THR unveils the writer-producers of TV's Golden Age — from 'Game of Thrones' masterminds David Benioff and Dan Weiss to 'Atlanta' creator Donald Glover — with the sharpest pens, the wildest visions and the richest deals.
What does it take for a television show without dragons, zombies or Sterling K. Brown to get a little attention?
More than 400 U.S. scripted series are set to air in 2017 — thanks for the sobering stats, John Landgraf — and getting lost in the logjam is the new normal. So in highlighting the most impactful writer-producers working in TV right now, THR focused on a few key factors.
These 50 power showrunners rise above the churn with unprecedented deals (ka-ching, Shonda Rhimes), surging output, cultural cachet and legit "hits."
Most have paid their dues (witness the reunions of two pairs of past collaborators), a few struck gold early (hear from Stranger Things' Duffer brothers ahead of their sure-to-be-scrutinized sophomore season) and all have a few choice words to say about the challenges of making TV today.
METHODOLOGY Eligible showrunners had at least one current scripted (not animated) series air new episodes between August 2016 and July 2017 (sorry, Seth MacFarlane!).
A version of this story first appeared in the Oct. 4 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
Their Netflix series, more of an experiment in tone than a traditional comedy, continues to earn raves and Emmy adoration (eight noms in 2017 and a key writing win for Ansari, 34, and rising star Lena Waithe). Yang, 35, and much of the writing staff now turn their attention to a buzzy Amazon vehicle for Fred Armisen and Maya Rudolph — part of Yang's own deal with Universal TV.
Best thing I saw this year Yang: "Wings of Desire, by Wim Wenders, and Logan, by James Mangold."
Dream casting goal Yang: "Aziz and I are both continuing to say Hugh Jackman constantly until he responds in some way."
Most invaluable person in my career Yang: "My loving wife of over 40 years, Dame Helen Mirren."
Most-discussed series in our writers room Yang: "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, specifically the episode where Uncle Phil is revealed to be a pool shark when he says to his butler Geoffrey, 'Geoffrey, break out Lucille.' Lucille is the name of Uncle Phil's custom pool cue that Geoffrey keeps stored in his pants."
Heading into season four, Black-ish is considered the gold standard for broadcast comedy — with an average 2.1 rating among adults 18-to-49, two Emmy noms and a Golden Globe for star Tracee Ellis Ross. Barris, 43, has diversified his portfolio by setting younger-skewing spinoff Grown-ish (starring breakout Yara Shahidi) at Freeform. Oh, and he wrote a little summer film called Girls Trip.
Most discussed series in our writers room Game of Thrones
Dream casting goal Eddie Murphy
Right now, TV viewers need … "Perspective outside of their own."
With its brief seven-episode return for summer 2017, GoT reaffirmed its status as the biggest TV series in the world, pulling an average 31 million U.S. viewers alone. Benioff, 47, and Weiss, 46, head into the final run with a controversial follow-up gestating at HBO (revisionist history slave drama Confederate) and the continued adoration of their peers. Their show tops the list of most discussed series in other showrunners' writers rooms.
Best thing I saw this year Weiss: "The 'Ricklantis Mixup' episode of Rick and Morty. Benioff: "The 'Pickle Rick' episode of Rick and Morty."
The undisputed king of TV, at least in terms of volume, Berlanti, 45, essentially owns The CW with more than half of its primetime lineup this season, plus dramas at NBC (Blindspot) and ABC (Deception) and soon a cable entry with the Lifetime thriller You.
Best thing I saw this year "The second season of Master of None."
You know a pitch isn't going well when … "They tell you they love it but don't say in the room that they want to buy it."
Right now, TV viewers need … "To watch more shows live."
Most invaluable person in my career "Peter Roth."
With each having locked her own big deal with CBS Studios and now developing separate projects, the duo have a third season of their critically beloved musical comedy arriving on The CW. Ratings pressure is low — good thing, because it's broadcast's least watched series — but the show remains a favorite of network boss Mark Pedowitz. Bloom, 30, is now a bona fide CBS star, featured at the net's telecast of the Tonys and Emmys.
You know a pitch isn't going well when … McKenna: "They say, 'Thank you for coming in,' at the end."
Right now, TV viewers need … Bloom: "Commercials for Sunny D. Remember those? Those were fun."
Most invaluable person in my career Bloom: "I owe Aline Brosh McKenna my firstborn child. It's actually in my contract in a sort of benevolent Rumpelstiltskin situation."
You know a pitch isn't going well when … Bloom: "They say, 'Wait, back up, it's a musical?'"
Most-discussed series in our writers room McKenna: "Each other's lives. A lot of gossip about ourselves."
New streaming platform I'm most excited about McKenna: "Happy to see new buyers wherever they are. I would love to have a way to get shows in my bath, the Tub Network."
The post-30 Rock years continue to be a boon to Carlock, 45, and Fey, 47. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt was just renewed for a fourth season on Netflix, while Fey agreed to step in as a recurring guest to boost attention for their NBC sophomore Great News. They continue to have one of the busier development slates in broadcast, and Fey is never too far from Saturday Night Live, where her Aug. 17 "Weekend Update" appearance went viral.
You know a pitch isn't going well when … Fey: "You have to quietly put your shirt back on."
Most invaluable person in my career Carlock: "Tina and Lorne [Michaels]. I've never seen them together and am pretty sure they are the same person."
Right now, TV viewers need … Fey: "Jack Donaghy."
Best thing I saw this year Fey: "There were so many good things, Atlanta, Feud, The Crown. The 'B.A.N.' episode of Atlanta is one of the most exciting things I've seen in a long time."
Network notes are most helpful when … Fey: "They shine a light on what's not working. They may not provide the solution, but they can show you where the problem is."
Best thing I saw this year Carlock: "Well, the best, most affecting TV of the year has to be the election returns. How often do you get to watch your country being torn in half? Also, I viewed our national trainwreck with my pal Alec Baldwin. The added layer of his growing realization that he would have to keep playing this guy was a nice twist. Good writing, America!"
Right now, TV viewers need… Carlock: "The warm hug of broadcast comedy."
Detractors may knock Empire for its fall from No. 1 status on broadcast, but it remains a powerhouse — so much so that Fox is finally embracing Daniels' other drama, Star, as a spinoff. Empire moved time slots for its fourth season opener, retaining 100 percent of the spring finale audience and boosting its sibling lead-out.
Best thing I saw this year Chaiken: "Casablanca, for the 57th time."
Dream casting goal Daniels: "I don't discuss dreams. Especially when actors are involved. It hurts the negotiation."
New streaming platform I'm most excited about Strong: "Betamax!"
Network notes are most helpful when … Chaiken: "They're in pursuit of character consistency and call on the writer/s to examine character history, motives and drives."
Best thing I saw this year Strong: "The Crown."
Most-discussed series in our writers room Daniels: "Anything created by Norman Lear."
ABC Studios signed its old Lost showrunner to a rich ($20 million!) overall deal in August, one that will have Cuse, 58, developing originals for the now-Shonda-less production house for at least four years. That's on top of current USA drama Colony and Amazon's long-in-the-works Jack Ryan, plus a potential Hulu take on the comic property Locke & Key.
Best thing I saw this year "Season three of The Leftovers."
In five years, Netflix will be … "Fighting it out with some other very powerful streaming competitors."
Overnight celebrity scribes Matt and Ross Duffer followed Stranger Things' blockbuster 2016 launch with a surprisingly robust awards showing: 18 Emmy nominations and key victories with SAG (outstanding drama ensemble) and the PGA (best episodic drama). Now the twin brothers just have to keep fans — and the industry — interested in the follow-up.
Best thing I saw this year Matt: Big Little Lies
Most discussed series in our writers room Ross: Freaks and Geeks
Dream casting goal Matt: Riz Ahmed
In five years, Netflix will be … Ross: "As big in movies as in television."
Most invaluable person in my career Matt: "My brother, obviously!"
The indie darlings remain hugely committed to TV. The renewal for their anthology Room 104 was accompanied by a choice overall deal at HBO, where they're developing another serialized project. Elsewhere, Jay, 44, remains a regular on Amazon's Transparent, and Mark, 40, earned raves for playing Ted Kaczynski's brother in the Discovery miniseries about the Unabomber.
You know a pitch isn't going well when … Mark: "That cane hooks you by the neck and yanks you offstage mid-softshoe."
Dream casting goal Jay: Frances McDormand
Right now, TV viewers need … Jay: "A book."
The Oscar-nominated filmmaker does nothing small. So it's no surprise that DuVernay, 45, followed the critically lauded family drama Queen Sugar (renewed through season three) with a big pact at OWN and a hot new project at Netflix (home of her Oscar-nominated 2016 doc 13th). She'll attempt to fix the streamer's lack of limited series with a highly anticipated narrative about the Central Park Five.
Most invaluable person in my career "My late aunt, Denise Amanda Sexton, who gifted me with a love of movies and TV that led me to this career in the first place."
Dream casting goal "Samantha Morton in anything."
New streaming platform I'm most excited about "I'm wildly interested in Tidal. I think it occupies a unique place in the market — a potent brew of authentic cultural leadership, technology and inclusion."
Right now, TV viewers need … "A trusted, experienced journalist to guide our digestion of the daily barrage of Trump trauma. Although I'll admit a total romanticization of the man, I'd take a modern day Cronkite on the air stat."
Mr. Robot's second season proved more divisive than the first — but, on the eve of the USA drama's Oct. 11 return, creator Esmail, 40, remains as wanted as ever in TV. He'll next tackle a TV spin on the podcast Homecoming (starring Julia Roberts) for Amazon and is bubbling a mini based on the silent classic Metropolis.
Network notes are most helpful when … "They're not trying to predict what audiences will or will not like."
Right now, TV viewers need … "More Twin Peaks."
Now in the homestretch, the duo behind FX favorite The Americans has the daunting task of giving a satisfying ending to one of the most critically cherished series of the past decade. What's next is up to them. Fields, 53, and Weisberg, 51, are widely acknowledged as two of the sharpest scribes in town.
Best thing I saw this year Weisberg: "Oliver Stone's interviews with Putin. OK, Putin told some whoppers, and also, Stone is such a conspiracy theorist that a couple of times Putin had to tell him he was going too far. But a lot of the time, Stone put Putin at ease, and the result was a series of strong and thoughtful points about U.S.-Russia relations. Don't believe the hype, watch it yourself."
Most discussed series in our writers room Weisberg: "Our median age is … not young. Bochco comes up a lot."
Most invaluable person in my career Fields: "My wife, without whose constant support I'd get nothing done. She's the partner who gets none of the credit."
Most-discussed series in our writers room Fields: "Younger. The main character lives a lie in order to infiltrate a foreign culture — it's basically the comedy version of our show."
Right now, TV viewers need … Weisberg: "Speaking for myself, as an American TV viewer, I want to watch more television. Seriously. I want to surf the internet less, stare at my phone less, and watch more television. That's what I did when I was younger. And I was happier. And my shoulders and wrists hurt less. And I had fewer headaches."
One of TV's more prolific creators, Fogelman, 41, finally struck gold with NBC and 20th TV's This Is Us. The drama's power freshman run averaged 17 million viewers and scored an Emmy for star Sterling K. Brown — unprecedented in an era of cable and streaming drama dominance. Its Sept. 26 return, which saw ratings climb to another high, rejects the idea of a sophomore slump.
You know a pitch isn't going well when … "True story: In an early movie pitch of mine, the producer sighed, stood up and sadly announced to his assistant, 'I guess you should call my wife and tell her I'm gonna be home late — this seems like it's gonna take forever.' "
Most discussed series in our writers room "Ken Olin won't shut up about thirtysomething."
As Showtime has struggled to launch new hits, it's got at least two seasons left from old faithful. Gansa, 56, is steward of Homeland, which is still the cable outlet's most watched series. Even without awards luster, it stays in the conversation with its often prophetic "ripped from the headlines" plots.
Best thing I saw this year "The end credits of our finale. Meanwhile, the pilot of The Crown was the best written, directed and acted episode of television I've seen in a long time."
Network notes are most helpful when … "They end with, 'Well, we trust your judgment.' "
In five years, Netflix will be … "Our gracious and wonderful overlords."
It might be on the decline, but The Walking Dead still pulls the type of numbers — a 7.9 rating among adults 18-to-49 and 15.4 million viewers for its most recent season — that most TV execs see only in their dreams. Gimple, 45, runs an apocalyptic empire. (He's also blissfully unaffected by the potentially devastating lawsuit against AMC from other EPs seeking a big share of those massive profits.)
Most invaluable person in my career "George Lucas. Er, we've never met."
Most discussed series in our writers room Family Ties
Best thing I saw this year "Rick & Morty, Carmichael Show, Made in Abyss, The British commentator try to keep it together whilst his toddler and baby walked in on him live with the BBC."
Already a successful rapper and actor, Glover, 35, didn't need to prove anything — but he did with Atlanta. The auteur-ish dramedy set in his hometown surprised critics and viewers with its 2016 launch, earning the in-demand multi- hyphenate two Emmy Awards (for directing and acting). Next up: a sophomore run and a turn in the Star Wars stand-alone Han Solo film as a young Lando Calrissian.
Best thing I saw this year "O.J. Simpson: Made in America. The story is incredible. We'll never see anything like that again."
Dream casting goal "Depends. But a safe bet would be Tracee Ellis Ross and [Chewing Gum star] Michaela Coel."
More valuable to Sony Pictures Television Studios than ever, the comedy writer scored a massive two-season renewal for his autobiographical ABC sitcom in 2017 — more than making up for the one-and-done midseason entry Imaginary Mary. (Goldberg, 41, also got some social flack for thinly veiled Twitter commentary about the president — but who hasn't?)
Most discussed series in our writers room "The failed pilot for Poochinski, about Peter Boyle, a streetwise cop who is reincarnated as a dog."
Right now, TV viewers need … "A reboot of Who's the Boss? to air after the Roseanne reboot."
Best thing I saw this year "Jeff Garlin take off his shirt during a network notes session and dance around the back of the room knowing I was the only one who could see him."
In five years, Netflix will be … "Not streaming episodes of The Goldbergs, because the far superior Hulu owns the show."
Dream casting goal "Bette Midler to play Beverly's mother."
Even in an era when your dry cleaner could successfully pitch a show, carte blanche doesn't come easy — but that's what Gould, 57, and Gilligan, 50, earned by following Breaking Bad's run with three seasons of the Emmy-nominated Better Call Saul. When they're ready to move on, they'll be greeted with a lot of open arms.
Best thing I saw this year Gould: "Probably watching my daughter drive for the first time; that was, without a doubt, the most exhilarating, suspenseful experience of the year. As for the best thing on television — Ken Burns' The Vietnam War."
New streaming platform I'm most excited about Gould: "Apple. The trick will be for a company known for hands-on perfectionism to give creators room to succeed — and even fail."
Starz CEO Chris Albrecht has been anxious for shows that offer buzz in addition to pulling in subscribers, and that's what they've found in Fuller, 48, and Green's heady stab at adapting Neil Gaiman's beloved American Gods. The project, which Fuller ultimately chose over CBS All Access' Star Trek: Discovery, premiered to near-network highs and gave Albrecht some watercooler cred.
Network notes are most helpful when … Fuller: "They are over wine. Thank you, Suzanne Patmore Gibbs."
Right now, TV viewers need … Green: "A news outlet that doesn't rely on ratings."
Best thing I saw this year Fuller: "Gotta light?
Most invaluable person in my career Fuller: "Anne Rice, who told me at the dawn of my puberty that she just makes things up and I can, too."
Network notes are most helpful when … Green: "In person. The intercom provokes argument and encourages performance, all at the expense of conversation."
You know a pitch isn't going well when … Green: "It's a bakeoff."
Fargo may be on the back burner after three successful seasons, but Hawley, 50, is not skipping a beat. His experimental Legion returns to FX in 2018, and he's developing a Dr. Doom feature for FX corporate sibling 20th Century Fox film. Comic book IP snares everyone eventually.
Netflix's alt comedy king is finally getting the fifth — or is it second? — season of Arrested Development. The cult favorite returns in 2018 with the entire cast, as Hurwitz, 54, continues to tackle niche projects like Will Arnett's Flaked, which dropped a second season in 2017, and Maria Bamford's Lady Dynamite (returning Nov. 10).
Production on HBO's pricey Westworld caused concern for more than a few, but the finished product obliterated doubts. Gross viewership climbed past 12 million viewers, and the drama took 22 2017 Emmy nominations — tying Saturday Night Live for the most mentions. For their part, married duo Joy, 40, and Nolan, 41, are being praised as HBO's next big creatives.
Best thing I saw this year Nolan: Dunkirk
You know a pitch isn't going well when … Nolan: "The network president falls asleep. True story."
Right now, TV viewers need … Joy: "Less tragedy on the nightly news."
Most invaluable person in my career Joy: "My husband for his unwavering support and the amazing group of family and friends who help me take care of my kids when my hours get crazy."
Most-discussed series in our writers room Nolan: "The Prisoner. At least that's the one I discuss the most. The other writers have no idea what I'm going on about."
Silicon Valley, still relatively young in its life cycle as it gears up for season five, is all the more important to HBO now that Veep is officially ending with its seventh season. The tech comedy offers a rare combo of viewers and awards attention while minting big stars — from now-departed T.J. Miller to Big Sick breakout Kumail Nanjiani.
Most discussed series in our writers room Berg: Beavis & Butt-head, Judge: Seinfeld
Dream casting goal Berg: "When we got to cast Stephen Tobolowsky, that was a big dream come true. What a legend."
Katims hasn't had an impactful hit like Friday Night Lights or Parenthood in several years, but he remains one of the best pitchmen in Hollywood. In addition to Hulu drama The Path, which he produces alongside creator Jessica Goldberg, Katims, 56, has the NBC freshman Rise (under Universal TV, where he has a big deal), which will premiere in midseason.
Network notes are most helpful when … "I love when notes calls have clarity. It's a misnomer that notes are bad, but sometimes they can be more efficient."
You know a pitch isn't going well when … "Glazed eyes and frozen smiles."
How do you make a multicamera sitcom culturally (and critically) relevant in 2017? Team with the man who made the genre an art form. Calderon Kellett, 42, and Royce, 53, are the shepherds of Norman Lear's update on One Day at a Time, a show that instantly made the pair hot scribes and got Netflix kudos for putting on an all-too-rare show fronted by a Latino cast.
Best thing I saw this year Calderon Kellett: The Handmaid's Tale and Fleabag
Right now, TV viewers need … Royce: "An app that puts all your shows — DVR, streaming, whatever — on one page. One big list of all your shows, regardless of where they are."
Dream casting goal Calderon Kellett: Gloria Estefan
In five years, Netflix will be … Royce: "Celebrating season seven of One Day at a Time!"
You know a pitch isn't going well when … Royce: "I actually don't know this anymore. I've struck out with pitches where people laughed hysterically and sold a pitch after a dude yawned."
The once and future king of TV — you may remember him as the only showrunner ever to win simultaneous Emmys for best comedy (Ally McBeal) and drama (The Practice) in 1999 — returned in a big way. He launched Amazon's Golden Globe-winning Goliath, produced the AT&T surprise critical hit Mr. Mercedes and wrote the Emmy darling and pop culture sensation Big Little Lies for HBO. Kelley, 61, and BLL author Liane Moriarty still are in talks about a follow-up.
Dream casting goal "Adding Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep to Big Little Lies."
Right now, TV viewers need … Walter Cronkite
Power is exactly what Kemp has. In the midst of a two-season renewal and a nice new overall deal with Starz and Lionsgate, the 40-year-old writer sold a drama to ABC and is developing other projects for her cable home, where her drama pulls in 8 million viewers. (It also doesn't hurt that she's a trusted confidant for Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson, her oft-outspoken star and executive producer.)
Network notes are most helpful when … "You are too close to a line of dialogue to realize it's stupid and no one likes it."
New streaming platform I'm most excited about "Apple. Matt Cherniss is really smart."
In five years, Netflix will be … "Where you go to find the separate hubs of great showrunners, like a Shonda hub or a Berlanti hub."
Most-discussed series in our writers room "We talked about Key & Peele a lot and watched it as a group. We talk about Chapelle's Show, too, and The Wire, Homicide: Life on the Street, and Oz."
Dream casting goal "I kind of have a dream cast. I'd like to be like Aaron Sorkin or Ryan Murphy, where I play with the same people over and over again, but they play different parts in a completely different story."
Development season started early for Khan, 44. The prolific favorite at 20th Century Fox TV and boss on ABC's Fresh Off the Boat quickly sold two buzzy projects to Fox in August. As for FOtB, it continues to help ABC plant a comedy flag on Tuesdays.
Best thing I saw this year "Please Like Me. It somehow manages to be extremely funny and realistic while also dealing with the subject of mental illness in a very powerful and moving way."
Network notes are most helpful when … "They're being given to someone else."
In five years, Netflix will be … "Back in the DVD mailer business. Not in a real way, but in a nostalgic, 'Remember the early 2000s?' way."
Since Freeform clearly could not envision a life without former flagship Pretty Little Liars, it has done everything it can to stay in the good graces of Warner Bros.-housed King. The writer, 50, got a second season for Famous in Love, sold a PLL spinoff and is working on an additional project with another PLL alum.
Best thing I saw this year "Hands down, The Handmaid's Tale."
New streaming platform I'm most excited about "Facebook. Mina Lefevre is a trendsetter."
Most-discussed series in our writers room "I pitched Famous in Love as Entourage for women, so we talk about that show a lot."
Netflix's original leading lady does not waver in her strength at the streamer. On top of Orange Is the New Black, a perennial hit, the launch of the Kohan-produced GLOW made noise in a summer when few entries managed to break through. Kohan, 48, also remains a vocal force against Hollywood sexism.
Best thing I saw this year Difficult People
Most invaluable person in my career "My husband and my nanny."
At the halfway point of its seventh season, Korsh's Suits (a vestige of USA's Blue Sky past) is nearing a renewal for an eighth and potentially ninth season, while seeds for a backdoor spinoff (one of several projects) are being sowed in a 2018 episode starring Gina Torres. USA may be getting darker, but on sunny days, it's still 50-year-old Korsh's sandbox.
Best thing I saw this year "Man in the High Castle. It's operating at such a high level, it actually makes me sick."
Network notes are most helpful when … "Given with the spirit of helping clarify and elevate what you're trying to accomplish."
Strange bedfellows Levitan, 55, and Lloyd, 57, share duties on ABC's No. 1 series — and will continue to do so for two more (likely final) seasons, with the show renewed through 2019. Levitan, for his part, is diversifying, directing the pilot (and nabbing a lucrative EP credit) on the Fox midseason comedy LA to Vegas.
Network notes are most helpful when … Levitan: "Presented in song form with uplifting choreography."
Most discussed series in our writers room Lloyd: "Last Week Tonight With John Oliver because his persona is so bulletproof: He knows just how self-deprecating he needs to be to lay down the most withering attacks, and it's never anything but funny."
Most invaluable person in my career Levitan: "Not one person — so many, especially all the writers whose brilliance has made me look smarter than I am."
You know a pitch isn't going well when … Lloyd: "The people you are pitching to start to dab at tears, then it's actual sniffling and crying, soon it's a rending of garments and beating of chests, many have changed into actual black Sicilian mourning clothes, there are rituals happening with very old blind people brought in to wave their hands, gibbering, and one-time possessions of yours pinned to birds who are set in flight. Soon there is a loud, grievous keening by all present, a full-on, very unbecoming, spittle-heavy Laura Dern style wracking cry-fest, and you realize it is not just you that is being mourned here, or even your career, but promise itself. That's a bad pitch."
With Big Bang atop broadcast rankings and spinoff Young Sheldon seeing a boffo preview (followed by a quick full-season order) on Sept. 25, Warner Bros.-housed Lorre, 63, is laughing all the way to the bank. He also recently broke out of his broadcast mold with the Netflix launch of the pot comedy Disjointed.
You know a pitch isn't going well when … "You've managed to bore yourself."
Right now, TV viewers need … "One comedy series about a 9-year-old genius growing up in Texas and one about a pot dispensary in California."
Best thing I saw this year "It's a tie between Catastrophe, Legion, Fargo, Game of Thrones, Better Call Saul, American Gods, Okja, The Night Of, Silicon Valley, Billions, Atlanta, Genius, Walking Dead, Preacher, Homeland, The Crown, Taboo, Pleasant Valley, The Big Bang Theory, Mom and Disjointed."
In the wake of what could be comedy writing's greatest torch-passing of all time, Mandel, 47, returns to Veep for his third and final season running Armando Iannucci's beloved creation. The Emmys' top comedy for three straight seasons also just minted a new acting streak for six-time winner Julia Louis-Dreyfus. HBO has said it will be ending in August 2018.
Most invaluable person in my career "I used to say Larry David but starting to think it was actually Armando Iannucci."
Right now, TV viewers need … "More Israeli format shows."
Best thing I saw this year "I can't remember the name of it but there was a guy and girl and three dragons."
Most-discussed series in our writers room "Senator Elizabeth Warren's tweeting about Ballers."
Messer, 43, is doubling down on future projects, forming her own production shingle as part of her latest deal with ABC Studios — one that saw her sell a family drama to ABC in October. As for her day job, Criminal Minds (No. 3 on CBS, just behind NCIS) remains a fruitful constant for its network as new hourlongs prove harder and harder to launch.
Network notes are most helpful when … "We're snow blind and they're not and can give perspective."
Most discussed series in our writers room The Twilight Zone
Miller, 52, who's been consistently working without much fanfare since mid-era ER, has TV's current darling in The Handmaid's Tale. Eerily relevant and slick as all get-out, the Hulu game-changer earned top drama honors at the 2017 Emmys (and an actress win for star and producer Elisabeth Moss), instantly driving at least 7,500 new subscriptions.
Best thing I saw this year "The eclipse."
Most discussed series in our writers room "Definitely Outlander."
Right now, TV viewers need … "A reboot of Cop Rock."
Starz didn't underestimate its lusty viewers, 5.1 million of whom tune in to the steamy romance. With a sprawling job (production spans 6,300 miles from Scotland to South Africa), Moore, 53, continues to get credit for translating Diana Gabaldon's beloved book series (28 million copies sold) and has Philip K. Dick's Electric Dreams up next at Amazon.
Most discussed series in our writers room "Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones."
Right now, TV viewers need … "Something that breaks the format and establishes a new way of storytelling."
The scope of storytelling possibilities continues to expand, and few series better showcase that than The Crown. Morgan, 54, is trying to tell six decades of Queen Elizabeth II's life, an endeavor that will see multiple cast changes and already has cost a reported $60 million. The filmmaker's series has locked in Emmy noms and a drama win at the 2017 Golden Globes.
You know a pitch isn't going well when … "George Lucas leaves the room and puts you on his private jet back to London."
Most discussed series in our writers room The Sopranos
Alone or together, Murphy, 51, and Falchuk, 46, seem infallible. The current season of American Horror Story is topping cable ratings, and their Crime Story follow-up about the death of Gianni Versace is creating feverish buzz. They'll next try to remedy Fox ratings with the Angela Bassett drama 911. On his own, Murphy has Feud and a Netflix commitment for Ratched — a showcase for repertory MVP Sarah Paulson as the infamous One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest nurse.
Best thing I saw this year Falchuk: "The Handmaid's Tale and Westworld."
Most invaluable person in my career Falchuk: "Ryan."
With UnREAL on the back burner and Girlfriends' renewed for a final season, the ever-in-demand Noxon, 53, next will go to Dietland at AMC and try to make some Big Little Lies-level magic at HBO. Her adaptation of Sharp Objects, starring Amy Adams, arrives in 2018.
You know a pitch isn't going well when … "What's that old joke? Somebody answers the phone during sex and says, 'Nothing, what are you doing?' It's like that."
Right now, TV viewers need … "More vitamin D."
Most invaluable person in my career "Lidia Acevedo, who's been helping to care for our kids for almost 13 years. Knowing there's someone reliable and kind who can be there when their dad or I can't be is the wind beneath my wings."
Most-discussed series in our writers room "Handmaid's Tale. Constantly. Dietland shares some DNA with it — so we're always trying to learn from all the smart choices they made. Also, we've decided that Elisabeth Moss is the Meryl Streep of TV."
If you're looking for evidence that time slots aren't dead, look no further than Insecure. HBO's celebrated drama from Rae, 32, and comedy vet Penny, could not have less in common with Game of Thrones. But sharing a Sunday night with TV's biggest series helped bring a 34 percent audience spike to Insecure.
Most discussed series in our writers room Rae: "Sex and the City in a 'Did they already do this?' way."
In five years, Netflix will be … Penny: "The biggest producer of live content and hopefully still part of a euphemism for casual hookups."
Best thing I saw this year Rae: "Off the top of my head, Bojack Horseman."
Most invaluable person in my career Penny: "Professionally — Mara Brock Akil. Personally — my wife, Tasha Penny. Wouldn't be here without both."
Dream casting goal Penny: "Lakeith Stanfield," Rae: "Any of the Obamas. Sasha can also direct an episode of Insecure when she turns 18, if she wants."
Right now, TV viewers need … Penny: "More diverse shows by more diverse creators. It challenges and pushes all of us to be better."
Having made OWN profitable with his primetime soaps, Perry, 48, soon will try to save another (bigger) cable giant: Viacom. The ever-rebranding suite of channels will be home to Perry's voluminous output come 2019 in a massive deal encompassing television, film and shortform video. Already planned are 90 hours of annual original television on BET, which Perry will be producing from his new, sprawling Atlanta studio.
Best thing I saw this year Taylor Sheridan's Wind River
Most invaluable person in my career Oprah Winfrey
Right now, TV viewers need … "Laughter, love, hope and encouragement."
The megaproducer who launched a thousand ships, Rhimes, 47, essentially set fire to broadcast in August when she said she was leaving longtime home ABC Studios for a rich deal — read: the richest in TV history — with Netflix. The pact will give her backend and a venue to ramp up her output. Meanwhile, her trio of ABC dramas continues to do ratings gangbusters on Thursdays, even if more recent production attempts (The Catch, Still Star-Crossed) haven't shared that fate.
Best thing I saw this year The Crown
Network notes are most helpful when … "They tell you the problem and don't pitch a solution."
Dream casting goal "It's always the same: Idris Elba and Meryl Streep."
As SNL writing alums go, Schur, is among the most prolific. The mastermind behind Parks and Recreation, currently focusing on NBC favorite The Good Place while also lending a hand to Brooklyn Nine-Nine and Master of None, is always growing his Fremulon shingle at Universal TV. Potentially joining his robust roster are two new sales at NBC — which clearly likes what he's doing.
Best thing I saw this year "The Leftovers. A close second was Anthony Atamanuik's two-minute improvised monologue, as Trump, watching a truck drive by in the pilot of The President Show."
Dream casting goal "Someday I am going to write a role worthy of Jackee [Harry]."
In five years, Netflix will be ... "A healing oil you can rub directly into sore muscles. A lot of weird stuff is gonna happen in the next five years."
Amazon may be desperate for a mainstream hit, but at least it's got Soloway. The Transparent creator, 52, appears happy there, extending their pact in May after launching the comedy I Love Dick. With the future of that project still up in the air, Soloway was back to work on a fifth season of Transparent almost as soon as the fourth dropped Sept. 21.
Most discussed series in our writers room "The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisor five-hour-long meetings, weekly on KLCS at 10 p.m."
Right now, TV viewers need ... "Battle of the Streaming Stars. Elisabeth Moss in a giant, sweaty ropes course against Robin Wright, with a cheering live audience."
Few have a better track record at network-defining hits than Star, 56. With Younger — Star's latest tube contribution after giving the world Beverly Hills, 90210; Sex and the City and others — TV Land has a rare success. A lone scripted hit for embattled parent Viacom, Younger had an average 1.3 million viewers for its fourth season, its most watched so far. And he's staying put at Viacom, where he's setting his next project.
Network notes are most helpful when … "They are fans of the show. You can't ignore a note from an exec who is invested in the story and characters."
In five years, Netflix will be ... "The model for every network."
You know a pitch isn't going well when … "The exec takes a call from his spouse, makes a lunch reservation or changes their baby's diaper in the room. Or they look at you like they want to kill you for wasting their time."
The 42-year-old brain behind Jane is one of the most valued in CBS Studios' growing stable of writer-producers. Currently trying to crack the Charmed reboot still in development at The CW, Urman also has an aggressive slate of projects she's shepherding elsewhere for several of her Jane writers.
Most discussed series in our writers room "Every iteration of the Bachelor/Bachelorette."
Dream casting goal "Lin-Manuel Miranda. We need him on Jane the Virgin. Lin? Are you reading? We need you."
Most invaluable person in my career "My very first boss, Joanna Johnson. I had no experience and no knowledge about how TV rooms worked and she believed in me and mentored me. I will always be grateful."
With Shameless now anchoring fall for Showtime and Animal Kingdom re-upped for a third season at TNT, Wells, 62, is busier than ever. He's got a TNT pilot, a Netflix movie about the Panama Papers, and his Alicia Silverstone starrer American Woman will help launch the Paramount Network in 2018.
Dream casting goal "Paul Newman and Elizabeth Taylor. That isn't happening any more than the majority of the 'dream list' suggestions we get from network execs."
The Wolf, 70, of 2017 is a showrunner more focused than ever on diversifying his television offerings. He delved into anthologies with Law & Order True Crime, a clear prestige play starring Edie Falco. He also scored a straight-to-series order for an FBI drama at CBS. (But don't worry about his relationship with NBC, where he has five dramas — the network just ran out of room.)
Best thing I saw this year Super Bowl
Most invaluable person in my career Brandon Tartikoff