Translation Difficulties

So Joseph Mallozzi and Paul Mullie are no longer involved with the Transporter TV series.

I think that’s a shame. I’m a fan of all of the Stargate series, and their scripts have always been among my favourites.

Klaus Zimmermann, one of the producers on Transporter, credits Mallozzi and Mullie as having been showrunners and says in the article “In America, the rule is ‘One show, one showrunner.’ But that wasn’t the case for Transporter – it was a collective effort.”

Now, think about that for a moment, and you’ll see that it has to be incorrect. Unless somewhere along the line there’s a True Democracy involved in making the final decisions about productions, then someone, somewhere, has the power to say yes or no.

(Even if no-one’s officially in charge, at the end of the day there’s going to be a person on set or in the office, somewhere at the sharp end of production, who actually makes the final decision on what or what not to do.)

Which makes me think that the problem here may be one of translation. As mentioned in a previous blog post, the US definition of a showrunner is the person who makes all of the creative decisions.

But in the US, that person is almost always a writer, and specifically the lead writer on the show in question. Which can sometimes lead to people outside the US thinking that if you’re a lead writer you’re a showrunner, and vice versa.

So it seems to me entirely possible that Messrs Mallozzi and Mullie were told that they’d been hired to be showrunners – and then only later found out that they were actually lead writers.

Which does, then, beg the question: who’s actually running the show?

The nomenclature of showrunning

Over the last few years there’s been a growing call in the UK drama industry for a move to a US-style system, where the person in charge of a TV programme is also a writer. In this country I’m only aware of two shows that do this: Doctor Who and Holby City.

Unfortunately, this system is often incorrectly called the showrunner system.

Every show has a showrunner.

The showrunner is the person who makes the final decisions, creative and otherwise.

Sure, networks and studios give notes, and they can cancel the show or fire the showrunner if they don’t get implemented, but the person who who gets to make the final decision on what happens and what doesn’t – that’s the showrunner.

The UK has showrunners too. They’re mostly producers without a writing background, who came up through script editing and script development – the same as the US system used to be up until the 70s.

(It’s still possible in both the UK and US systems to have someone who’s in charge of all the writing of a show, without being in charge of the production. In this case, they’re usually referred to as the Lead Writer, but the person in overall charge of the production is the showrunner.)

Most showrunners in the US, however, were hired as writers first, and learned their producing trade over the years. There’s a career path in the US writers room system, from Staff Writer all the way up to showrunner, and the amount of producing duties involved grow as you work up the ladder.

I personally believe that having a writer-producer in charge is the way forward for television series. Now you can call that the writer-showrunner system, or the US system, but let’s not call that the showrunner system.

Because we already have showrunners.