In the old days of TV, the stars were exclusively the people on screen. Fans, even the most die hard, crazy, out of control ones, would probably struggle to name the brains behind their favorite show. The first showrunner (essentially a combo head writer/executive producer), to really make a name for himself was Larry David, creator of Seinfeld. Since then, showrunners have grown to levels of fame near the actors in front of the camera. People like Damon Lindelof (Lost), Joss Whedon (Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Firefly), and Dan Harmon (Community) are basically household names. That said, some of the best work on TV is being done by writer/creators you’ve never even heard of. These people have been content to remain behind the scenes, and let their stars have all the glory. Until now. Well, they’ll probably remain just as unknown after I publish this, but its nice to think I have power. But that’s enough intro, I now present to you the four virtually unknown writers behind your favorite TV Shows.
YOU KNOW HIM FROM: Lie To Me (Seasons 1-2), The Shield, Terriers, Last Resort
Ryan’s work, though not familiar to most, is absolutely incredible and very diverse. The Shield and Terriers are pretty much complete opposites. One a dark crime drama, the other a lighthearted crime solving dramedy. Okay well, they both have crime involved, but the similarities end there. Both were critically acclaimed shows, both were created by Ryan. The short lived Last Resort (Trailer Below) featured some of the most ambitious TV storytelling in recent memory, including one of the best pilots I’ve ever seen. Seriously, if you haven’t checked out Last Resort, do it, you won’t be disappointed.
As for Lie To Me, that show quickly rose above the procedural pack under Ryan’s direction, with riveting storylines and characters. It’s hard to be an entertaining mystery show when your characters can tell when someone is lying, but Lie To Me did it with ease, using the twist to differentiate itself from the rest of the crime show pack. Lie To Me is a unique, and entertaining spin on the bland procedural drama, and was consistently thrilling and surprising under Ryan’s direction. I’ll admit I’ve seen almost every episode of the first two seasons of Lie To Me multiple times (Ryan left the show after Season 2), yeah I know, I should go outside more often, but that’s beside the point.
YOU KNOW HIM FROM: Friday Night Lights, Parenthood, About A Boy
Friday Night Lights and Parenthood are two of three shows (The other being NBC’s The Office) that have brought me close to tears. Before you start making fun of me, try watching those shows without getting emotional (WARNING: It’s very difficult). For my money, Katims is the master of the dramedy. He handles laugh out loud comedy and tear jerking emotional drama expertly, and combines the two in a way only a few writers can. His shows are some of the best written, and most critically acclaimed on TV and hardly anyone knows this guy’s name. He’s behind one of the best shows ever made in Friday Night Lights, and currently is running Parenthood, one of the best, if not the best, drama on network TV. I’ll end with this: Jason Katims was the first one who put “Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Can’t Lose” into a TV script? Just let that sink in for a second.
YOU KNOW HIM FROM: Dead Like Me, Heroes, Pushing Daisies, Hannibal
Bryan Fuller has one of the most unique writing styles in today’s TV landscape. He started by creating the little known show Dead Like Me, which I, like pretty much everyone else on the planet, have not seen. He then became a producer on NBC’s Heroes. He wrote two episodes during season one (“Chapter Four: Collision” and “Chapter Seventeen: Company Man”) before leaving the show. Season two was an utter disaster. Fuller, having made his escape, instead created Pushing Daisies. Daisies is nothing like anything else I’ve ever seen on TV, its part detective procedural, part romantic fairy tale, and part science fiction. The show sounds weird when you describe it, but trust me, it’s brilliant. It’s completely, genuinely, charming. The writing is so clever and witty, you can’t help but smile as the actors deliver the words Fuller wrote for them. Here’s an example:
It’s the type of show that creates a world you immediately want to live in: it just seems so fun and happy there. Unfortunately, Pushing Daisies only lasted two season, but Fuller bounced back and created Hannibal.
Hannibal is a delightfully creepy, inexplicably exciting show. Fuller expertly built a world that is utterly terrifying, but ultimately so interesting you can’t look away. If you missed out on the first course, errr, season (Sorry, I had to, I mean, what would this post be without at least one cannibalism joke? Don’t answer that, it’s rhetorical.) I recommend you catch up before returns for Season 2 this Friday on NBC.
YOU KNOW HIM FROM: The Office (US), Parks and Recreation, Brooklyn Nine Nine
Michael Schur is, simply put, one of the best comedic writers working on TV today. When it’s all said and done, The Office, and possibly Parks and Recreation, will be in the same conversation as iconic TV comedies like Seinfeld and Friends. His new show, which he created with Dan Goor, Brooklyn Nine Nine, quickly became this year’s best new sitcom, and looks to be headed down a similar trajectory towards greatness.
What makes Schur’s comedies so great? Good Question. Answer? It’s the characters.
Think about The Office. Those characters felt like family to you. A crazy, messed up, dysfunctional family to be sure, but one that you couldn’t help falling in love with. That’s what made the show so special: the writers made the audience feel as if they were a part of the characters’ lives. On Parks, Schur struck gold again, creating so many great characters that choosing a favorite is legitimately challenging. I switch from Andy to Ron to Tom to Jean Ralphio periodically, in case you were wondering. One last point about Schur. The moments he’s helped create on his shows are some of the most quoted and remembered scenes in modern TV. Here’s just two of the classic scenes Schur played a part in creating.
Well that’s it for this blog. Who did I miss? Who are some of your favorite TV writers?
*Fuller would return to Heroes for season four, but by that point the show was beyond repair. As for the recently announced miniseries, I don’t believe Fuller is involved right now, but I could be wrong, no one really knows anything about it at this point. The only two things announced were that it’s happening, and that creator Tim Kring would be returning to executive produce the show. I have more to say about why I’m excited for the new season of Heroes, but that’s a whole other post.