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Showrunners: a review of the book and documentary

August 1, 2015

sr1Awhile back, my wife Diane got me the book Showrunners: The Art of Running a TV Show which I mentioned here. I read it and am finally getting around to reviewing not only the book but, the documentary that it was written from as well. I should start out by mentioning that I read a great deal and the vast majority of what I read tends to be non-fiction. So, I have a reasonable amount of experience as well as expectations with these types of books. Since there really is no other gentle way to put it, I found the book to be a bit of a disappointment. The chapters are each supposed to cover a specific topic but, consist entirely of quotes from what I soon realized was the documentary film of the same name. Unfortunately, except for the final two chapters I felt that a number of the quotes would have better served to illustrate the topics of different chapters. I also really want to emphasize here that the chapters are just collections of quoted material with no connecting text from the author. As a result, I found the book very difficult to get through but, about a third of the way in, did resolve to follow-up with the documentary which was its source. I will finish up with the observation that the book does not include an index as I know this can be important to some people. This is not a criticism as not all non-fiction books do have indices as I guess indexing is expensive.

sr2So, onto the documentary itself. As of the date of this article, the film is conveniently available on Netflix streaming service. For my viewing I was also able to recruit an expert in documentaries in the form of my wife Diane. She has watched a good deal more of these than myself and has become quite the connoisseur of this branch of film. It turns out that the documentary was almost entirely, if not completely, the source of all of the quotes from the book. I can’t say with certainty but I honestly have no incentive to go back and check. On the plus side, I found the movie quite watchable and very good. This sentiment was shared by Diane as well. My personal favorite story was one provided by Damon Lindelof about how he and Carlton Cuse, after they had decided how Lost was going to end, watched the series finale of The Sopranos. They loved it but, upon hearing everyone else’s reaction to it the next day realized that they were basically screwed on Lost. It is, of course, much more engaging to watch the speaker of a quote as they make their statement than to read it as plain text which is probably the single biggest hurdle the book has working against it. However, in this media rich age where content can be readily had for the push of a few buttons, it did leave me wondering why there was a perceived need for the book in the first place. So, to summarize, I would highly recommend that anyone interested in the topic of showrunning check out the documentary. At that point you can safely skip the book as you will have gotten most of what it contains from the film itself.

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