23 Top Showrunners on How They'd End 'Mad Men,' Utilize Cookie Lyon and Revive their Favorite Characters

Illustration by: Lars Leetaru

The brains behind TV's biggest shows tackle Hollywood's hot-button topics with funny, revealing and sometimes prickly observations about life behind the camera.

This story first appeared in the May 22 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

If these top showrunners were running their networks instead of their shows, what would their first move be? And how about if it were these guys (and gals) who got a shot at writing the finale episode of Mad Men as opposed to creator Matthew Weiner? We asked these and many more questions of the masterminds behind such hits as Scandal, Empire, Modern Family, Arrow and more in THR's third annual showrunner survey. Below are a collection of their honest, comical and, at times, biting responses.  

Live tweeting is ...

GOLDBERG An amazing way to engage with the fans.

GORDON Something I've been told I should do.

KITSIS A great way to remind yourself you're not as cool as you thought you were.

NOWALK Fun until you come across a comment, or 50, that make it clear the audience hates something you wrote months ago and have no way to fix. That's when I drink.

RIDLEY Not something that should be done live.

LLOYD Ingenious, Twitter being the chief modern-day manner by which people persuade themselves that they matter. Their every thought and feeling is essential reading to thousands of followers (sometimes live!), with no accounting for how many people actually consume these precious notings. Twenty years ago there wasn't a comedy writer alive who wasn't consumed by Larry King's USA Today column wherein he rewrote the record book for banal musings; it was glorious because it was so excruciatingly self-involved. Now half those writers have Twitter accounts. (In a too predictable footnote, Larry King recently opened his own account. Last week he let it be known that he has literally never been on a roller coaster.)

HARMON Like most things, dumb now that the grown- ups are doing it.

The one idea I'm still mad the network won't let me do is ...

BARRIS Police brutality.

SOLOWAY Send stuff free the next day.

NOXON My musical version of The Black Dahlia.

URMAN I don't know about "mad," but I'm bummed I couldn't do a whimsical little incest story.

HARMON Well, you know. My show and stuff.

If I could steal a character from any TV series currently on the air for my show, I’d take …

CUSE Dinesh and Gilfoyle from Silicon Valley. Put 'em in The Strain, throw a couple of vampires at them. No matter what happens, it's awesome.

SOLOWAY Brian Williams.

HOROWITZ Saul Goodman/Jimmy McGill from Better Call Saul. I think he'd do an excellent job hammering out all the complexities of Rumpelstiltskin's deals — and after dealing with Tuco, he certainly wouldn't be intimidated.

KHAN Abbi and Ilana from Broad City. They would have a bad drug trip, go back in time and find themselves as twin sisters in the Huang family. The actual story once they were there would be to convince Jessica to let them get bunk beds.

BERLANTI Easy one: Daredevil. DC-Marvel mashup!

MOORE Peter Campbell from Mad Men. Watching him getting lost in 18th century Scotland would be great.

My cure for writer's block is ...

GORDON Denial.

MOORE A paycheck.

PLEC A deadline. I'm a co-dependent people pleaser.

RHIMES My cure for almost anything is sleeping.


MESSER Repeats of 30 Rock.

BERLANTI Hot yoga and going to see a (good) movie.

WEINER A 20-minute nap. Anywhere.

LLOYD Vigorous sweating, or drinking, or sex, or crying; as with any complicated engine, maintenance of proper fluid levels seems to be essential.

The three showrunners I would invite to a dinner party ...

Reiner, Kaling, Lear, Fey and Rhimes.

SOLOWAY Norman Lear and two empty chairs to put our feet up.

HARMON Shonda, Mindy and Tina. And we'd be way into the dinner before I realized I picked three women because #NotSexist.

NOXON Shonda Rhimes, Jenji Kohan and Michelle Obama (she runs the show, don't you think?).

CUSE John Wirth, Shawn Ryan and Damon Lindelof. We all worked on Nash Bridges together, and we'd relive the episode co-written by Hunter S. Thompson.

NOWALK Susan Harris, Norman Lear, Russell T. Davies. I'd hide in the kitchen pretending to prepare food while eavesdropping and taking notes.

GOULD First up: Rod Serling. I know, I know. He's no longer with us, but come on — Twilight Zone and Planet of the Apes? He's gotta be there. To Serling's left, Norman Lear — nobody's had as many shows and as many indispensable shows as this man. And finally, Carl Reiner, simply because he's a national treasure.

If Cookie of Empire were on my show, she would ...

KITSIS Have one helluva girl's night with the Evil Queen and Maleficent.

SOLOWAY Sing a Gotye cover.

GOLDBERG Spend the afternoon bedazzling her fur coats with Beverly and trying to convince my mom that Big Tasty can succeed as a rapper.

KHAN Well, it would be 1995, so she would try to turn the Huang boys into Kris Kross-style rappers, then bail on that and try to roll Louis in the parking lot of Cattleman's Ranch. I would love to see Cookie and Jessica get into an epic, hold-my-earrings-type brawl.


I wish agents would stop ...

RIDLEY Not calling me.

SOLOWAY Referring to making a bunch of calls in a row as "rolling" calls. We all make a lot of calls. You don't need a special word for it.

WEINER Pairing writers with former executives.

GOLDBERG Sending me a towering stack of spec scripts. How about two? Can I just read two super good scripts?

HARMON Being so adorable! (Nice try, THR. Nice try.)

LAWRENCE I have nothing to add. You already finished this one.


If I could write the finale of Mad Men, it would end by ...

KITSIS Cutting to present day. Having been abandoned by his children and his ex-wives, Don is a lonely old man now. But he's trying to fix that. We find him in a booth in a bar in Brooklyn waiting to meet a granddaughter from a love child he never knew he had with Rachel Menken. In walks Ilana Glazer. And we realize that Mad Men has actually all along been a prequel to Broad City.

SOLOWAY The patriarchy toppling.

GOLDBERG Don changes his name again, this time to Darrin Stephens, and he joins the ad firm of McMann and Tate. Then he marries a lovely witch named Samantha, and they live magically ever after.

KHAN Revealing that Sally Draper pulled a Dick Whitman, reinvented her identity and grew up to be Hillary Clinton. I know the timeline might not work for that, but just go with me on this.

HARMON The arrival of Atari. I would've started there, too. And called it Pac Men. Wait, I think I just pitched The Goldbergs.

GOULD It would never end.

The thing I wish someone had told me about being a showrunner when I started was ...

BARRIS You will gather more enemies than friends.

NOXON It's like childbirth. You'll forget the pain and want to do it again. Even if the last one was a flipper baby.

NOWALK Don't read recaps. Except Shonda did tell me that, I just didn't listen.

MESSER Turns out 24 hours in a day is non-negotiable.

HARMON Nobody cares. Literally nobody cares. You're a cog in a global propaganda machine.

CUSE You'll have to fill out lots of surveys from THR that'll be accompanied by microscopic pictures of you.

Additional reporting by Kate Stanhope and Lesley Goldberg.