I learned a really important lesson about show-runners and control today, and I’m going to take some time out of frenzied procrastination to share it with the internet.
A show-runner is the person who has the most creative control over a television show. They’re subject to the whims decisions of the network, of course, but they are the undisputed kings (and queens) of the writer’s room. Show-runners aren’t always present in the writer’s room, because they’re often dealing with network stuff, but when they’re there, you listen.
Part of the reason why you listen isn’t because they have a fancy title like “show-runner.” It’s because they have the experience and talent to back up their title. They didn’t wake up one day and say “I’m going to be the show-runner.” They worked at it. They put in their dues and they proved that they had the skill to back up the control. So it’s not a power-play (though with some show-runners it might be). It’s a job, and it’s given to people who can do it, so that people like me can learn.
Lee is like our show-runner. We pitched ideas for episodes today, and everyone gave their input, but Lee’s suggestion influenced our final decisions. I’m sure that if one of us felt strongly about writing a different episode he would have respected that wish (because this isn’t an actual television show), but all of us accepted our assignments with a smile and a nod and a quickly moving pen.
An example: the class was pretty much evenly split between two of my ideas. Some of them liked my personal favorite idea, about a gallery owner who is framed with some paintings that had been stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. Leverage is set in Boston, and the Gardner Museum heist is the most famous art heist in Boston history (and one of the most famous heists in the world). The show hadn’t touched on the Gardner heist, and Leverage episodes are usually about one of three things: a corrupt politician, a mobster, or stolen art. Jack, my other teacher, was a fan of this episode as well.
The rest were into my second favorite idea–an episode about an amusement park that was being used to launder money for the mob (see? Mobsters!). Lee enjoyed the idea of a mob using something other than a casino to clean their money. Lee loved this idea, so I’m writing this episode.
(Thankfully no one really responded to the throw-away idea, that of a dog racing track and a corrupt politician. In the end, we took pieces from each of my episode ideas–a corrupt politician from the dog track, the mobsters from the amusement park, and a returning nemesis from The Isabella Job–and reworked the amusement park idea just a little.)
Would I rather write The Isabella Job? Yeah, but not because it would be a finely-crafted TV episode. I’d rather write about the Gardner heist because I love the heist, I love Vermeer (one of his paintings was stolen, and it’s thought to be the most valuable stolen painting ever), and, you know what, I really loved the idea of an episode called “The Isabella Job.”
But Lee was the one who said “this idea has been done before, not in Leverage, but in everything else.” Lee was my outside perspective that said “this episode is better.” The “write the carnie one” was implied, but never stated. Honestly, it took a genius like Lee to help me see that.