How to be a good showrunner

One of the most knowledgeable writers on the web hits one out of the park…again.

We thought we had a showrunner pun when we uploaded this pic, but now we can’t remember what it was. Yikes!

by Ken Levine

Here’s a Friday Question that became an entire post.  I know the WGA has seminars on this and some colleges offer courses in this, but the following points are pretty much everything you need to know.   (Reminder: Whenever I can’t think of an appropriate picture I always post Natalie Wood photos.)

The question is from Brian Hennessy.

Hey Ken – can I ask you what are mistakes that first time showrunners make?

1. Not communicating with your staff. It’s not enough to have your vision for the show; you need to clearly share it with your other writers. Don’t just assume. It’ll be hard enough for them without trying to figure out what’s in your head. Same is true with your editor and directors.

2. Be very organized. Time will go by much faster than you think. From day one lay out a plan. You want so many outlines by this date, so many first drafts by that date, etc.

3. Don’t squander that period before production begins. It’s easy to knock off early or move meetings back. But this is golden time before the crunch when actors arrive, cameras roll, and a thousand additional details require your attention.

4. Accept the fact that the first draft of the first script you receive from every staff member will look like a script from the last show they were on. It will take them time to adapt to your show.

5. Remember that every writer is not a “five-tool player” as they say in baseball. By that I mean, some may be strong at story but not jokes, or punch-up but not drafts. Not everybody is good at everything.  Consider that when putting together your staff.

6. Hire the best writers, not your best friends.

7. Hire at least one experienced writer. Otherwise, on top of everything else you’re doing, you’re re-inventing the wheel.

8. Don’t show favoritism to some writers over others. It destroys morale and no one loves a teacher’s pet.

9. Pick your fights with the network and studio. Don’t go to war over every little note. Antagonizing everyone all the time is a good way to ensure this will be your only showrunning gig. Yes, you’re an artist and you’re trying to protect your vision. And yes, a lot of the notes are moronic, but you have to hear them out. You have to consider them. You have to do the ones you can live with. The best way to get your way is to get them on your side.

10. Don’t overwork your staff. This goes back to being organized. There’s only so many times you can whip the same horse. Your people are dedicated to the show but not to the extent you are.

Read it all at Ken Levine’s great blog

Diana Black: Want to Capture & Hold TV Viewers? Write a Mystery!

by Diana Black

Have you played the ‘mystery’ board game “Clue” or the code breaking “Master Mind? What of the ‘super sleuth’ created by the novelist Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – Sherlock Holmes – now a franchise with movies, TV shows and video games. What about the plethora of other computer games and television programs all associated with… you guessed it – solving mysteries?

Focusing on ‘the little screen’ – television and more broadly, the web, which now ‘delivers’ across a diverse array of media platforms, writing in this genre ensures you’ll always have an audience eager for more IF your writing delivers an excruciatingly intense mystery and the screenplay itself, being a ‘page-turner’.

In this the mystery genre more than any other, the viewer must pay close attention if they’re to unravel the mystery and solve the puzzle. So what are we to consider if we’re to write mysteries? Well, apart from leading with a very strong ‘hook’, which is a given, there’s the following…

The ‘Physical Setting’ can be pleasant, ambivalent or malevolent – the environment is a character. A drama set in this landscape can be either ‘contained’ such as the British mini-series adaptation of Agatha Christie’s novel by Sarah Phelps, And Then There Were None, or ‘labyrinthine’ – in space, such as Sliders, or across time, such as Labyrinth.

Many characters are suspect, and all are unpredictable. Their modus operandi, singular or in combination,may include:

Lying
Cheating
Manipulating
Being naive
Murdering
Thieving
Tricking
Helping
And, of course, more.

There’s one character you would be wise to include, although they’re never really “in the frame,” the Viewer.

You want the Viewer paying attention and trying to solve the mystery just as if she or he were a character in the story. For viewers to invest their time and effort, either watching weekly or binging, they must be enticed to figure things out along with the other characters.

If you give the Viewer some special, privileged info, well, that’s gold designed to involve them so much that they will want to jump into the screen screaming, “No, you idiot, it’s…!”

The Plot – twisted, spiraling, or linear – must contain blind alleys and surprises. Clues can be real ‘breadcrumbs’ leading the way ‘out’, or ‘red herrings’ that lead nowhere or into dark places – not necessarily a physical place. ‘Dark places’ can include the mindset of the characters.

The stakes must be high so we’re forced to solve the mystery with challenges that on the surface seem inextricable but the real problem lies underneath. We can have multiple ‘solutions’ all of which except one of them ultimately fail…

For dialogue to be suspenseful, lace it with: innuendo, lies, truths, predictions, SUBTEXT, the withholding of information, and contradictions between characters.

Scene structure should have the Viewer coming in late, and forced to leave early. For a Pilot, the tension needs to escalate and end with a cliffhanger but within the series episodes… deliver on the set-ups you created in the Pilot, by paying- them off throughout the episodes.


Diana Black is an Australian actress and writer who frequently contributes to TVWriter™. (She used to contribute more frequently, but then she moved to Hawaii. Go figure.)

Diana Black: Compelling Characters Make a ‘Real’ World

by Diana Black

Lulu: “Honey, so sorry, can’t make it tonight… no, it’s not my, ‘I’m washing my hair’ night …I’m just busy… No, you’re wonderful but.…”

A great story idea, well-written script, skillful cast and crew with an intelligent director and showrunner at the helm – surely the recipe for a winning TV Series, but what ‘essential ingredient’ compels us to ‘tune in’ religiously?

Is it the hooks and plot twists, the lighting, sound, mis-en-scene? What makes the fantasy drama, Game of Thrones, now going into its 7th Season SOOO interesting and compelling to watch? And not only by adolescent nerds but by, for all practical purpose, everyone?

According to A.G. Walton – a contributor to Forbes, who in turn is commenting on the findings of Josue’ Cardona of “GeekTherapy.com”, it’s a range of elements that include the following attributes: intellectually challenging and multiple plots; unpredictable twists; an intricate and elaborate story world, and dramatic events that border on the visceral.

But what of character?

In this epic panoply of political manipulation; one which would be right up there with Rome under Caesar, it is according to Walton, the creation, destruction, and resurrection of archetypes. So what is an archetype and why, having been ‘done to death’ long before Shakespeare took up a quill, are they still so useful?

Aspiring TV and screenwriters may think long and hard before referencing them – the Queen, the Trickster, disgruntled Prince, foul-mouthed Washerwoman etc. But they work, precisely because they’re ‘character’ in a neat package.

We instantly ‘get’ them. They come into ‘our space’ with their over-night bag stuffed with accouterments that we instantly recognize – greedy, debauched, vile, manipulative, pure, sweet etc.

But is that all there is to the Game of Thrones characters? Are they merely just a bunch of one-dimensional archetypes? No – in our jaded world of hardened, cynical ‘little box watchers’– it requires more than that; as the revolving door of short-lived TV shows attest.

The secret to these guys is that they not only shamelessly embrace their archetypal nature, to the hilt, everyone one of them has a level of complexity that makes them seem real and as a result hated, feared, loved, reviled etc.

We’re left seriously wondering what word or deed they’re going to express next. ‘Warts and all’ they reflect us mere mortals – who will no doubt have to deal with the same, albeit modern-day equivalent conundrums, issues, and angst, tomorrow or next week, come Tuesday.

And the moral of my story here is….drum roll…invest like hell in your character/s if you expect your actors to lift them off the page.

The quickest, surest path to having those words and deeds appear perfectly natural and justified is for the writer, as well as the actor, to get under the skin of the character; to become that character, for better or worse.

The old adage still and will forever apply, “You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.”


Diana Black is an Australian actress and writer who frequently contributes to TVWriter™. (She used to contribute more frequently, but then she moved to Hawaii. Go figure.)

Diana Black: Characters in 3D

by Diana Black

“No man (or woman) is an island”. If we’re not relying on somebody in our day-to-day, we’re influenced by them – in admiration of them, jealous, shocked, outraged, repulsed, confused, sympathetic, empathic etc….

As creators of characters, why not use these universal human responses to ‘the other’ in your teleplay? Sounds like ‘a given’ BUT… do we want to be that deliberately formulaic in our ‘what if’/ brainstorming session? It stifles creativity, doesn’t it?

We need some form of dynamic interaction (usually conflict) between characters – across the Series arc, within each episode and within each scene. Does that mean we develop the characters on their own first, then set them free to play well (or not) with others, or do we deliberately designate their response to the lead…they hate them, love them, is enraged by them etc.?

Visualize this:

A police procedural… where some hard-nosed Sergeant (aka you as writer) divvies up who’s going to investigate/deal with what and how. We might see the ‘task’ delegated by the Sergeant barking out orders or, police officers (aka characters) stepping up to the plate and taking on their choice of assignment – depending on their past successes or failures (aka the character’s previous experience – wins or loses, with the lead character).

If we map this analogy to its fruition, it might sound something like this, “OK boys and girls who is going to hate [lead character], who wants to fall in love with the schmuck, who wants to be rescued…?”

Well, in a roundabout way, we’ve come to realize we need each character in 3D first (complete character profile – yes???!!) before we can set them free to play. Otherwise we might find the supporting character/s written as falling in love with the lead character but according to the character profile you’ve previously devised , they’re incapable of loving or forming a relationship.

Or, if the profile hasn’t been created, we’ll see inconsistencies across the narrative – in the Pilot and subsequent episodes – because you don’t have a reference frame (aka Bible) to fall back on.

Essentially, the character profile has to be written in full and ring true on the page – consistently. Recall that the choices you’ve made on that Character Profile inform the character’s action and responses via dialogue.

These aspects underlie them and something they can work with or against – IF they’re fully-fledged and intelligent beings capable of modifying their modus operandi if given enough provocation. Or, maybe they’re ‘damaged goods’ – incapable of making an adjustment …their fatal flaw…it all gets back to that Character Profile doesn’t it?

If you’ve done your homework and the characters are 3D and you’ve ensured they define each other, the characters will interact organically and start making their own choices – dialogue and action as if by magic and you’re left in ‘catch-up’ mode sans writer’s block.

To put it another way, if you’ve got a balanced and solid interweave between character strengths, weaknesses and traits – in this way they’ll strengthen and define each other. They’ll be ‘off the page’ and you’ll be simply documenting via the script, all that they do and say.


Diana Black is an Australian actress and writer who frequently contributes to TVWriter™. (She used to contribute more frequently, but then she moved to Hawaii. Go figure.)

Diana Black on The Pilot Vs. The Series Goal

 by Diana Black

A ‘Strong pilot’ has a ‘Pilot Goal’ as well as a ‘Series Goal’ that is, if you expect to generate interest with your spec ‘calling card’. But what does this really entail? Maybe we need to define what a goal is before exploring the development and importance of such beasties…

For dramatic purposes, a ‘goal’ needs to be a burning desire with the stakes – crazy high – either for an individual Protagonist or an Ensemble. Regardless, it must be achieved…a ‘do-or-die’. It can
take the form of an object, state of being, relationship, or an act of heroism… whatever…

Do we as viewers, want to invest our time in a wimp? Maybe, if they’re seriously compelling to watch. If the goal the Protagonist consciously wants is achieved in the Pilot episode; typically for a
regular U.S. episodic series, does that mean its ‘Game Over’ for the Series?

No. The ‘Tag’ of the Pilot may allude to the Protagonist (or ‘Ensemble’) about to embark on a new
‘adventure’. Alternatively, the Pilot might close with the Antagonist looming or reappearing on the
Protagonist’s horizon… ‘Game on’! Or, the Protagonist might be on the brink of achieving their
desire when the Pilot comes to an end – leaving us with a ‘cliff-hanger’ with ‘will they, won’t they’
buzz going on in the lunchroom the following day – yay!

If it’s a Mini-series, or a Limited Series – both having a relatively short, narrative arc, the ‘Pilot goal’ might be achieved later on. It will depend on how you’ve set up the narrative and over how many Episodes you envisage the Season to run.

Regardless, there’ll be an unconscious goal – the ‘Series Goal’ – alluded to in your ‘Leave Behind’.
It’s buried deep in the Protagonist’s/Ensemble’s subconscious… either driving them in a specific
direction or presenting an obstacle that they must overcome. Their initial failure to recognize and
achieve this subconscious goal relates to their psychological ‘flaw’.

In the ‘Character Profile’ you’ve devised for all of the main characters (You have,yes??!), have you identified for each of them their fundamental flaw? If you’re not sure of the importance of the ‘flaw’ don’t worry. We’ll talk about that in another article soon.

Either way, that flaw has to continue to stymie their efforts to achieve the ‘Series Goal’ until it’s overcome (or they die trying). It’s essentially a thematic ‘issue’ in your story world, which in order for them to ‘grow’ and realize their true potential, they must achieve.

Equally important, is the escalating tension associated with the ‘Series Goal’. Allowing them to
succeed without a struggle and/or considerable risk is boring for us ‘clever apes’ – every story is a
‘survival lesson by proxy’ – so they have to fight for it.

For the Writer, the ‘Series Goal’ must be known and pre-mapped, prior to writing the Pilot in
order to lay down the breadcrumbs associated with it – in the Pilot Episode. In this way the narrative is layered with hidden meanings, which if the Viewer is watching very carefully, will slowly reveal the ‘Series Goal’ but do we want it to be that easy? No… but that’s an upcoming article as well…


Diana Black is an Australian actress and writer who frequently contributes to TVWriter™. (She used to contribute more frequently, but then she moved to Hawaii. Go figure.)

Diana Black on Targeting Your Spec TV Script

Enjoy this cool visual metaphor found on the interwebs

 by Diana Black

Is there such a thing as, ‘The’ definitive television series? Perhaps once, in relation to narrative form and length of ‘season’. But gone are the days when series television originated solely from broadcast networks. Now thanks to Cable subscription and the Internet, not only has the viewing platform changed, but also the nature of what constitutes a ‘series’.

In other words, episodic storytelling has evolved. Does it matter? Well it kind of does – to us, as writers of content. You need to know from the outset, what ‘form’ of series you’re writing – Limited, Mini, or Regular series – because that will have a bearing on the narrative arc and on the number of episodes you envisage in your outline. If the objective is to sell it – duh, you need to determine who you’re going to pitch this ‘calling card’ to.

In relation to the narrative arc, think about what you’re trying to say, the intended media platform, and who’s likely to comprise the audience. Hazy generality won’t work here – specific tailoring is ‘mission critical’ if you expect a warm reception… unless you’re into just throwing it against the wall to see what sticks…for shame.

Let’s distinguish between the ‘Limited Series’, ‘Mini-series’ and ‘Regular Series’ – all of which tend to be found on cable and other streaming platforms; as opposed to the typical ‘Network Series’ aired on big networks, which many go on for years.

A ‘Limited Series’ is less than the regular 18ish episodes (network) or 13ish episodes (cable). It’s a way of ‘testing the waters’ – the potential the series has to develop longer legs (more episodes), which of course depends on the ratings. From the suit’s POV, it’s a safer bet regarding expenditure than purchasing its bigger cousin.

A ‘Mini Series’ is a finite entity with a set number of episodes, an ensemble of characters and written with a clear and contained narrative arc in terms of plot. Examples include British productions like the four episode, The Night Manager, and the three episode series And Then There Were None.

A ‘Regular Series’ sometimes known as an ‘Anthology Series’ generally takes the form of 18 or so episodes (network) or 8 to 13 episodes (cable) – often over multiple seasons, in which the lead characters are maintained and new characters introduced into an established setting. The plotting is either ‘serialized’ or ‘procedural’.

Serialized plotting entails a narrative arc across the season such as Breaking Bad and Twin Peaks. In procedurals the regular family of crime solvers deals with a new plot every episode, as on Bones and NCIS.

Are web-series different again? If the narrative is compelling and the characters lovable and worthy of following, it may well run into the ‘20+’ episode range – then it may get picked-up by a 3rd party with lots of moolah.

Of course, there’s one way to determine that whatever you go to market with will be looked on
favorably. Have the property already associated in another form – such as a successful novel.

There isn’t a TV executive alive who can resist the siren call of a project another executive somewhere else has already loved. In fact, sometimes all it takes the knowledge that another professional outlet is courting your work.

Previous success equals leverage. And leverage means power. So get your work out there, and do everything you can to get the word about it out into the showbiz wild as well.


Diana Black is an Australian actress and writer who frequently contributes to TVWriter™. (She used to contribute more frequently, but then she moved to Hawaii. Go figure.)

Web Series: ‘SIBS’ Goes Hollywood

by Dawn McElligott

What kind of a show would you and your sibling make?

Last month, real-life siblings, Kimberly and Bryan Scamman answered that question for themselves with a short film entitled, SUPER SECRET CANADIAN SPY MOVIE.

The movie is a version of the first season finale episodes of their web series, SIBS. The brother and sister duo screened the film at a promotional event at the Three Clubs in Hollywood on August 27th.

In addition to free admission, the audience was treated to photo ops with the stars, gratuitous grub, a comedy act, and then, finally, the screening of SUPER SECRET CANADIAN SPY MOVIE itself.

The Three Clubs is a fun, retro lounge on Vine Street where one could easily imagine the original, Frank Sinatra-led, rat pack hanging out.  Danny Jolles from CW’s Emmy Award-winning series CRAZY EX-GIRLFRIEND, warmed up the audience with some laughs. Well, more than some. Enough for Kimberly to gush, “Danny was a great fit for our content, and we were blessed to have him!”

Kimberly and Bryan pack a punch of pure silliness into their series as only two siblings can. For one thing, their biological bond created greater artistic freedom. For another, they’ve both studied martial arts, lending a physical, bordering-on-cartoonish slant to the action.

The real-life sibs are from a southern California family that moved around often before returning to Los Angeles. Kimberly was born in San Pedro, and her brother was born about two years later in Seattle. Upon return to Los Angeles, Kimberly attended the American Academy for Dramatic Arts in Hollywood.

The academy bestowed its prestigious Charles Jehlinger Award on Kimberly, who’s most recent work has been with the Noise and Vision Production Company and 2 Kings Productions.  Bryan developed his acting acumen by working on such films as HELL HOLE: DARK HARVEST (2016).

The co-creators of SIBS grew up with a love for physical comedy. “We both really loved Jim Carrey, Adam Sandler, Chris Farley, and David Spade,” said Kimberly.

The old school influence is most evident at one point in the film where brother and sister enter a bedroom closet to find a secret passageway. This farcical scene combines the wonder of THE LION, the WITCH and the WARDROBE with the zaniness of THE MONKEES. And why not? Kimberly told me point blank, that she has  watching re-runs of such classic TV shows as I LOVE LUCY,GET SMART, and, yes, THE MONKEES has been a lifelong and not-so-secret passion.

Kimberly also gives plenty of credit to Wham Social (@whamsocial) for the-fun filled promotional screening at The Three Clubs and for promoting SIBS in cyberspace as well.

Check out the SIBS trailer:

Lovers of campy comedy can see new episodes of SIBS on Sunday evenings at 8 pm Pacific Time on YouTube

And don’t forget the show’s presence on Facebook

And those interested in knowing more about Wham Social can find it HERE

Can’t forget the credits, yeah?

Created by and Starring: Kimberly Niccole and Bryan Scamman Produced by: Broster Productions Editing and SFX by: Matt Ryan SPECIAL THANKS! Sponsors: Deeva Boutique bit.ly/DeevaBoutique Stephanie Rojas Dominique Rodriguez and Take It From Me Show ( bit.ly/TakeitFromMe )


Dawn McElligott is a an award-winning writer and filmmaker in Los Angeles by way of Philadelphia and other points East. You can learn more about her HERE