A showrunner is responsible for the day-to-day operation of a television series and the right one can make or break the multi-million dollar investment in a television series. Traditionally, the showrunner can be the creator of a series or one of the co-creators of a series or a person with unique insight into the mechanics of an ongoing show. The job includes writing, editing, getting a season’s worth of plotting done, considering the notes of various network executives and a bajillion other things that fall under the umbrella of ‘damage control’. When adapting content from another medium, the choices a showrunner makes are the difference between success and failure, another season or cancellation. For a peek inside the heads of some of the best in the business, check out a documentary called Showrunners: The Art of Running a TV Show.
One of the people interviewed for the doc is Hart Hanson, who is a genius. He spun the Kathy Reichs novels about forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan into the Bones television series which is in its Tenth Season. Keeping the name and the profession, the rest of the Bones universe was created for the show. In taking what worked in the novels and discarding what did not, Hanson created something appealing to the television audience and he hit a home run. The television Temperance is a bit of a social misfit who has one job and one guy, an FBI agent, interested in her. It is a dynamic, a narrative construction that is part of what drives the show.
Rob Thomas is a genius, (but not appearing in the doc). He created Veronica Mars and Party Down and managed the Kickstarter-funded Veronica Mars movie. More recently, he adapted the iZombie comic-book series and his stripped down version of that little universe, also called iZombie, airs on The CW. In the comic, Gwen is dead and working as a gravedigger to satisfy her need for brains. Her best friends are a ghost and a were-terrier and her world is full of other creatures of the night. The television version has Olivia Moore undead and working in a coroner’s office and her story is a supernatural procedural. What Thomas did was to take something unfilmable and break it down into something that would work for on the small screen. By limiting the type of ‘monster’ featured in the central narrative, the show can drill down into the effects of a slow-rolling effects of a zombie apocalypse complete with a black market brains operation. It’s clever stuff.