The Top 50 Showrunners

2012-35 FEA Showrunners Awkward H

Ashley Rickards in "Awkward."

Lauren Iungerich, creator of "Awkward" (MTV), recalls the day she learned her show was picked up for series. "I could not longer be just an 'artist' anymore."

When I got word that Awkward was being picked up to series, my first reaction was to cry. Throughout my career, everyone has always said, "There is no crying in show business." It's a sign of weakness. If you have to cry, do it in private. In your car. In the shower. Anywhere but out in the open. Yet I cry. All. The. Time. Sometimes I cry just talking about crying. I'm not even kidding. And I would contend that my lack of "fear to tear" is my greatest strength -- not a weakness. As I look back at my trail of tears, I've come to appreciate that the tears I've shed have become the touchstones -- or watermarks, if you will -- of my journey as a newbie showrunner.

First there were the tears of dread realizing that I could no longer just be an "artist" anymore. I had to be a producer, financially responsible to my network and the people who trust me with their livelihoods. Despite my lack of politics, I've had to become the mayor of my show village. Because any good showrunner knows that it takes a village to make a great show. Thankfully, my village carries a constant supply of Kleenex. Because they care deeply about me and through my raw displays of emotion, they know I care deeply about them. In my leadership position, I've learned that I have to make tough decisions that affect great people. It sucks to no longer be part of the contingent that complains about the boss. Now I am the boss who people complain about. Or the weirdo that complains about myself. Fact -- I've done it. And it usually involves a tear or two.

My display of waterworks also involves the making and breaking of story. Sometimes the tears are of laughter when hearing a funny idea, or of heartache explaining a moment that hits close to home, or realizing the words on the page aren't working and I have to rewrite them. Again. And again. Or watching a performance on set that is so hysterical or moving that a round of applause will not suffice to show appreciation. Rather, it can only be expressed via a mascara-moving mass of messiness on one's face.

Finally come the tears of gratitude. Those are the best to share. And they don't just come when seeing great ratings or reading a once-in-a-lifetime New York Times review. They come from realizing that I am living my dream and that by doing so, I've enabled other people to live theirs. With that thought, I find myself once again crying. I have the best job in the business, and I don't really care if anyone calls me a "crybaby." I am.



Bruce Helford
Anger Management (FX)

Age: 60. The Show That Inspired Me to Write: Buffalo Bill. My sensibility is kind of edgy, and at that time, that was an outrageously edgy show. My Big Break: Family Ties. My Proudest Accomplishment This Year: Selling Anger Management to FX with only a pitch and no script. My Toughest Scene to Write: The opening of the pilot. There were so many characters to introduce, and I wanted to make sure that we were fleshed out to the extent that the audience would have an idea of what was to come with them. The Most Absurd Note I've Ever Gotten: I had a script in the early 1990s with an 11-year-old girl who was showing signs of being gay. The note from the network said: "Couldn't she have someone influence her to be gay? Being gay is not genetic." It was horrifying. I said: "I would like to publish this in The New York Times. Do you have a problem with that?" They removed the note. If Wish I Could Delegate: The social schmoozing. I'm not comfortable in crowds. I'd rather have someone delegated to be a surrogate schmoozer. How I Break Through Writer's Block: I just keep writing until it stops being crap. The Credit I Wish I Could Scrub From My ResumeA comedy called Someone Like Me that I did for NBC and Disney. It was awful. The Show I'm Embarrassed to Admit I Watch: Say Yes to the Dress on TLC. I get all caught up in the emotions of the bride. It's kind of fun.

Bruno Heller
The Mentalist (CBS)

Age: 52. The Show That Inspired Me to Write: The BBC series Boys From the Blackstuff by Alan Bleasdale. My TV Mentor: Warner Bros.' Peter Roth. He has the best ears for a pitch out of anyone in Los Angeles. If you can sell what you are selling to Peter, you can sell it to anyone. The Funniest Note I've Ever Gotten: From Roth: "You said it was a romantic comedy, but it wasn't romantic and it wasn't comic." I'd Rather Delegate: Firing people. How I Break Through Writer's Block: Network TV deadlines. The Show I'm Embarrassed to Admit I Watch: A&E's Storage Wars. It is the nearest thing to the relaxing experience of fishing in an empty river that television can provide.

Adam Horowitz & Edward Kitsis
Once Upon a Time (ABC)

Ages: 40, 41. Twitter Handle: @AdamHorowitzLA. The Show That Inspired Me to Write: Kitsis: Northern Exposure. I loved the way it was able to have episodes where somebody found a woolly mammoth. Horowitz: L.A. Law. The characters were so amazingly drawn, and the stories went all over the place. And the original Star TrekOUR BIG BREAK Kitsis: The first thing we wrote together was a sketch show for the local Fox channel in Madison, Wis., called Hot Tonight. It was produced by a dentist … we'd have meetings in his conference room and he'd run in -- in full dental gear -- pull his mask down and be like: "I got a sponsor. I need 20 minutes of content!" Our TV Mentors: Horowitz: Andrew Schneider and Diane Frolov from Northern Exposure. They also hired us on the remake of Fantasy Island that aired on ABC during the 1998-99 season. Kitsis: Ryan Murphy. We did two years on his show Popular, and from there we went to Carlton Cuse, J.J. Abrams and Damon Lindelof on Lost. They really showed us how to be showrunners. When we wrote the pilot for Once, we realized that it was a weird mixture of influences from Ryan, Damon, Carlton and J.J. Certain characters on our show are very Ryan, and others are very Damon. The Most Absurd Note We've Eger Gotten Horowitz: "Go ahead and make the show." Kitsis: We added an eighth dwarf to the seven dwarves on Once and killed him. His original name was Sneaky. We were told that seemed derogatory, so we changed it to Stealthy. They were OK with us adding an eighth dwarf and killing the eighth dwarf, but they weren't OK with his name being Sneaky? The Three Things We Need in Order to Write: Kitsis: Nicorette, iced coffee and the couch in Adam's office. Horowitz: A nice bottle of water, Led Zeppelin IV and, I guess, Eddie on the couch.

Armando Iannucci
Veep (HBO)

Age: 48. The Show That Inspired Me to Write: Monty Python's Flying Circus. It was, and still is, the most conclusive proof that comic writing can take you anywhere. My Big Break: Writing with Chris Morris and Steve Coogan our own radio show, On the Hour, which became a BBC TV show, The Day TodayMY TV Mentor: John Lloyd is a great British TV comedy producer, having done Spitting ImageThe Black Adder with Rowan Atkinson and many, many other seminal shows. My Proudest Accomplishment This Year: Getting Veep made with HBO exactly the way I wanted and the first season recognized with Emmy nominations. The Most Absurd Note I've Ever Gotten: I did a pilot for the BBC, and BBC2 said, "We love it, but maybe it's more BBC3." I took it to BBC3, which said, "It's hysterical, but maybe it's more BBC4." And BBC4 then said, "This is great but would be better for BBC2." It never got picked up. I'd Rather Delegate: Typing, especially on an iPad. I need someone with much thinner fingers to come and work for me. How I Break Through Writer's Block: Get another writer in the room or on the phone -- always, always works. If I Could Add Any Writer to My Staff, It Would Be: Woody Allen. I'd like to see his gossip pieces and his opinions on Hollywood real estate. The Show I'm Embarrassed to Admit I Watch: Help, My Sister's a Pope! The Three Things I Need in Order to Write: A deadline, an actual deadline and then the real deadline.

Al Jean
The Simpsons (Fox)

Age: 51. The Shows That Inspired Me to Write: Mary Tyler Moore, Barney Miller and Taxi. I still can't believe I've worked with some of the people who wrote them. My TV Mentors: Bob Bendetson on ALF and Sam Simon on The Simpsons taught me how to do the job I do. My Toughest Script This Year: When Lady Gaga came to Springfield. My Proudest Accomplishment This Year: Working on the short, silent Simpsons film The Longest Daycare, which was shown in theaters before Ice Age: Continental Drift. Someday I hope to write a two-reeler. The Best Note I've Ever Gotten: A film exec, a while ago, told me that if you take a comedy and remove all the humor, what is left should still be funny. If Wish I Could Delegate: Making budget cuts in personnel. I can't imagine that any showrunner enjoys that. How I Break Through Writer's Block: I never stop thinking about The Simpsons. I don't feel any relief until we've cracked all the stories for the year; then we're right back at it again. If I Could Add Any Writer to My Staff, It Would Be:I'd like to get Conan O'Brien back. His office is waiting.

Emily Kapnek
Suburgatory (ABC)

Age: 40. Twitter Handle: @emilykapnek The Show That Inspired Me to Write: Saturday Night Live. I grew up watching, and it blew my little mind. My Big Break: My first major writing job was my own animated series for Nickelodeon called As Told by Ginger. Believe it or not, I wrote the pilot script for a contest that Nickelodeon/Klasky Csupo held. It came in first place, and we wound up doing 60 episodes. My Proudest Accomplishment This Year: Creatively, the season-two pickup was amazing. I've always known not to count chickens before they hatch, but when they hatch, it's pretty exciting. My Toughest Scene to Write: The opening of the season-two premiere. We had a cliffhanger at the end of season one, then because of our late premiere date, we needed to jump ahead. It was tricky. If Wish I Could Delegate: Having to administer a stern talking-to. If someone is doing something wrong, I prefer they magically stop. How I Beat Writer's Block: I take my writer's block out to a movie. Maybe lunch. Sometimes I'll take it to Anthropologie to look at home furnishings. If I Could Add Any Writer to My Staff, It Would Be:Charlie Kaufman. The Show I'm Embarrassed to Admit I Watch: Love & Hip Hop Atlanta. My husband and I are also obsessed with the Real World challengesThe Three Things I Need in Order to Write: I don't really need anything … but I sincerely appreciate a Diet Pepsi Wild Cherry on the rocks.

Jason Katims
Parenthood (NBC)

Age: 51. The Shows That Inspired Me To Write: M*A*S*H, Mary Tyler Moore, Taxi, The Odd CoupleMy Big Break: My So-Called Life. I was a story editor and worked with Winnie Holzman, Ed Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz. It was like my graduate school. My Proudest Accomplishment This Year: We are into the fourth season of Parenthood, and it's my favorite season so far. We're still growing creatively, and everybody is so energized. That's what I'm most proud of. My Toughest Scenes to Write This Year: Kristina [Monica Potter] getting breast cancer is very personal. My wife went through it a couple of years ago. And Monica, knowing nothing about that, e-mailed me and said, "I think this might be an interesting story to explore for Kristina." It was amazing that we both came to that separately. The Most Absurd Note I've Ever Gotten: On Roswell, a show very much about aliens, the person who was the head of the network at the time gave a note to me that said, "Aliens, aliens, aliens." If I Could Add Any Writer to My Staff, It Would Be:Winnie Holzman. She's so inventive and incredible with characters. The Show I'm Embarrassed to Admit I Watch: Cupcake Wars with my 11-year-old daughter. Also, as a family, we love American IdolIf I Could Scrub One Credit From My Resume, It Would Be: NBC's remake of The Bionic Woman. That didn't go very well.

Michael Patrick King
2 Broke Girls (CBS)

Age: 58. The Show That Inspired Me to Write: Mary Tyler MooreMy Big Break: Joining the staff of Murphy BrownMy TV Mentor: Diane English is still the most shining example of a showrunner I've yet to experience. My Proudest Accomplishment This Year: Putting a show on the air in a traditional sitcom format that has a contemporary edge. The Most Absurd Note I've Ever Gotten: "Fourteen uses of the word 'vagina' is too many in one script." To which I replied: "How many is acceptable?" "Six." I'd Rather Delegate: Looking at the ratings the morning after. If I Could Add Any Writer to My Staff, It Would Be: Jesus Christ because in some late-night rewrites, you need a miracle. The Show I'm Embarrassed to Admit I Watch: Anything with a housewife who writes her own dialogue. The Three Things I Need in Order to Write: Time, tea and tuna sandwiches. If I Could Scrub One Credit From My Resume, It Would Be: None. The bad shows make you better.

Aaron Korsh
Suits (USA)

Age: 45. TWITTER HANDLE @akorsh9 The Shows That Inspired Me To Write: M*A*S*HL.A. LawHill Street BluesCheersHappy DaysBarney Miller. But I didn't realize I wanted to be a TV writer until two of my college friends became writers. My Big Break: My first freelance script was for Everybody Loves Raymond. I was a writer's assistant, and they let me pitch and write an episode. My TV Mentor: Raymond creator Phil Rosenthal. The Weirdest Feedback I've Ever Gotten From a Network: When we were shooting the Suits pilot, there was a question about whether we could show Mike [Patrick J. Adams] smoking pot. The network did testing and discovered that slightly fewer people liked it when we showed him smoking pot than when we didn't. But the people who did like it thought the show was smarter, which I thought was interesting and odd. The network decided to go with appealing to more viewers. I would've gone the other way. I'd Rather Delegate: Casting and time spent in postproduction. But I really care about those things, and it affects the show, so I find it difficult to spend less time on that stuff. How I Break Through Writer's Block: Write, sleep, write, sleep. If I Could Add Any Writer to My Staff, It Would Be: Aaron Sorkin and David Milch. I have no idea how they'd act on a staff. Probably not wonderfully -- they'd be answering to me, and that'd be weird -- but I would love to work with them.

Peter Lenkov
Hawaii Five-0 (CBS)

Age: 46. The Show That Made Me Want to Write: Magnum, P.I. The episode "Did You See the Sunrise?" written by Don Bellisario turned on the light bulb. My Big Break: Selling a spec feature called Demolition Man to Warner Bros. My TV Mentors: Larry Hertzog, Joel Surnow, Pam Veasey -- many amazing folks who've influenced me over the years. My Proudest Accomplishment This Year: Workwise, getting a season-three pickup; personally, potty-training my 3-year-old. My Toughest Scene to Write This Year: McGarrett [Alex O'Loughlin] sitting down with his mom and asking her why she faked her own murder 20 years ago. The Most Absurd Note I've Ever Gotten: Ask me when I'm retired. I'd Rather Delegate: Where to hold the wrap party. The Show I'm Embarrassed to Admit I Watch: The Real Housewives of Orange CountyHow I Break Through Writer's Block: I look at a mortgage statement. The Three Things I Need in Order to Write: Coffee, Final Draft and a smile from my wife. If I Could Scrub One Credit From My Resume, It Would Be: Just one?

Steve Levitan & Christopher Lloyd
Modern Family (ABC)

Ages: 50, 52. Twitter Handle: @stevelevitan. The Show That Inspired Me to Write: Lloyd: Cheers. Deeply funny with warm, affecting characters. Watching it made me feel like a kid watching a magic trick for the first time and desperately wanting to know how it was done. My Big Break The Golden GirlsMy TV Mentor: My father, David Lloyd, a veteran comedy writer who was smart and funny -- in that order -- and taught me that good shows can be those things too. My Proudest Accomplishment This Year: Resisting the urge to write to the pajama-wearing, Mom's- basement-dwelling online critic who found it "bizarre" and "another sad sign of the show's decline" that Cam and Mitchell didn't appear in an episode until after the first commercial break. My Toughest Scene to Write This Year: A story about a child confronting the death of a friend [when Luke Dunphy (Nolan Gould) loses his elderly neighbor Walt] in a way that wasn't preachy or special but funny, small and real. The Most Absurd Note I've Ever Gotten: Having worked for a year at the death-to-funny-things Fox network, space restrictions do not permit a full accounting here. I'd Rather Delegate: Extras casting and award shows. How I Break Through Writer's Block: I go for a run or get angry. Usually both. The Show I'm Embarrassed to Admit I Watch: Los Angeles Clippers games. I watch every minute of all of them. The Three Things I Need in Order to Write: Some gum, a window and a grudge.