence of the Lambs follow-up, Clarice, and CBS All Access' update of The Man Who Fell to Earth — the latter a first-time showrunning gig for writing partner Jenny Lumet.

    One big change I'd like to see in the industry in 2021

    Kurtzman: "Awareness that creativity can't be reduced to an algorithm."

    Lumet: "An honest confrontation and reckoning. Racism cripples the industry and certainly cripples creativity. I believe the will to change is there; I hope the courage is there as well."

    Favorite lockdown binge watch

    Kurtzman: "Pose, Lodge 49 and Dear White People."

    Lumet: "Downton Abbey. It's like house porn."

  • Bill Lawrence

    After a rough streak on broadcast (ABC's prematurely axed Whiskey Cavalier), the comedy writer behind Scrubs and Spin City hit it big with the Apple TV+ international play Ted Lasso. The U.K.-set sports comedy starring Jason Sudeikis got a sophomore renewal as Lawrence attempts to get a Head of the Class reboot on HBO Max and a slew of other development in motion.

    What I learned about myself during lockdown

    "I am far too needy to be alone this much. I miss the sense of community that comes with being part of a comedy writing staff. There are writers I've worked with for a whole season whom I have never met in person. Also, I look pretty haggard on an iPad Zoom."

    Favorite lockdown binge watch

    "I enjoyed Dave, Cobra Kai and I’ll Be Gone in the Dark."

  • Norman Lear

    At 98, the TV legend broke his own record as the oldest Emmy winner when he took home a statuette for ABC's Live in Front of a Studio Audience: All in the Family and Good Times. With a murky future for Pop's One Day at a Time, Lear returns to Netflix with a 10-episode animated take on Good Times, while he preps a Fried Green Tomatoes series (with Reba McEntire) at NBC and other live events for ABC — all under his deal with Sony.

    One big change I'd like to see in the industry in 2021

    "We never ever hear of a reference to Donald Trump."

    What I learned about myself during lockdown

    "I dislike intensely the feeling of being trapped."

  • Daniel Levy

    The Schitt's Creek co-creator (and star) stunned the industry when his late series swept the comedy category at the Emmys and took home nine wins. Levy's now prepping an expansive slate of originals — including one he plans to write himself — for ABC Studios, where he landed with a rich eight-figure overall deal following stiff competition for his services.

    Biggest pandemic-inspired script tweak

    "Well, on one project my central character was working as a cop. So that changed."

    One big change I'd like to see in the industry in 2021

    "I think Schitt's Creek is the perfect example of a show that proved TV needs time and space to grow. Some shows require more real estate to tell their stories properly, to earn the character arcs, to slow burn their audience. I would love to see more patience given to TV shows in their early days."

    Best 2020 home office upgrade 

    “Adding a few Emmys to the shelf? Is that a completely grotesque thing to say? Should I be saying ‘a framed photo of my dog’? Ah, fuck it.”

  • Damon Lindelof

    Lindelof's patient, deliberate approach to crafting one series at a time paid off with HBO's timely Watchmen, which swept the limited series category and led all projects with 11 Emmy wins in 2020. As for a second season, the Lost grad remains steadfast that his version of the story has been told, though HBO is leaving the door open. HBO boss Casey Bloys, meanwhile, already has spoken with Lindelof about "a few things" the writer-producer has in mind for his next act.

    A year without an agent taught me …

    "That absence makes the heart grow fonder by 10 percent."

    One big change I'd like to see in the industry in 2021

    "Significantly more people of color (one is not enough) in C-suites and in development meetings."

    Favorite lockdown binge watch

    "What We Do in the Shadows — and yes, I've watched the 'Jackie Daytona' episode four times."

    What I learned about myself during lockdown

    "There’s nothing better than reading books — like ones with actual pages."

  • Chuck Lorre

    After Big Bang Theory's $600 million streaming deal, Lorre next is rumored to be cashing in with another massive nine-figure deal as Warner Bros. TV looks to keep its comedy kingpin in-house. This year, Lorre already has scored a lucrative syndication deal for Young Sheldon and has new comedy B Positive joining Bob Hearts Abishola, Mom and Young Sheldon at CBS. Those are on top of the final season of Netflix's The Kominsky Method.

    Favorite lockdown binge watch

    "The Boys, Raised by Wolves, Tehran."

  • Tony McNamara

    The Oscar-nominated Aussie screenwriter (The Favourite) got his first stateside hit series with Hulu's loose (read: very loose) retelling of Catherine the Great's rise to Russian power. The period comedy, starring Elle Fanning and Nicholas Hoult, missed out on substantial Emmy love but courts ample industry favor as it preps a second season.

    I'll know set life is back to normal when …

    "We all sing Russian drinking songs into each other's laughing faces until we have a coughing fit and collapse into each other's arms with joy."

    Favorite lockdown binge watch

    "Chef's Table. I've watched it all a few times, but it's so beautiful and the storytelling is really good. One minute you're cooking chickens over coals on a lake in Patagonia and the next making pasta in Umbria. Delightful."

    What I learned about myself during lockdown

    "Exercise is good for the human body. I had no idea."

  • Tim Minear

    Minear has come a long way from his @CancelledAgain Twitter moniker. The Ryan Murphy collaborator inked his own overall deal to remain at Disney's 20th TV and oversee Fox's 9-1-1 franchise, which last season successfully launched Texas-set spinoff Lone Star. Minear also remains the driving force of FX megahit American Horror Story, renewed through 2023.

    Biggest pandemic-inspired script tweak

    "Writing masks into stories and writing around masks in stories once they're in. It's a challenge. Also: trying to bring the scale of things down to compensate for the added costs — and doing it without that showing too much."

    A year without an agent taught me …

    "I'm sure it was about to teach me something. Then the world ended."

    Favorite lockdown binge watch

    "Been reading more than watching. Currently on Volume Two of The Gulag Archipelago. I'm waiting for new content just like everyone else."

  • Peter Morgan

    After briefly considering ending his beloved Queen Elizabeth II bio-drama with a fifth season, Morgan reversed course and is proceeding with the originally planned six. Of course, season four doesn't even arrive on Netflix until Nov. 15. But Morgan has at least four more years left on the incredibly lucrative deal he inked, which calls for him to make other projects for the streamer.

    I'll know set life is back to normal when …

    "Everyone is back to hugging, except our characters. Hugging isn't a big part of their emotional vocabulary, which makes it a lot easier to film. The royals have been practicing their own form of distancing for years."

    Favorite lockdown binge watch

    Unorthodox and Thatcher: A Very British Revolution."

    What I learned about myself during lockdown

    "How adaptable and resilient we humans are. And how much life is improved by turning off the news."

  • Chris Mundy

    Bucking nearly all current drama trends, Ozark has steadily found more viewers, more critical acclaim and more Emmy nominations with each passing season. Mundy and Netflix may have decided to end their sleeper hit with season four, but it'll be an expanded 14-episode run that drops in two installments.

    My staff's favorite show to discuss is …

    "Still The Sopranos. Is that weird?"

    What I learned about myself during lockdown

    "I should have been so much nicer to the hamster I made my daughter give away in third grade."

  • Ryan Murphy

    Endlessly productive Murphy is now supplying Netflix with a steady drip of originals — Hollywood, Ratched and the second season of The Politician among his 2020 offerings. With parting-gift-to-broadcast 9-1-1 bearing fruits for Fox, he also remains occupied with legacy FX projects. American Crime Story is all but predestined to set Emmy ballots ablaze when it tackles the 1998 Bill Clinton impeachment.

  • Jordan Peele

    The Oscar-winning filmmaker continues to forge strategic TV partnerships, producing both pop culture darling Lovecraft Country for HBO and Amazon debut Hunters (part of his current TV pact) in 2020. Tracy Morgan comedy The Last O.G. is moving forward with a fourth season at TBS, while CBS All Access mulls a third cycle of Peele's Twilight Zone reboot. 

  • Prentice Penny and Issa Rae

    Returning from an extended hiatus, the fourth season of the pair's beloved HBO comedy proved to be a welcome distraction when it premiered during the first full month of lockdown. TV Academy members were clearly watching. Insecure finally broke into the Emmys' top comedy race, scoring a personal best eight nominations and a first-time win for editing. Outside of scripted, Penny is producing a new late night vehicle for SNL writer Sam Jay and Rae has a second season of Robin Thede's A Black Lady Sketch Show — both at HBO.

    A year without an agent taught me …

    Penny: "That it's unfortunate our industry can't just do what's right and fair."

    What I learned about myself during lockdown

    Rae: "I waste so much time driving to find new places to write, and I can actually be productive at home. But taking a long drive to write at a hotel is OK, too."

    Best 2020 home office upgrade 

    Penny: "Making it feel as comfortable as possible and also candles. Lots of candles."

    Favorite lockdown binge watch

    Rae: "Better Call Saul."

  • Tyler Perry

    Having opened his 330-acre Atlanta studio, almost single-handedly launching BET's ambitious streaming platform (see: Assisted Living, Bruh, House of Payne, The Oval, Ruthless and Sistas ) and accepting the Emmys' Governors Award all in the past year, Perry remains a singular Hollywood talent — a multihyphenate who knows how to multitask. His last OWN series, The Haves and Have Nots, reigns as a cable behemoth, as his output at ViacomCBS only looks to get bigger.

  • Shonda Rhimes

    Read Shonda Rhimes' cover story from the Oct. 21 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine here.

  • Stephanie Savage and Josh Schwartz

    The longtime collaborators are reimagining one of their more memorable hits, Gossip Girl, at HBO Max. Under their broadcast-only overall deal with CBS Studios, they also are behind The CW's reboots of Nancy Drew and Dynasty, as their Fake Empire banner boasts a second overall deal developing originals for Apple TV+.

    One big change I'd like to see in the industry in 2021

    Savage: "A lot of good progress has been made in 2020 with regard to the continuing need to bring racial and gender equality to casts, writers, directors and crews. I hope to see 2021 continue to build on this."

    What I learned about myself during lockdown

    Schwartz: "I have the ability to substitute one stressful thing (making a TV series) with another (the election) without missing a beat!"

    Favorite lockdown binge watch

    Savage: "I’ll Be Gone in the Dark and The Vow. The bad guy will be relentlessly pursued and held accountable. Also, I watched every episode of Bosch with my mom."

  • Michael Schur

    Saying so long to The Good Place, Schur next has Ed Helms comedy Rutherford Falls — a big priority at Peacock. Via studio Universal TV, he's shepherding newer voices and landed a series pickup at HBO Max for a Jean Smart comedy from Broad City duo Paul W. Downs and Lucia Aniello. The politically outspoken showrunner also reunited the cast of Parks and Recreation in April to raise $3 million for Feeding America.

    I'll know set life is back to normal when …

    "No one takes my temperature."

    Favorite lockdown binge watch

    "The Great."

  • Taylor Sheridan

    The Paramount Network may be shifting gears and rebranding as a movie channel, but one thing it won't be trying to change is Sheridan's Western drama series. Yellowstone is an atypically massive hit for basic cable, topping 6.4 million viewers for its third season. It's little wonder Sheridan has already placed another series (Mayor of Kingstown) there, with several others in development.

    Biggest pandemic-inspired script tweak

    "As a result of the pandemic, we lost our Utah rebate and had to move the series to Montana full time — which involved rewriting half of the locations in the scripts. Good times."

    Favorite lockdown binge watch

    "C'mon. Tiger King."

  • Amy Sherman Palladino and Dan Palladino

    The couple behind Emmy titan The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel — 20 nominations in 2020 alone — continue to raise the bar (and the price tag) on their lavish Amazon production. And as they start filming season four of the period comedy in New York City, many in the industry are waiting to see how the famously resourceful duo will maintain appearances under current restrictions.  

  • Darren Star

    With a sizable overall deal at ViacomCBS, the Sex and the City creator (see page 28) is looking to expand Younger beyond its upcoming seventh (and likely final) season with a spinoff for star Hilary Duff. Long-gestating Emily in Paris broke through at Netflix as Star next looks to mentor new voices.

    Biggest pandemic-inspired script tweak

    "This season of Younger, [as we're] possibly losing some series regulars who have conflicts with other shows."

    A year without an agent taught me …

    "I loved my agent."

  • Liz Tigelaar

    Setting up her Best Day Ever shingle with a plum deal at ABC Signature, the veteran scribe is enjoying one of the bigger years of her career — launching the Emmy-nominated miniseries Little Fires Everywhere at Hulu, where she's also prepping an adaptation of Judy Blume's Summer Sisters, and nabbing the rights to the Melissa Broder novel Milk Fed.

    Favorite lockdown binge watch

    "The last two seasons of Homeland and all of Succession."

    What I learned about myself during lockdown

    "That it's kind of like getting bad notes. I freaked out, thought it was impossible, freaked out again, and then discovered things that were even better than what was there before."

    Best 2020 home office upgrade 

    "A ring light ... and then finding an office outside of my home office.”

  • Krista Vernoff

    The future of the Grey's Anatomy franchise remains in Vernoff's hands after she revitalized spinoff Station 19. The Shondaland medical series continues to be ABC's most watched drama and a massive international hit — with rumors swirling about another offshoot in the works. Further solidifying her value to ABC Studios, Vernoff's Erin Brockovich pilot Rebel was recently ordered to series.

    One big change I'd like to see in the industry in 2021

    "Well-funded outreach and training programs for underserved communities."

    What I learned about myself during lockdown

    "The back pain I've dealt with for years is definitely caused by how I sit when I work. When I roll calls walking on the beach, it goes away completely."

  • Lena Waithe

    With the first fruits of her 2019 Amazon deal about to arrive with the anthology Them: Covenant, Waithe has been otherwise occupied populating BET's scripted push (Boomerang and passion project Twenties), resetting Showtime drama The Chi (renewed for season four) and booking acting gigs (see her recent turn on Westworld).

    A year without an agent taught me …

    "I was an agent in a past life."

    One big change I'd like to see in the industry in 2021

    "For Black creators to have more ownership of their IP."

    What I learned about myself during lockdown

    "I watch way too much TV." 

  • John Wells

    A year into his new nine-figure overall deal with Warner Bros. TV, Wells is firing on all cylinders, with Maid wrapping casting at Netflix and the pilot Red Bird Lane with Susan Sarandon at HBO Max. Those join the 11th and final season of the hit Shameless at Showtime and the fifth season of Animal Kingdom at TNT.

    Biggest pandemic-inspired script tweak

    "The entire season of Shameless is now set during the pandemic … so that was a hell of a lot of tweaks."

    One big change I'd like to see in the industry in 2021

    "Sick pay for everyone on our crews. We're in the middle of a pandemic, so there's some sick pay available now, but everyone should have had paid sick days years ago. It's a disgrace we don't."

    My staff's favorite show to discuss is …

    "Warrior Nun. I mean … Warrior Nun?"

  • Dick Wolf

    Procedural king Wolf started the year with two deals — a six-show library pact with Peacock and a new overall deal with Universal TV that included three-season renewals for his trio of Chicago shows as well as Law & Order: SVU — that easily total more than $1 billion. While his NBC roster deals with criticism for their portrayal of policing, and Law & Order spinoffs Hate Crimes and Organized Crime are both stalled, Wolf's FBI franchise at CBS shows no signs of slowing.

    Election Day plans

    "Watching marathons of Law & Order and Chicago P.D."

  • Ramy Youssef

    The Golden Globe-winning actor, writer and director isn't content to rest on his laurels after breaking through with his self-titled Hulu series. In addition to the upcoming third season of Ramy, Youssef inked an overall deal with producers A24 and is reteaming with comedian Steve Way for a project spotlighting a disabled person and their family.

    A year without an agent taught me …

    "Ah man, I missed agency lighting! Agencies are always super bright. Makes me feel good."

    One big change I'd like to see in the industry in 2021

    "Prioritizing more writers and crew members with disabilities."

    My staff's favorite show to discuss is …

    "Walker, Texas Ranger. It informs what we're doing in no way, but we replay clips from it constantly."