10 Power Showrunners: A Day in the Life, From Carlton Cuse to Jenji Kohan
These stories first appeared in the Oct. 25 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
Ray Donovan (Showtime)
With the early-fall sun piercing the windows of her scenic home office, Biderman reclines on her custom-made couch ("It's comfy but not too soft," she says) and digs into her morning's biggest to-do: Plowing through dozens of scripts in the hope of finding two new voices to add to her five-person writing team. "I don't want to read sample scripts for Ray," she says, flipping through one quickly and making notes with her pencil. "I want to read original material. I need to know their personal voices because I cast the writers room as carefully as I do the series."
Biderman, 62, is enjoying the peace of working solo inside her rustic 1940s home in L.A.'s Laurel Canyon while she can as she preps to return to the writers room for season two of Ray Donovan, the Showtime drama she created that stars Liev Schreiber as a clandestine Hollywood fixer. Today, in between binge-reading scripts and consulting with her assistant Alex, she fields e-mails from her fellow writers and Showtime execs about the sophomore season.
"I know solitude well, having spent so many years as a screenwriter," says Biderman of writing such films as Primal Fear and Public Enemies. "That's why I enjoy the conviviality of the writers room experience. I can't wait to get back in there." A few moments pass as she ponders both what she's looking for in new blood -- and what she isn't. "The minute I read 'handsome CIA agent,' I throw the script across the room," she says, laughing. "This process really is like sifting for gold." -- STACEY WILSON
Katims is running a bit behind. It's already 10:15 a.m. as he weaves his way through a series of hallways lined with reminders of his work, be it a Welcome to Dillon placard from Friday Night Lights or a shot of Parenthood's Sarah (Lauren Graham) and Amber (Mae Whitman), joining the About a Boy writers meeting in progress. The new midseason dramedy's room opened a week earlier, and Katims takes a seat among his nine writers and two writers assistants. First up: determining the direction that the Minnie Driver-David Walton vehicle should go.
"What I really want to do at this stage is to create an environment where everyone feels free to bring themselves to it," he says, noting the value of being able to infuse his series with relatable stories that often come from the real-life experiences of those in his writers room. Katims, 52, excuses himself at 11:30 a.m. to tend to his other show, Parenthood, which recently launched its fifth season. He scurries across the West L.A. complex to check in on the latter's edits, a process he jokes he rarely gets through without a few tears -- a trademark reaction to his shows. Fortunately, the married father of two has had experience with the dizzying -- or "daunting," as he describes it -- act of running two shows (the final two seasons of FNL overlapped with the first season of Parenthood).
"When I was young, I wanted to be a short-order cook," he says, seated now in his office where a sign with the FNL rallying cry, "Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Can't Lose," hangs above. "I remember growing up in Brooklyn, and as a teenager I'd watch them at the grill with 10 things going at once, and somehow they all magically came out at the same time. After I became a showrunner, my wife looked at me and said, 'You got your dream.' " -- LACEY ROSE
HART HANSON and STEPHEN NATHAN
Over late-morning coffee and biscuits (with pancakes and scrambled eggs on the way), Hanson (left) and Nathan are going over the latest Bones script at John O'Groats on Pico Boulevard, a few blocks west of the Fox lot where they've made the procedural for nearly a decade. Their giggling (or whatever you call the infectious laughter of two bubbly middle-aged men) likely would concern fellow diners if they saw what was on the pages before them: a gory description of a dead body, the latest of Bones' notoriously comical and gruesome opening sequences.
"We have 70 years of doing this between us," says Hanson, who admits that scheduling usually requires that their morning meetings take place at the studio. "There's an old-man shorthand for us. If we talk through things with the other writers around, it would take forever." Adds Nathan, "And when we meet in the office, 25 people will come in and interrupt us." Such is their friendship and the creative process that has kept the series on the air for 171 episodes. The two never sit down to write an episode together -- Nathan says his patience for that ended when he moved out of comedy -- but their collaborative process takes on a good cop/bad cop approach while they dissect the script, a process that exudes a true yin-and-yang approach.