Three of the protagonists of the global television scene have discussed the tasks and responsibilities of one of the key figures in serial production.
GIANMARIA TAMMARO – La Stampa
The showrunner is one of the most important roles of the new television. He is the one who chooses the stories, structures them, helps with the collaboration between the various departments, and who supervises all the work that is being done. He’s the keystone if you will. And the eye of the cyclone when an episode, a screenplay or even a whole series does not work.
At MIA (International Audio-visual Market) 2017, the role of the showrunner was analyzed in every respect: tasks, powers, responsibilities. To talk about it, three of the protagonists of these years’ serial productions: Chris Brancato (“Narcos”), Evan Katz (“24”) and Frank Spotnitz (“The Man in The High Castle”, “The Medici”).
The starting point was the importance for a showrunner to know how to work with his team. It’s not enough, the three speakers agree, to have a great story if you cannot put together all the energies and skills. “The role of the showrunner,” Brancato said, “has long been a purely American role.” Born, grown and fattened in the stars and stripes market. “The best part of this job,” said Katz, “is that you stand alone, it all depends on you. The worst, however, is that all responsibility, of success or failure is yours.”
A job for people with a strong and determined character, and with a precise idea. “When I came back to cinema,” said Spotnitz, “I realized I did not have the same power.” The showrunner, in fact, is a purely television role, developed over the years to meet a precise need: to tell stories, to do it continuously, with more episodes, concentrating efforts and successes.
With the internationalization of the television market, not only content but also professional figures like this have spread all over the world and in all productions. What is important to understand, Spotnitz pointed out, is that “to make a good series, the presence of the showrunner is not fundamental.”
Now that the production of TV series has reached its peak, one must also understand how this has affected the construction of the shows. “The challenge,” said Brancato, “is with technology. And with all this competition, many ideas are discarded. ” What we see, in short, is one of the best possible televisions. A television that is an offspring not only of traditional broadcasters, now in deep crisis and revolution, but also of cable channels that quickly set a place for themselves with the quality of their series and streaming platforms.
And the more competition increases, the more, to make a good product, the budget increases. The best way to raise it, here in Europe, is to look for different partners. Everything has its positive and negative sides. Public television has them, since it reaches a vast amount of audience all at once but also has quite significant editorial restrictions. And streaming platforms also have them, since, as Spotnitz said, they have “eliminated the conversations between people because they are scared of spoilers.” And then there are the fundamental differences in how a story is handled. And this too, to get back to the original point, is part of the showrunner’s tasks: a go-between, a captain and a key figure both on and off the set.
And what about Italy? “Rich in talent and quality,” according to Spotnitz. Things are starting to change here as well. If we think about the latest series produced, the figure of the showrunner has forcefully made its way to our sets too. But more than a general planner, in Italy, the showrunner is an editorial director, someone who looks at the whole picture. A point of reference, of course, but still not so emancipated as it is, for example, in the United States.