As The Walking Dead comes to the end of its third series and the fourth (and probably last on its current US network) season on Community is currently airing in America, it’s becoming clear that the role of the ‘showrunner’ in America is becoming more and more important.
This mysterious role has only really come to prominence in the last decade or so, but their importance to the overall project cannot be overstated, as they decide the entire creative direction of the show. From the character arcs down to the look of the show and even the soundtrack, this is all down to the word of the showrunner.
The Walking Dead has become as famous for changing showrunners as it has for breaking records with its viewer numbers, with the show entering its fourth season with its third different name at the head of the production.
While writers of the show are still incredibly important, but especially in America, it’s the showrunner that keeps the whole ship together and going in the right direction. Or, if in the wrong hands, a bad one. They hire and fire the writers and actors, have massive says in the scripts and editing and can even overrule everyone else on the show and take full control.
While we don’t know what the new change will do to the show, but it’s clear the impact that Glen Mazzara made when he took over the role halfway through the second series. The show was horribly flagging, with overly long storylines and characters that just seemed to be walking in circles. Mazzara turned the ship around though, bringing back the tension and taught atmosphere that first made the show a hit in the first place.
It’s not the only show demonstrating what an impact a change of showrunner can have, with Community having just undergone the same process and is currently bearing the scars for it. Dan Harmon was not only the creator of the show, but he was also the heart of the operation. Harmon was notoriously intrusive to his other creative staff, getting his hands dirty with every aspect of the show. It really did show though, as Harmon’s vision for Community became clearer and clearer throughout the lifespan of the show.
Since he was forced off the show by NBC, Community’s not quite been the same. While this fourth series has not been terrible by any stretch of the imagination, it’s not quite had the same mad cap genius that defined the show before, with this new series feeling closer in tone to the unsure and slightly stuttering first series of the show rather than its brilliant second and third.
The fan uproar that surrounded the firing of Dan Harmon is another example of how public a position it has become. That he was also the show’s creator and was still unceremoniously dumped by the network just made their contempt all the more vitriolic. That they didn’t internally promote someone and brought on two outsiders has made the situation all the worse, with the show almost feeling like it’s starting again from scratch.
The torch may pass from hand to hand over a show’s lifetime but making sure that the right person takes control is crucial. A bad choice, and the show can radically change tack in a way that throws the shows set of fans feeling betrayed and disappointed.
With many (including ourselves) declaring this as a new golden age for television with competition being to the levels where tooth and nail might not even cut it, the role of the showrunner has become more important than ever before.