Want to Become a Showrunner? Take Notes From These 12 Power Players

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A showrunner is more than just a lead producer. A showrunner, well, runs the show. They’re often the creators or co-creators of a television project, and even more often serve as head writers. Showrunners outrank episodic directors and have creative and managerial control over a series—from the writers’ room to costume choices, from lighting to camera angles. Here are some of the most successful showrunners behind your prime-time favorites, as well as some up-and-comers you should know. Because, hey, you may be working with them one day. 

Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa
As the Chief Creative Officer of Archie Comics, Aguirre-Sacasa is in charge of the Archie universe that has taken over the small screen. He’s served as showrunner for both “Riverdale” and “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina,” both dark, coming-of-age shows centered on angsty teens. The playwright-turned-TV writer got his start in the industry in the writers’ rooms of  “Big Love” and “Glee.”

READ: How to Become a Showrunner

Kenya Barris
Barris is the creator and original showrunner of the critically acclaimed ABC comedy series “Black-ish” and its two spinoffs, “Grown-ish” and “Mixed-ish.” The “-ish” trio all centers on the Johnsons, an upper-middle-class Black family. The single-camera comedies confront hot-button issues of race, class, and culture, and put a fresh spin on parenting. Barris has added TV actor to his résumé with his new show, “#BlackAF,” a Netflix series about an affluent Black family and their experience in America. 

Greg Daniels
Daniels is best known as co-creator and showrunner of the American version of “The Office.” Before heading that much-loved series, Daniels worked as a comedy writer on shows including “Not Necessarily the News,” “Saturday Night Live,” and “The Simpsons.” The king of comedy television also co-created “King of the Hill” and “Parks and Recreation,” and he had two projects this year with Amazon Prime Video’s “Upload,” on which he serves as showrunner, and Netflix’s “Space Force,” a reunion with Steve Carell.

Liz Feldman
Feldman served as a writer on multiple seasons of the the multicamera daytime series “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” then created NBC sitcom “One Big Happy.” She also wrote on “2 Broke Girls” and continues to flex her funny bone as the creator and showrunner of dark Netflix comedy “Dead to Me.” Feldman’s work is distinctly female-centric; and while it wrestles with emotionally fraught topics, it’s always infused with humor. 

Courtney A. Kemp
Kemp’s star turn came with the creation of the Starz series “Power,” about a man who leaves behind his life as a drug dealer to become a successful businessman. The three-season crime drama, which was co-produced by Curtis Jackson (aka 50 Cent), is one of the Starz network’s highest-rated shows. Next in the franchise is “Power Book II: Ghost,” on which she’s showrunner. Before stepping into her own “Power,” Kemp cut her teeth in the writers’ rooms of “The Bernie Mac Show,” “Justice,” “Eli Stone,” and “The Good Wife.”

Damon Lindelof
Few Hollywood figures today are doing it like Lindelof. As the showrunner and creator behind one of the small screen’s most formative genre pieces (“Lost”), one of prestige television’s most excitedly beloved dramas (“The Leftovers”), and now 2020’s most decorated programs (“Watchmen”), the multihyphenate writer and producer has built a career off of pushing narrative boundaries in new and unexpected
—and at-times frustrating—ways. 

Ryan Murphy
Murphy splashed into the television industry as the co-creator of teen comedy-drama “Popular” in 1999. Next, he created and ran FX series “Nip/Tuck.” He has been the creative force behind a number of cultural television touchstones since, including “Glee,” “American Horror Story,” and “Pose.” No matter the genre, Murphy-led shows all share a cinematic feel, as well as highly stylized costumes and sets. His star-studded series have been harbingers of more diverse representation on TV, both onscreen and behind the camera.

Tyler Perry
Like many screenwriters, Perry got his start writing for the stage. Perry has created, written, directed, and starred in more than 40 movies and plays, including the popular “Medea” franchise. His comedies center on faith and family and have earned him spots on Forbes’ highest paid list throughout his career. The TV roster at Tyler Perry Studios currently has numerous projects created and written by Perry, including “The Have and the Have Nots,” “Ruthless,” “House of Payne,” and “Bruh.”

Shonda Rhimes
Rhimes is perhaps TV’s most successful female showrunner, with a résumé that boasts the long-running medical drama “Grey’s Anatomy” and its spinoffs, “Private Practice” and “Station 19.” Her showrunning credits also include the thriller “Scandal,” and her production company, Shondaland, has been the umbrella under which “How to Get Away With Murder,” “The Catch,” and “Off the Map,” among others, have been created. Rhimes’ TV empire champions women and people of color. Her next executive producing project, “Bridgerton,” starring Julie Andrews, is slated to kick off this year.

Tanya Saracho
Saracho is a playwright and TV writer who created “Vida” on Starz, a drama about two Mexican-American sisters living in Los Angeles. Saracho’s other writing credits include “Looking,” “Devious Maids,” “Girls,” and “How to Get Away With Murder.” Her work spotlights Latinx characters and creators behind the scenes—all three seasons of “Vida” featured Latinx directors and writers. Saracho recently inked an overall deal with Universal Content Productions, where she’ll create television projects and podcasts as well as lead an incubator initiative to support other Latinx voices.

Amy Sherman-Palladino
Sherman-Palladino was the creator and showrunner of the long-running “Gilmore Girls,” as well as “Bunheads.” Currently, she’s helming the award-winning “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.” Sherman-Palladino is a world-builder, creating settings that inspire fans’ devotion, from the fictional town of Stars Hollow to the pink-hued universe of Midge Maisel. Her shows are known for long master shots and rapid dialogue dotted with pop culture references. She and her husband, Daniel Palladino, who serves as co-showrunner on “Maisel,” have an overall deal with Amazon Studios.

Phoebe Waller-Bridge
Waller-Bridge is best known for BBC Three’s “Fleabag,” which she created, wrote, and starred on. Her first project, “Crashing,” showcased her wry humor as a writer and actor. While both of these shows are comedies set in London, her talent spans genres. She’s the creator and Season 1 showrunner of spy thriller “Killing Eve,” which has been renewed for a fourth season, and served as executive producer of HBO’s “Run.” Universal Pictures also tapped Waller-Bridge to assist on the script for the latest James Bond film, “No Time to Die.”

This story originally appeared in the Sept. 10 issue of Backstage Magazine. Subscribe here.

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