Best and Worst Showrunner Switches


There’s a rough wind blowing through the Windy City today; NBC has announced that Chicago Med, the latest installment in Dick Wolf’s burgeoning Chicago Fire/Chicago PD empire, is bidding farewell to showrunner Andrew Dettmann. He’s the second member of Chicago Med’s staff personnel to depart the series in advance of its Nov. 17 premiere; cast member Laurie Holden exited two weeks ago.

Showrunner changes aren’t exactly rare, especially in the months before a series begins its first — or third — season. In April, for example, Netflix confirmed that Daredevil showrunner Steven S. DeKnight wouldn’t be back for Season 2 of the wildly popular superhero series, replaced by the team of Doug Petrie and Marco Ramirez. On the one hand, showrunner switches can be a great boost for the lifeblood of a series. At the same time, it’s always a little nervewracking to mess with success. Here’s a quick recap of some of the best and worst showrunner changes from the past few years.

Best: Scott M. Gimple (The Walking Dead)

AMC’s zombie series has changed hands multiple times, with original creator and showrunner Frank Darabont being supplanted by Glen Mazzara at the network’s request before Season 2 premiered. Then Mazzara ran the series — some would say, into a ditch — for the next two years, before Gimple inherited the series in Season 4. And, based on how consistently great the show has been since then, he’s got the job for as long as he wants it. At this point, The Walking Dead is a case study in how fresh blood (and brains) can reanimate a previously moribund series.

Worst: Mark Hudis (True Blood)


Granted, True Blood had already started sliding into irrelevant silliness by the time creator Alan Ball left after Season 5. But his immediate replacement, Mark Hudis, dropped the um… ball early in his tenure with an equally shaky sixth season. HBO actually wound up replacing Hudis before Season 6 wrapped, promoting writer/producer Brian Buckner in the top spot. But neither switch ultimately restored the show’s life blood.

Best: Steven Moffat (Doctor Who)


This is a controversial position to take, as there are plenty of people who haven’t been especially happy with the way Moffat has steered the Doctor’s time-hopping TARDIS since he inherited the storied franchise from Russell T Davies in 2010. But to his credit, the Sherlock creator did bring a wealth of new fans to the series during Matt Smith’s tenure and the transition to the Peter Capaldi era went off fairly seamlessly. For Who fandom, the great Davies vs. Moffat debate will probably rage until the end of time or the end of the show’s run… whichever comes first.

Worst: David Rosenthal (Gilmore Girls)


One of the many things that made Gilmore Girls great was its voice — the snappy, speedy patter of pop culture shout-outs and emotional confessions and confrontations that creator Amy Sherman-Palladino scribbled into every episode. When she and her husband Daniel left the show in 2006 following a contract dispute with the network, they took that voice with them. So when viewers tuned into the seventh (and final) season premiere, they saw the same characters and the same town, but didn’t hear the same words, even as Palladino replacement David Rosenthal worked overtime to try and mimic his predecessors. With that essential ingredient missing, Gilmore Girls simply wasn’t Gilmore Girls anymore.

Best: John Wells (The West Wing)


Aaron Sorkin’s White House series was a sensation upon its debut, but there were frequent rumors that the creator and NBC clashed over rising budgets and delays caused by the writer’s obsessive perfectionism. When Sorkin resigned after the fourth season, the network replaced him with someone they knew had a steadier hand — former ER showrunner, John Wells. From the sound of things, Wells ran a tight ship and successfully guided the show through three more years on the air. Those latter seasons may not always have had great on-screen drama, but at least there was less behind-the-scenes drama.

Worst: Steven Bochco (Commander in Chief)


Production delays also led to an Oval Office re-shuffling on another political drama — the Rod Lurie-created series, Commander in Chief. A film director enjoying his first taste of TV success, Lurie apparently fell so far behind that ABC decided to entrust the fledgling hit to an established veteran, NYPD Blue’s Steven Bochco. But in this case, experience didn’t save the day. Viewers rejected Bochco’s take on the material, and Chief’s approval ratings continued to fall through the tenure of his replacement, Dee Johnson. The show was history by the end of its freshman season.

Best: Sunil Nayar (Revenge)


After a stellar first season, ABC’s Count of Monte Cristo-inspired soap took a steep nose-dive in quality in its sophomore year, one that was perilous enough for series creator Mike Kelley to step aside. Inheriting a story that was severely compromised, former CSI: Miami exec producer Sunil Nayar faced a Herculean challenge restoring the series to its former glory. While he didn’t entirely succeed, Revenge at least recaptured some of the first season WTF fun as it headed into its final two years on the air.

Worst: Linda Wallem (Up All Night)


To be fair, this showrunner change never actually came to pass, but based on behind-the-scenes scuttlebutt, that’s almost certainly a good thing. Emily Spivey’s sitcom about a pair of first-time parents (Will Arnett and Christina Applegate) had already endured numerous changes in its chaotic two-season run, with Maya Rudolph’s supporting character switching jobs between the original pilot and the actual series, and the focus progressively switching to the workplace rather than the characters’ home. For its third season, incoming showrunner Wallem planned to transform it from a single-camera series to a multicam show, one that had a meta-twist: The cast would play actors portraying the characters on a sitcom called Up All Night. But one by one the cast fled, and the new version was never filmed. We can’t say we’re sorry about that.

Chicago Med premieres Nov. 17 at 9 p.m. on NBC.