VOD film review: Showrunners: The Art of Running a TV Show
Ivan Radford | On 31, Oct 2014
“Some shows are a job… This is literally my life,” says Mike Royce, Showrunner for Men of a Certain Age. He’s one of many people who have let their lives be taken over by a TV series – and who have agreed to contribute to this intriguing documentary.
Television is the new cinema. So the saying goes. The quality – and budgets – of the two are certainly closer than ever, but there remains a difference between them: films are a visual medium, the realm of the director, but TV relies mostly on an ongoing narrative, the realm of the writer. In a world where shows are attracting bigger audiences and bigger talent, showrunners have risen to the fore of the medium: they are now held in a similar regard to cinema’s great auteurs. Des Doyle’s look at what exactly a showrunner does and how the industry is changing, then, is a timely, fascinating project.
The film mostly delivers on its promise – but that depends on what you think its promise is. For those who have never peeked past the camera to see the workings off-screen, Showrunners: The Art of Running a TV Show is an eye-opening glimpse of the behind-the-scenes chaos. For those who closely follow the writing room dramas of popular series, the film offers little new information, but does convey the personal dedication required to bring it all together.
“It’s draining. It’s awful,” quips workaholic Joss Whedon. “I miss it terribly.”
Doyle secures one-on-one time with an impressive array of writer/producers, from Royce and Whedon to Sons of Anarchy’s Kurt Sutter and The Shield’s Shawn Ryan. His movie’s greatest strength, though, is also its weakness.
Each person has an amusing one-liner to offer and a telling insight into their work. Jonathan Nolan (Person of Interest) likens the relentless, weekly routine to a controlled plane crash. Thanks to the nature of the industry, there’s even the tragedy of failed shows to contrast the excited thrill of producing a successful show. “It’s like giving away an appendage, because it’s a very useful form of communication,” says one of a show ending, while it’s hard not to sympathise with Ryan’s painful experience on the cancelled Terriers.
There are so many contributions, though, that the movie ends up with little narrative or depth to keep you engaged. Doyle races between his writers with a sharp sense of feeling but muddled focus, a lack of punch emphasised by the largely generic soundtrack. The runtime is a brief 90 minutes, but still lacks a tightness of presentation to grip those not already curious about the subject matter. These viewers will enjoy Whedon et al.’s insights, but will also benefit the least from the details divulged.
Television is the new cinema. So the saying goes. This light, likeable documentary’s existence confirms just how much TV has evolved in the modern age. But you suspect it needed a showrunner to do more.
Showrunners: The Art of Running a TV Show is available to watch online on Amazon Prime Video as part of a Prime membership or a £5.99 monthly subscription.