The rise of prestige TV has elevated not just the medium of television but the status of the people who create it. These days we commonly read headlines about "showrunners," producers and directors we maybe wouldn't have given much thought to years ago but who now can wind up receiving as much attention as the shows' actors.
For instance, even though I was aware that Dick Wolf created Law & Order, I didn't see articles about him every other day or people saying "Boy, Dick Wolf sure botched this season by recasting the district attorney!"
That seems to have changed with people like David Benioff and D.B. Weiss of Game of Thrones, Damon Lindelof of Lost, Joss Whedon, Taylor Sheridan, Shonda Rhimes—their names quickly became as recognizable as the shows they work on, and when fans of their show have complaints there's plenty of criticism directed specifically at these showrunners (as we saw with Benioff and Weiss after Game of Thrones spun out in its final season).
But as a TV fan, there's no reason to restrict yourself to sniping at showrunners from the sidelines. Why not run your own show and see how hard it really is, smartypants? As of today you can become a showrunner yourself, sort of, in the aptly-named Showrunner (opens in new tab), a TV studio strategy management sim that just launched into Steam Early Access.
"Create and run your own TV show!" demands developer Inexplicable Games. "An isometric management game where you craft scripts, populate your world with characters and cast actors to play them. Hire and manage staff, develop your studio and gain a dedicated following."
I had a little go at creating a hit fantasy TV series in Showrunner, beginning with the standard tradition of seeing what's popular (like Game of Thrones and Rings of Power) and simply copying it. I whipped up a production company and named my new TV series "Ring of Thrones," then hired a couple of writers to produce scripts. I created my main character ("Bob Dragon") and a supporting character ("Cathy Wizard"), hired actors to portray them, dressed them in vaguely-fantasy costumes, chose the theme for the season ("Family") and called my first episode "Dragon House." This show is gonna slay!
Episodes can be put together by selecting cards with different scenes and attributes to create an outline, like "New Arrival," "Tense Meeting," or "Melee." Each card has different scores for things like comedy, drama, action, visuals, and so on, along with an overall cost to include them in an episode. I was just starting out, so my first episode only had three scenes. Featuring two characters. I'm sure it'll still be riveting.
Once the writers were done with the script based on my outline we went to the studio to shoot it, using a hired director, a couple camerapeople, my actors, and a single tavern set. Then I hired an editor to cut it all together (not that there was much to work with) and then it was time to air it and see what the audience thought.
Unfortunately you don't get to watch your shows in Showrunner. The game is mainly a strategy sim where you try to match up crew members who will work well together based on their attributes, find actors who will portray their characters well depending on how closely their skills match the roles they're playing, and spend points on upgrades to the various areas of your production company, like the writers room, editing suite, and studio. And of course, you'll need to stay within your budget and find the best streaming contracts you can.
I'm sad to report that Ring of Thrones didn't have such a great first season. The first episode, "Dragon House," only got a half-star rating (out of five) from its one million viewers, and it didn't get much better through the rest of the season. Despite adding a villain in episode three (he wears a motorcycle helmet) subsequent episodes named "Secret Elf," "Good Guy Is Actually Evil," and "The Wedding That Goes Fine" never got any higher than a two star rating. Creating a smash-hit fantasy show is harder than it looks.
But as unimpressed as my unseen audience is, I still got a contract for a second season of Ring of Thrones, so clearly it's not Netflix I'm working for. Hopefully by hiring a couple of new actors to increase the cast to four will help, and some improved cameras and an upgraded editing suite might boost my score a bit. Fancy yourself a brilliant TV showrunner too? You'll find the game on Steam (opens in new tab).