NBC Showrunners Talk 'Dud Scripts,' Emmy Snubs and Cable 'Envy'

"I would be lying if I said I wasn't disappointed and that [James Spader] isn't completely deserving of it," "The Blacklist's" John Eisendrath told reporters Sunday.
Jason Katims

"Comfortable shoes."

That's what Grimm's David Greenwalt suggested was the key to surviving as a showrunner in today's increasingly competitive marketplace. He was joined by those who share that opportunity and that burden — The Blacklist's John Eisendrath, Chicago Fire and Chicago P.D.'s Matt Olmstead and Parenthood and About a Boy's Jason Katims — as part of a Television Critics Association panel titled "Showrunners Confidential" on Sunday.

When pressed about the hardest part of the gig, Katims suggested it was the juggling of responsibilities that come with the job of showrunner. At any given time, he is touching six or seven different episodes in various forms, whether that entails him being in the writers room, writing a script or being in an editing bay. At the same time, he noted, that balancing act is also a draw to people like him.

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Olmstead says his biggest challenge is consistently delivering good stories. "When you get a dud script on a Friday afternoon from a new writer and you realize that your weekend just evaporated might be up there with the more challenging aspects of the job," he told those gathered in the Beverly Hilton ballroom. Greenwalt, too, suggested a particularly tough part of the gig is the need to consistently feed the beast.

What none of them listed was the crushing 22- to 24-episode schedule of broadcast, with Olmstead at one point claiming that he missed that frenzied pace when he was working in cable (on A&E's Breakout Kings). In making a case that surprised many in the room, he said he preferred having the "bigger canvas" that broadcast offers, as well as the longer time span with his writers to let the stories breathe. Eisendrath countered to chuckles: "Having never done a 12-episode season, I'm totally envious."

More surprising, the half-hour panel failed to delve into a discussion about cache — or at least the perception of cache — that cable often garners, with the men only briefly touching on the quality divide with regard to last week's Emmy nominations. Eisendrath was honest about his disappointment after The Blacklist's snubs, telling the room: "I would be lying if I said I wasn't disappointed and that [James Spader] isn't completely deserving of it. The reality is the competition is fierce ... And hopefully we're on long enough for people to reconsider the decisions they made this year."