How to Go From Writer to Showrunner, According to ‘Apples Never Fall’ EP Melanie Marnich

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Photo Source: Vince Valitutti/Peacock

After writer-producer Melanie Marnich came off a very fortunate (though tiring) streak of consecutive work, she told her agent that she’d like to take a breather. “Three days later, [my rep] called and said, ‘You’re done resting. I have your next project,’ ” she remembers with a laugh. 

That project was “Apples Never Fall,” Peacock’s star-studded limited series that’s both a whodunit about a mother (Annette Bening) gone missing and a case study in family dysfunction. Based on the 2021 novel by Liane Moriarty (of “Big Little Lies” and “Nine Perfect Strangers” fame), the show sits squarely in Marnich’s sweet spot. She’s previously written for and executive produced similarly scintillating series like Showtime’s “The Affair,” Netflix’s “The OA,” and, most recently, FX on Hulu’s “A Murder at the End of the World.”  

RELATED: How to Pitch Your First TV Show 

However, she’d never been the creator and showrunner of a series all the way through production. From a genre standpoint, “Apples Never Fall” was an ideal fit for her, and it arrived at a point in her career when she felt equipped to handle additional responsibilities. But she admits that “nothing quite prepares you for the deluge of work. You’re rewriting scripts, you’re giving notes, you’re hiring people, you’re finding the aesthetics of the production, and you’re figuring out the coffee cups a family would have!” 

Summing up the major differences between writing and showrunning, Marnich quips, “It’s sleep versus no sleep.” Then, she seriously considers the question. “You’ve been a writer, you’ve been an artist in the room, and you’ve engaged with shows and material on that level. But suddenly when you’re the showrunner, you’re both artist and management.”

She adds that one indisputable benefit of being the boss is getting to staff her writers’ room with folks she’s known and come up with, as well as new talent. And though there’s no guaranteed way to get noticed as a writer, Marnich stresses the importance of individuality; just take a look at her own trajectory. 

Apples Never Fall

Credit: Jasin Boland/Peacock

In her pre-television days, when she was primarily working as a playwright, she wrote a piece that wasn’t commissioned by any theater or producer; it  also didn’t follow any current trends. “I wrote something that was so about what I was dealing with at that point in my life,” she remembers. “It got produced, and it was also the thing that got me into TV and got me several of my first jobs in TV. 

“As writers, of course we have to be aware of the market,” she says. “But if you find that thing that is so uniquely you, that is so valuable—because, as a showrunner, I read that and go, When that person is in my room, what they bring is different from everybody else.” 

In addition to having a specific worldview and storytelling style, the key for small-screen writers of any level is to have a deep understanding of the medium. The best way to master TV writing is to do it—and then do it again and again and again. 

Even Marnich, who has years of prestige credits under her belt, had never before put in the kind of work she did on “Apples Never Fall.” She describes the process as “relentlessly rigorous”: managing dual timelines, balancing an ensemble cast, and building a narrative that advanced the plot while also sprinkling in clues.

“The question for me was, how do I recreate a novel’s page-turner energy for TV?” she says. “It’s the quest for every show: How do we keep this moving? I used to think you end a scene by landing on two feet, but what you actually want to do is hop out on one foot. You want to end on questions and not answers. That makes a piece vibrate.”

This story originally appeared in the June 20 issue of Backstage Magazine.

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