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This is Rob Long with Martini Shot on KCRW.
One of the things that's happened recently, since the sharp drop in the number of scripted television shows on the air, is the corresponding shop rise in the number of television show runners who are hanging around unemployed, reading the complete newspaper and sitting in coffee shops with notebooks filled with pages that say "Pilot Idea: Person, workplace question mark question mark. Marriage conflict difficult. Family. City question mark question mark."
Will all of these show runners on the beach, available, the studios and networks are in a great position to do what they've always wanted to do: go show-runner shopping.
Not too long ago, the guy who wrote and ran the pilot was pretty much the guy you were stuck with for the series, unless the show became a giant sudden success and the star became a giant sudden lunatic. (These two things never happen separately, or in any other order.)
In which case, the grownups got together and figured out a way to solve the problem, which always pay the show runner a lot of money to go away, which he took, gratefully, because he was a grownup, too, and realized that, you know, life goes on, especially with that many zeroes on a check.
These days, if you're a studio or network and you don't like the guy running a show – or if you just want to trade up, or more cheaply, or whatever – you're not stuck. The labor market in guys who run television shows is pretty loose right now, so chances are there are a couple of them right now, at the Whole Foods or the Palisades Gelson's, just orbiting the business, waiting for reentry.
You just put the word out: we're looking to make a change. And the ripples go out through the various agencies in town, and agents start looking at their (long and getting longer) lists of expensive show-runner clients who aren't working and being matchmaking in their heads.
Sometimes, of course, the agent who represents the show-runner who is about to be replaced also represents a lot of show-runners who aren't working, and the result is a moral and ethical dilemma, or would be, if…well, you know.
A few weeks ago, a guy I know was replaced on a show he wrote and created. I ran into him at the new Whole Foods in Venice – with his days free, he had time to make little tours around LA – and he was philosophical about his firing . He told me that he understood what they were saying about him: he had a hard time with the management requirements of the job of show running, with maintaining an ordered and disciplined production process. He had a hard time, apparently, making a decision and sticking to it.
A few years ago, these would be trivial concerns. But in a more austere and financially nervous environment, overnight set construction, delayed post-production, and major rewriting starts to add up pretty fast. A good show runner in today's business needs to be tough and ruthless and on task at all times. Unwavering. Decisive.
"Just wasn't me," he said with a shrug. "I'm not that guy."
And right then, his little son came up to him, carrying one of those huge bars of expensive chocolate.
"Can we get this, Dad?" he asked.
"No," his father said.
"Please?" his son asked.
"Okay," his father said, tossing it into the cart.
"See?" he said to me. "I'm not a show runner."
So rather than have meetings in their offices or lunches in the studio commissary, maybe the guys who run the networks and studios should hang out in supermarkets. Pick their show runners there.
And that's it for this week. Next week, we're at sea. For KCRW, this is Rob Long with Martini Shot.