TV Showrunners: The Network Shapes the Show

Panel of TV "hitmakers" discuss creating series at HRTS luncheon series

A group of showrunners Wednesday shared their experiences creating hit series at The Hollywood Radio & Television Society's Newsmaker Luncheon Series "The Hitmakers" in Los Angeles, where the consensus was the network one's show airs on makes a big difference.

Moderator Peter Tolan, co-creator, executive producer, writer and director of FX's Rescue Me, asked the group about the differences working for a network with an established brand, versus one that's in flux, like NBC

"I don't think there's a writer here who wouldn't see NBC's woes as an opportunity," said Shane Brennan, whose shows NCIS and NCIS: Los Angeles, are on CBS. "Working for a very successful studio or network can be very limiting, because they want to stick with what's working."

Matt Nix, who has shows on two different networks - Burn Notice on USA and The Good Guys on Fox - said his relationship with each is mostly similar. "The big thing to manage is not talking to them about each other. I find myself in the position of a guy with two girlfriends - ‘it's all about you baby,'" he said jokingly.

In the same vein, Brennan compared having two shows produced by and aired on CBS to having two girlfriends in the same bedroom. "I'm in the great position of getting four sets of notes every time I send out one email," he noted sarcastically. "It's difficult to balance the demands of the studio and the network; I often get caught in the middle."

For a rebooted show like CBS' Hawaii Five-0, the difficulty is in adapting an old show for a modern audience. "It was about recognizing about what was relevant now and what wasn't," said writer/executive producer Roberto Orci. "Most of the audience remembers a phrase and a theme song," so it didn't handcuff them as much as a cult favorite could (Orci also executive produced the 2009 Star Trek film).

The group also talked about the advantages of getting involved in other aspects of their shows besides producing and writing, like directing, which four of the five panelists had done.

"There's a certain responsibility that comes with directing," said Nix, noting that it reminds one of what can actually be done in a week of shooting. "It can make you a better showrunner if you're intimately involved in details of production."

"Having been a former actor is a huge, huge help on the show," added Dan Schneider, showrunner for Nickelodeon's

iCarly and Victorious, who started his career in TV on the cast of ABC's Head of the Class. "I feel the need to give [the actors] words that work well and that flow well. And there's a level of trust from them because they know I used to do that."

And while no one admitted to being in the business for the awards, the topic of hardware, especially from the Television Academy and the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, struck a bitter note for some. Sons of Anarchy creator Kurt Sutter, who in the past has used some colorful language to talk about the Emmys when his show is continually snubbed in the nominations, said, "I can't let it impact what I do," conceding that a few months out of the year are more difficult than others. "We got a TCA nomination this year, and that had a lot more weight to me."