What’s It Like to be a Showrunner/Celebrity? Carlton Cuse Knows

And, like any good celeb, he’s happy to tell all. And, because he’s a hell of a writer, he tells it very well indeed:

Carlton Cuse (right) with some dood named Damon Lindelof

Lost’s Carlton Cuse Relives Dealing With the Modern Celebrity of the TV Showrunner -by

There’s been a cultural change in television in the last few years. TV showrunners have become known entities to people who watch television in the way that movie directors have been known to filmgoers for a long time. When I started out as a writer and producer in television, I never had the slightest expectation that fame would be part of the job. There was a little bit of fandom that came from co-creating, writing, and producing my first series, 1993’s cult favorite The Adventures of Brisco County Jr. We were getting about 500 letters a week. They would show up in boxes, but they were addressed to the actors, or the show, or the “producers,” unnamed. It was vastly different from what would happen with Lost.

When Lost started, we were just trying to make a TV show that we’d watch, that we thought was cool. We truly had no idea people would become so engaged by it. By the end of the first season, Damon Lindelof and I had suddenly become the named, responsible parties for the show. I first noticed that something was different when a fan group that organized around a website called TheFuselage.com held a fund-raiser party at the Hollywood Renaissance Hotel, and they invited some of the actors and writers to attend. The fans that showed up were mostly interested in meeting each other, but some of them were actually very interested in meeting Damon and me. And that was really kind of shocking: Suddenly there were fans wanting to have their picture taken with us. I never expected that somebody would want to have his picture taken with a showrunner.

When we didn’t reveal what was in the hatch at the end of the finale of season one, I think a lot of people were both engaged but also frustrated. And I started noticing in the online discussions over that summer that it wasn’t just Lost that they were referring to but also Damon and me as the proprietors of Lost: “Those motherfuckers Lindelof and Cuse are leaving us hanging for four months!” There was a certain backlash to the fact that we ended the first season on this agonizing cliffhanger, and people blamed us personally. I’d created and been the showrunner for a few different series and never had this experience. Being a showrunner meant writing and producing a television show, period, but withLost, suddenly it became part of the job to promote and be the face of the brand. In a weird way, the story was as much the star as any of the actors, so people wanted to hear from us. They wanted some kind of connection with the two guys who were telling the story.

ABC fueled the idea of us as representatives of the show by asking Damon and me to host these clip recap shows before the start of every season. We also did podcasts, which were genuinely fun for us to do, and many of them ended up going to No. 1 on iTunes. And it kept amplifying. It turned out that Jimmy Kimmel was a huge Lost fan, so we were invited to go on his show as guests — and actually sit on the couch. We went on the Letterman show and read the Top Ten List. I got to be a judge on Top Chef, which was kind of intoxicating because that was a show that I loved and that we talked about all the time in the writers’ room. I did a podcast with Bill Simmons and even had the opportunity to be in the booth during a Red Sox game with the team’s announcers, Don Orsillo and Jerry Remy. Growing up a Red Sox fan, that was incredible, almost overwhelming. It all just felt sort of surreal.

Pretty soon, Damon and I began to find out just how obsessed people were with the show and how recognizable we were…

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